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With outdoor classes and boot camps, gyms innovate as they wait to reopen

Emily Gatsas worked out in a handicap parking spot.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Around 6:45 on a recent morning, several people began pulling into the parking lot outside of Tread Tabata in Beverly, a fitness studio known for high-intensity group classes that incorporate treadmill sprints, squat jumps, and upbeat music.

The days of arriving early to snag the ideal treadmill are on hold because of the pandemic. But some people are waking up early to grab the best parking spot to participate in the studio’s outdoor workout classes.

“When Governor Baker loosened the restrictions, we began doing classes outside,” said fitness instructor Rosemarie Simeone. ”We don’t have treadmills or bicycles for the cardio portion, but we have improvised — we run around the building.”


After lending out equipment such as weights and resistance bands to members — and with an outdoor stereo system that pumps Beyonce and Queen — Tread Tabata’s $15 parking lot classes are offering a sense of community while gyms across the state remain closed for indoor activities.

“I’m all for outdoor classes,” said Jackie Morin, 37, after a class in the parking lot. “It is what keeps me sane. I feel like I am more productive and have more patience [with my kids] when I am home.”

As Massachusetts businesses gradually reopen, gyms and fitness centers have been forced to innovate. While they can’t reopen indoors until Phase 3 — which starts on Monday in Massachusetts, but a week later in Boston — many have been offering outdoor and virtual classes to engage their members. The outdoor sessions have been permitted in Phase 2 with certain safety guidelines: social distancing, limiting the number of people to 10, prohibiting shared equipment, and having participants wear masks — although many gyms have not mandated the latter.

At 4:30 a.m. on a recent Thursday, employees at Fuel Training Studio in Newburyport began carrying stationary bikes outside for a newly created class called Patio Cycle. Participants can sign up for spin sessions held on the studio’s outdoor patio for an experience similar to the party-like vibe of an indoor class.


“The classes fill up as soon as we put them up,” co-owner Julie Bokat said. “We moved our sound system outside, and our block is bouncing when the classes are on.”

The studio asks cyclists to bring their own spin shoes and wear masks when entering and exiting the workout area.

In Boston, meanwhile, personal trainer Bron Volney created the 10 Foot Outdoor Bootcamp, inspired by coronavirus social distancing, where he spaces participants out with cones on Boston Common. Cindia Norton, the owner of Studio 143, is holding yoga classes in her Scituate backyard, according to her website. And Tatyana Souza, the owner of Coolidge Yoga in Brookline and the South End, said she is trying to offer yoga classes outside, too, in Brookline parks.

But not everyone who can offer outdoor classes is doing so.

The November Project, a free program that holds outdoor fitness classes year-round, will wait to resume its sessions. Because of the state’s limit on large gatherings, outdoor classes can have no more than 10 people, including the instructor, and November Project workouts tend to draw larger crowds.

“We wouldn’t want people to show up and then be like, sorry, you have to leave,” said Emily Saul, co-leader of the Boston chapter.


For now, the Boston nonprofit is offering virtual classes three days a week, which draw roughly 50 participants per class. When its outdoor classes resume, certain behaviors from the pre-coronavirus era will be frowned upon, Saul said.

“One of our favorites is partner push-ups, where you both do a push-up and high-five in the middle . . . We won’t be doing that,” she said. “But we will still be looking for ways to offer people that sense of connection.”

Saul said November Project will also wait until face masks are no longer a requirement before hosting workouts. “We are cognizant of the additional physiological stress that wearing a mask puts on your cardiovascular system,” she said. “We don’t want to add risk.”

Under the state’s reopening guidelines, participants in outdoor workout classes must wear masks, even if they are socially distanced. However, the governor also issued an order on May 6 requiring masks or coverings in public places only if social distancing is not possible, and some gyms are following this protocol, instead.

At Tread Tabata, outdoor participants are spread out, and they are required to wear masks only if they go inside and use the studio’s bathroom. The studio asks guests to stay in their cars before classes begin, and there is no loitering afterward.

“If they want to wear one, they can, but we keep well beyond 6 feet and [there is] no touching and no shared equipment,” owner and founder Kathy Glabicky said. “Any class I see outdoors, they are not wearing masks if they can keep 6 feet [apart] — it is all so confusing.”


While outdoor classes are obviously weather-dependent, the gyms offering virtual and outdoor workouts say both types of classes are likely to become core parts of their business models.

At Trillfit, a fitness studio in Boston, chief executive Heather White is building a new business around the studio’s digital platform, after offering it for free for the past three months. She said more than 14,000 people have attended the online dance workouts, and the studio will begin outdoor classes.

“We were able to pivot our programming to digital pretty quickly,” she said. “I redid our entire business plan, and we now have digital as 52 percent of our [projected] revenue.”

Other owners agree the gym business has shifted for good.

“When we get the ability to move inside, I think it is going to be so limited, and I think people are probably feeling better about being outside,” Bokat said. “It is hard to tell how people will feel about coming back inside.”

Anissa Gardizy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.