Working it out online in Squamish

How gyms, yogis and pilates instructors are working out together, in isolation

As many of us spend more of our time inside our homes, and businesses across Squamish close their doors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, workout enthusiasts are coming up with different ways to stay fit together while apart.

Keeping training on track

Even with doors closed, multiple Squamish gyms are adapting to keep their members moving.

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Facilities that cater to specialty sports — rock climbing, martial arts and yoga — are making sure their trainers are still available to keep members progressing.

Solid as a rock

For Ground Up Climbing Gym, that means making the world (or your self-isolation station at home) your gym.

Ground Up's head coach and performance coach Judith Hirsch is helping climbers get creative with a new environment. Her regular programs will be converted into online video consultations to cater to specific climbers' needs, equipment and surroundings. Hirsch also trains the youth team athletes, and will continue weekly live check-ins with her team, as well as provide video training plans and logs.

"Although the competitions have been cancelled, we still feel we can motivate and train these kids to keep them active during tough times," Ground Up's Lauren Watson told The Chief via email.

Another Ground Up staff member, the youth program director Marlaina Rhymer, is helping create how-to instructional videos to continue their regular after-school programming, sans gym. Agility, balance and co-ordination games, as well as knot-tying challenges and belaying exercises, will help keep skills top of mind.

The climbing gym is also challenging climbers to send in their most creative training solutions in self-isolation for the chance to win some prizes. Some inspiration is expected to come in the form of videos.

Martial arts

After 30 years in Squamish, Michelle Park said Squamish Martial Arts and Fitness Centre are doing their part to stay open in a new way.

Starting on April 6, Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes will still be offered for all levels of kids — beginners, intermediate and advanced — as well as classes for teens and adults by video. Divided classes based on belt levels will continue.

Because promotion tests to move up a level are based on attendance, attitude and effort in class, Zoom video conferencing will ensure attendance is accounted for.

The gym will be closed for several weeks before the online classes begin, as the technical aspects of the practice, the levels and curriculum needs to be taken into account.

"We have to modify our curriculum for the smaller space in their home so that it's safe," she said. "Of course, there's no contact such as sparring."

The cost of classes will also be reduced for those who choose to continue their classes online. Those students will also have their reduced rates grandfathered in once classes resume in the centre. There will also be a sliding scale for the monthly fee for parents who have been laid off during the pandemic.

"We all have to do our part in the recovery of the economy," Park said.

Park said the centre is trying to make sure they are able to have a space to return to once the pandemic is over.

She will also be offering online yoga classes as of April 6 for her long-time students, some have been practicing with her for more than a decade, she said.

No gear, no problem

A common perception among those looking to get physical is that you need the best gear available to get in shape, and suddenly, due to COVID-19, regular access to equipment was behind closed doors.

Squamish gyms have come up with unique solutions to this problem.

Some gyms have been loaning or renting gear, others have opted to craft plans for do-it-yourself training sessions.

This is where the broad nature of CrossFit is especially handy, Jesse Bifano of CrossFit Squamish told The Chief.

"Rather than try to do what we do in the gym, we just decided that this time we're out of the gym, let's focus on other things," Bifano said. "There are more skillsets than just lifting barbells or dumbbells or kettlebells — we don't have to have equipment."

On Youtube, CrossFit Squamish has a new channel featuring videos six days a week with varying intensity and focus. He said they've been learning as they go.

Bifano spent 12 years working for an operations crew that specializes in rappelling from helicopters into wildfires. He's transforming that knowledge into a new conditioning program. The workouts will be scalable, so viewers can follow along at their own level — even kids can join in.

Even Bifano said he's staying out of the gym and relying on the same training he's offering.

"It's been humbling, but I'm really appreciating it. I'm enjoying being part of the group and community and having those conversations, rather than just training my programming alone in the gym," he said.

CrossFit Squamish is putting their memberships on hold, and providing videos free of charge. So far, the response has been positive, Bifano said, drawing more comments than they've received in 10 years of business.

"Don't worry about the equipment you do or do not have. Good fitness is still out there," he said.

You got to move it, move it

While Totem Hall has been closed like other Squamish Nation facilities, the local Zumba classes are making their virtual debut.

Instructor Aleisha Ganshirt has been teaching for more than eight years, leading classes twice a week at both Totem Hall and the Chief Joe Mathias Centre in North Vancouver. Her drop-in classes can draw up to 30 people at a time — but all that's on hold.

In an email to The Chief, Ganshirt said her in-person classes — which bring in all of her income — have been cancelled.

"This means that it is actually costing me money to be a Zumba instructor currently, because I still have to pay my instructor fees etc., even though I have no job anymore," Ganshirt wrote.

But many of her regulars were missing the classes, so Ganshirt started by hosting two and is tentatively continuing until regular classes can resume.

"The in-person classes definitely have the benefit of everyone's combined energy and support, as well as more interaction and a better space for exercising. But the online classes have the benefit of not having to travel, as well as privacy for anyone who is feeling timid about trying Zumba," she wrote. "They also have a pretty cute assistant instructor, as my toddler likes to 'help' me teach and dance with everyone!"

She hopes what she offers can help boost people's confidence while reducing their anxiety, giving them a comfortable space to try something new.

"My class motto is shake whatever shakes, and as long as you're moving and having fun, you're doing it right!"

Anyone can join through the Totem Hall Zumba Facebook group.

Something new

"We certainly have no intention of being open any time soon," Andi Javari of Core Intentions said. "I believe we will be closed for quite some time, so we'll figure the online thing out."

Javari said it's been a slow transition to online, as it's a new teaching style for Core Intentions. Previously, her business, which currently focuses on pilates, didn't have any online classes.

"Everyone's in such a state of transition and unknown that we just have to keep supporting everyone, however we can," she said. "It's a way for me to interact too, because I'm not leaving my house.

"We're just offering a couple of classes right now for free, just to coast everybody through this week. Then hopefully going to start to offer some more regular online classes as everybody figures it out."

Most of the videos are on their social media channels, but Core Intentions also has an app available through Registration will soon be available as usual, but classes will be on Zoom video conferencing.

"It's a whole different way to see people. It's kind of neat to see the clients at home and get to see their house," she said. "It's like a whole different way of interacting with our clients."

Javari said people only need a mat to follow along from home, but could work in props that can be found around the house.

Finding support

March 17 saw the last class held at Wild Life Gym for the time being.

Owners Tiera and Steve Wilson chose to pause their group classes, instead offering them for free online through social media and emailed links. Those Instagram videos will remain available. As of March 27, they've launched a platform where people can purchase classes.

Pre-recorded classes will be available through the same scheduling program the gym has used, and new classes will be posted every week. They are also looking into doing live classes for drop-in, which Tiera Wilson said will help people stay accountable. The classes will be bodyweight style classes, with the option to add weights, if people have them at home.

The gym has also rented out their equipment.

Before putting out the offer, the Wild Life Gym had already been contacted by members looking to borrow gear. It was all rented within six hours.

"What we're trying to do is allow them to have some type of normalcy during this chaotic time," Wilson said.

And they've felt support in return.

"Even though it's an uncertain time and we still have to pay rent on our building, we're grateful for the community."

At the Storm Strength and Performance Gym, owners Kimberley Cummings and Brad Wilson said they decided to move online, and not to charge for the videos.

"I respect all the gyms that are charging. It was a hard decision that we made, and so we made it — we decided to let the chips fall where they may," Cummings said.

"I don't have money to donate to the community," she said, of the choice to go free. "All I have is this."

The gym opened up a page for members, and a YouTube channel for the larger community of Squamish to watch for free.

Equipment has been rented or given out. Videos include shorter ones created for kids to offer parents a break. Parents can, of course, join in. Other videos encourage outdoor workouts incorporating natural elements, while indoor videos feature in-home circuits throughout the house. A handwritten class is also available.

"I think people need a mental break, I think they need to release stress," she said. "Maybe it's 30 minutes where it's just all OK."

The owners also decided to keep their staff, continuing their pay and providing additional administrative or classwork for them to stay employed throughout the pandemic.

The owners still have plans for a new infrared fitness gym, the Hot Box, destined for the Garibaldi Estates.



Rebels, Tomorrow (Monday) we have 2 live workouts coming to your homes! Coach Bryan will be running the 8:30 A.M. zoom workout from his garage and Coach Ben will be at Rebel Headquarters running the 4:30 P.M. live class. This is going to be a great opportunity for you afternoon workout warriors that have yet to experience what taking a live zoom class is like! In your emails and on Facebook are the invite links you will need to sign in for both classes as well as the workout we have planned for both classes! We'll see you all on Zoom tomorrow! Ramp up – 15 seconds ON/ 5 seconds OFF 1. Pushups 2. Jumping Jacks 3. Burpees 4. Jumping Jacks 3x through then rest. 1.Cross Body Mountain Climbers 2.Side Plank Hold 3.High Plank Jacks 4.Side Plank Hold 3x through then rest. Workout – 30/10 *3 exercises per “station” *2x through 1a) Kettlebell or Dumbbell Squat to Press (bodyweight jump squats and touch floor) 1b) Kettlebell or Dumbbell Squat (if no equipment grab anything that has weight to it) 1c) Lying Superman’s 2a) Single Arm Low Plank Hold (right side) 2b) Eccentric Pushups 2c) Single Arm Low Plank Hold (left side) 3a) Val Slide Pike to Plank to Plank 3b) Val Slide Mountain Climbers 3c) Val Slide Hamstring Curls 4a) Dumbbell or Kettlebell Step-Ups (bodyweight if no equipment) 4b) Dumbbell or Kettlebell Step-Ups (bodyweight if no equipment) 4c) Alternating Bodyweight Split Squat Jumps Finisher – 20 seconds ON/ 10 seconds OFF- 4x through 1a) Burpees 1b) KB Swings (jump squats if no equipment) 1c) Squat Thrusts 1d) Pushups

A post shared by Rebel Fitness (@rebelfitness_ct) on

Yoga in a different 'mode-a'

Breathe yoga studio held its last class on March 14.

Since then, owners Jeremy and Annalize Hazel say their 12 instructors have been crucial in being able to continue to offer yoga classes.

"We've reduced our membership costs, our teachers taught for free for one week and we've migrated our entire business onto a virtual platform," Jeremy said.

For the first two weeks, Breathe hosted two live classes a day: one fitness, and one yoga. While it took some time for a few of the more shy instructors to become comfortable on camera, they've made the effort.

"What we've learned is that the members, the guests of Breathe wanted some consistency. They wanted to see the familiarity of the instructors," Annalize said.

"People have told us that this is keeping them sane," Jeremy said. "We're kind of like a shoulder to lean on, a safe place as a studio for men and women to go and work out and have a non-judgemental environment. They're missing that."

At the time of closing, Breathe has around 150 members, Jeremy said. Now, between 70 and 80 members have made the virtual jump with the studio, which he said is growing daily. It's also gone international, much like the owners themselves (who are from South Africa and England).

"We're not limited to the size of the room anymore," Jeremy noted. They still use the space, but now for filming.

Annalize said they always intended for Breathe to have an online platform eventually, but the pandemic pushed them to create it much faster.

"Now that we've moved online, we're staying online. This isn't going away," Annalize said.

The practice is now moving to a private account, where members can purchase unlimited access to Breathe At Home classes. It's a place where their community can feel connected, while streamlining the Breathe platform and technology interruptions on social media.

North Yoga's Gabriel Shamash said it wasn't an option to carry on as usual, so the studio, like others in town have gone virtual.

"For us to transition so quickly to an online model that you can monetize is, of course, a challenge," Shamash said. "We're waiting to see what the government does in terms of stimulus.

"It's challenging as a small business, as probably everyone is facing, the reality of how long can you pay rent in a place that you can't open? There's a way to monetize it online of course, but the prices you can charge are so much less."

Shamash said they're offering one-hour classes through social media, complimentary to members, that are available for 24 hours on their Instagram. The studio is transforming into a filming studio where teachers can individually record themselves, with the cameras set up for them. Shamash said North Yoga is hoping to offer higher quality videos, as social media can be limiting.

"As a yoga teacher, who is used to teaching in-person, it's tricky to teach a great class, obviously, online," he said. "Seeing your regular teachers and seeing the regular people you practice with comment is kind of the closest thing we as can get together right now."

Once they can provide video streaming and on-demand, Shamash said he hopes to couple online classes with the sale of props.

"It's important for people who have the means and the time... to support the local businesses they want to see survive this," he said.

The Chief spoke to Charlie Pentland of Chief Yoga just before he started an online yoga class.

"Our business has actually expanded. We're offering more classes now that we had been in the past," Pentland said.

He said he and his partner lost their service and tourism-based jobs, giving them more time on their hands. He said he will host them indefinitely, and the new format is growing on him.

"We thought, 'Hey, why not? This is a great way to connect with our community,'" he said. "This is our way to reach out and connect with people throughout North America, Asia, all over the place.

Held three days a week, their online classes will be donation-based so people who can't afford it can practice from home.

"The people who can afford to support this and support us just pay what they can," he said, adding that they plan to give 10% of proceeds to a relief fund for COVID-19.

Pentland said Chief Yoga's style of practice really hones in on individualization and adapting practice to each person. They will also give virtual instruction and virtual assistance during the online class. While one instructor leads, a second instructor responds to questions coming in online or by text. This keeps their classes accessible to people with injuries or who are less experienced with yoga.

"We're really known in our style for giving personal attention, hands-on touch, really helping people get to know their bodies and how to practice in a way that's safe and healing. That's something that's important to us that we're really working on bringing through in this online format," Pentland said, adding that they're looking at ways to make it more individual online.

"I believe we've definitely got some real walls put up within our communities right now, because of this virus. I think that community support is a great way to help people tap into ... a sense of groundedness and connectedness," he said, among the stressors that come with the pandemic.

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He said he feels for those with turn-key businesses who are struggling during the pandemic.

Kirstin French is the owner of Yoga Love & Meditation Boutique. While her business is no longer hosting meditation classes in her studio, because Yoga Love is located next to her soap shop, she is able to continue her retail operation.

"Most of my staff has left, so it's difficult for me to keep both stores open. But because we're right here, it's easy for us to go next door and help customers that need something," French said.

Her meditation studio also has recordings on its website that people can listen to at home.

Taking a break

While The Yoga Studio is on its regularly scheduled spring break, Annie Martinello, who holds a managerial role with the collective, told The Chief their drop-in donation classes are on hold for the next month.

"After these next two weeks, everything's kind of up in the air. We're not really sure what we can do at this point," Martinello said.

The Yoga Studio is a collective group where each instructor pitches in to cover the space's rent. The space is collaborative for each instructor to run her classes, meaning each woman is self-employed.

Martinello said they're waiting to hear back from the landlord, as they won't be making income from classes they can't teach. Neighbouring businesses in the building, including a tattoo parlour and cidery, have also pressed pause on their operations, Martinello noted.

Some of the teachers are offering options online through their own outlets, and can schedule time at the Yoga Studio to record. Martinello and others have decided to take a step back. She said the online transition is difficult as her 20 years of experience relies largely on the vibe of the room. Instead, she will be reaching out to her pre- and post-natal group to help support the new mothers during this time. She hopes to be able to do video-based check-ins.

Kristy Soper, one of the co-owners of Modo Yoga Squamish, said her studio and practice is going day by day. While their brick-and-mortar location has closed, Soper's studio is part of a collective of international Modo Yoga studios. In a matter of days, she said, the collective created an online platform. Students have a free month to try out classes and videos. Livestreaming classes are also available. Some of the Squamish-based yoga instructors are offering different features through their own social media, although the Squamish Modo studio is not producing videos since their teachers have the opportunity to use the international platform.

"We've sort of taken that opportunity to slow down and reflect and take our practice onto our mats in our homes," Soper said.

*Please note, we did our best to reach the owners of as many Squamish gyms and yoga studios as possible. If you want to be in this story online, but were not reached, email 

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