Turning the pandemic into opportunity

Personal trainers have adapted the way they train their clients in the Covid-19 era to help those who are uncomfortable going to physical locations

Thanakorn Sripong, 25, found starting a new job during the coronavirus pandemic truly overwhelming. He was taken on as a hotel gym instructor in late February 2020 just as the virus started to spread into Thailand. By the end of that month, it had turned into a full-blown pandemic.

“During the first month of my employment, all my colleagues could say was ‘the hotel is not usually like this’. I heard it so many times, it was like a formal greeting,” he recalls.

But he tried to keep things in perspective and did a good job. Then at the end of last year, a new wave of Covid-19 infections exploded and last month, a group of hotel employees including Thanakorn were told by their employers to leave their jobs because Covid had wrecked the hospitality industry.

“It came as no surprise to me. The hotel’s bookings have been down,” he says.

During the pandemic, fitness instructors like Thanakorn turned to training people virtually. He wasn’t reluctant to give it a try. And it worked. He’s since acquired new clients with a little help from his friends.

“I’m trying to stay positive. No one can deny that the new wave of infections is harder than the old one. No one knows when it will be over. So, I’ve come up with a brochure advertising my services – both in person and remotely. Now I have two clients, one from Bangkok and another from Phetchaburi province. I trained my clients at the hotel’s gym to earn some extra money. It shouldn’t be a problem for me,” adds Thanakorn, who holds a degree in Sports Science.

Thanakorn Sripong (L)

Nonthaburi-based Pilates and yoga instructor Yupawan Rangabprai has also turned to the digital world. She’s busy creating YouTube video workouts in an effort to keep people entertained and active. She does it for free but says she gets a big payoff for all her efforts.

“I’m realising that I can reach a lot more people by going online with my training. Going online means we can meet everyone no matter where they are. I have new clients from the provinces, one from Chiang Mai and one from Phuket. They watched my videos and liked my training style so they contacted me,” she says.

Yupawan also posted her stories, workout routines and diets on Instagram to inspire a physically fit and healthy lifestyle. What’s more, she’s uploaded workout challenges to promote her training services on a short video app.

“The content on TikTok is short, easy consumed and sharable. It works well for advertising products and services,” she said.

During the lockdown, Yupawan trained her clients virtually, allowing her to service them from afar but without foregoing the personal connection that clients like. But, she says, the system has its limitations.

“I find it hard to give directions on postures and see if my clients are doing them correctly when I train online. I enjoy in-person training more,” she says, adding that more than 40% of her clients are elderly and thus need more help and attention when exercising.

Prior to the pandemic, Yupawan worked out of a fitness studio based in Nonthaburi where she trained her clients in person for five to seven sessions in a day and taught several classes in a week.

But last April, the government put a lockdown in place in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Fitness studios and gyms across the country were ordered to shut their doors resulting in a blow to a lot of personal trainers’ pockets.

There were no physical locations where Yupawan’s could train her clients. She was faced with a mass of cancellations because of the virus and had to apply to receive unemployment benefits from the Social Security Office.

Yupawan Rangabprai

“I knew that people were concerned for their health and safety and rightly so.  But I have tried to keep in touch with my clients,” she says.

For some trainers like Thanakorn and Yupawan, the lockdowns have been a financial disaster.

Titipong Buakhumpu, a trainer at FitFac Muay Thai Academy boxing gym, followed another path during lockdown, travelling to his clients’ homes to run training sessions.

“The gym’s manager reached out to me and asked me to train clients who wanted to continue training at home. I adjusted the workout routine, kept it simple and offered high-quality training with minimal equipment,” he explains.

Even now, despite restrictions being lifted and strict hygiene protocols put in place, the majority of people seem to feel uncomfortable going back to the gym.

“I lost 25% of my personal clients because people are just scared,” Titipong laments.

He says that the boxing gym where he works strictly adheres to the gym and fitness facilities guidelines set by the government. According to him, the gym limits the number of patrons to 18 in any one-hour time slot.

“Patrons need to book the gym space to use in advance. I always wear a mask and practise social distancing while training a client,” he stresses.

Titipong tried virtual training but had trouble making it work because he found it hard to establish a connection with someone he had never met.

Hoping for a better tomorrow

The Covid-19 pandemic has created circumstances that are unique to trainers, instructors and the fitness industry. But they remain hopeful that the business will bounce back eventually.

“We have to stay positive, get creative and be flexible right now. We don’t know how long this will continue. For me, I just keep focused on what’s in front of me and most importantly, keep moving forwards,” Yupawan says.

For his part, Titipong keeps going forward with his plan of helping his clients eat better.

“My clients have different fitness goals. Some want to lose their weight, many simply want to maintain it. Others just want to achieve better overall health. I want to help them plan their meals so they can meet their goals more easily. Hopefully, I can sell my meal plans at some point,” he says.

Thanakorn, who has lost his job, wants to make good use of the crisis and turn all challenges into opportunities.

“If luck is on my side, hopefully my virtual training programme will bear fruit when I become a freelance trainer.”


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