Minnesota fitness centers optimistic despite pandemic ups and downs

Gyms are often packed at the beginning of January as people work towards their New Year’s resolution — and fitness centers across the Twin Cities are optimistic more people will get moving in 2022.

“I think there is definitely that feeling of energy in January,” said Jill Lipset, the owner of The Power House Minnesota, a cross-fit style gym. “If you’ve got that spark of motivation, that’s really everything you need to start to build from there.”

Walking us through her Saint Louis Park location, Lipset described the socially distanced set-up. Each athlete works out 10 feet from others who participate in a class. The gym also has a filtration system that exchanges the air every 12 minutes.

“Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health,” she said. “It’s always that balancing act of, this is for your health and how can we make sure it’s not in any way risking your health either.”

Both the Saint Louis Park and St. Paul locations have made it through multiple mandated closures during the nearly two-year pandemic.

“This time last year we were closed, our doors were shut and we were operating classes and private training sessions online,” said Lipset. “Just being back in the gym has been wonderful.”

Now, the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant has tested their endurance again.

“I’m feeling discouraged where I thought that we were in a place where if we follow all of the right protocols, we can really keep ourselves safe and solid because we don’t want to go backward,” said Lipset.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke to Lipset on New Year’s Eve. This week, St. Paul implemented a mask mandate.

The order requires businesses licensed by the city to require a face covering at all times when social distancing of at least six feet is not maintained.

When 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS followed up with her, Lipset said the mask mandate reinforced their policies and most of her gym members responded with relief. One person, however, canceled their membership as a result of the order.

In response to the mandates in both St. Paul and Minneapolis, a spokesperson for the YMCA of the North said participants will have to wear a mask the entire time they’re in a facility, including when they work out.

Mike Lavin, the vice president of operations, told KSTP last week they are limiting participation in certain areas to ensure people can maintain a safe distance from one another.

“Since the pandemic started, we have experienced a dip in our participation,” said Lavin. “I think across the industry we’ve seen that and the YMCA is not immune to that, a factor that less and less people are coming back into facilities immediately but we’re starting to see that grow. I mean, we’ve got some great technology and we’re following the science taking place.”

He said participation is still about 50% of what it was pre-pandemic.

“We want to make sure we’re meeting people where they feel comfortable to experience their health and wellness journey as they move into 2022,” Lavin told us. “We have a full opportunity online for people to take classes and be engaged that way. We’re calling our seniors, making sure that we’re doing wellness checks on our seniors on a daily basis to see what they need.”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Minnesota has added more than 60 gyms statewide over the last two years.

According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, there were 694 establishments in 2019, 714 establishments in 2020, and 756 establishments by the second quarter of 2021.

“I think what we’ve been through the last couple of years, people really realize the importance of being physical, not just for the obvious physical aspects of it but the emotional and the mental toll that it has all taken and what stepping out and getting a good sweat on — all of the benefits that has for you,” said Steven Nicholas, the general manager of Skybox gyms. “I think that’s what’s really going to carry us into the New Year and give us that nice, positive start to 2022."

Skybox has called Saint Louis Park home for the last five years. Its St. Paul location just opened in 2020. Both locations offer high-intensity workouts.

“Our spaces are thousands of square feet, we’re really able to keep a distance between the person next to you,” said Nicholas. “We have access outside so we can get fresh air circulating throughout the gym.”

Omicron has still affected this fitness community, as it has with so many other industries.

In December, a wave of COVID cases forced Skybox to shut down. The latest surge in COVID cases across the state has also affected their attendance.

“I would say in the past couple of weeks with this whole rise of the omicron, we are seeking a little bit of a scaled-back attendance,” said Nicholas. “I would say in a typical year, we would be going into [the New Year] with a big spike in our attendance, a big spike in our intro promotions, free classes, we’re not seeing that right now and we understand why.”

He hopes this latest hurdle is short and shared optimism for the months ahead.

“There’s no doubt in our minds here that maybe we’re hitting pause right now but we’re going to come back stronger, we’re going to come back better than ever,” said Nicholas. “What we’ve learned in the past couple of years is we can pivot, we can figure this out we can come together as a group of people and make changes that will make people feel safer.”