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Kris Bell, general manager at Yakima Athletic Club, poses for a portrait at the club Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Yakima, Wash.

When COVID-19 restrictions hit the Yakima Valley, gyms and fitness facilities were among the hardest hit. Now gyms are fully open again, but some of the impacts of the pandemic linger.

In this month’s Checking In, Kris Bell, the general manager of Yakima Athletic Club and YAC Fitness, talks about how her gyms got through the pandemic and the changes she’s seen in the 30 years she’s been in the industry.

What drew you to the gym industry?

I have worked in the industry for 30 years and have enjoyed every minute of it. As a past athlete myself, I enjoy working out myself and the satisfaction of helping people reach their goals. I can’t emphasize enough how important health and fitness is to everyone. Money cannot buy either one of those things, and I think this past year has proved that to people, especially when you reflect on who was the hardest hit by the COVID virus.

What impact did COVID-19 have on the gym’s operations for the past year?

We were one of the industries that were really hard hit. We had a total shutdown for nine months. Any industry that loses all revenue for that amount of time will have a challenge to recover. We still had utilities, services and taxes to pay.

Members got used to not working out or finding alternative sources such as at-home gyms, online training and just getting outside and walking.

What pandemic changes do you think your gym will keep in the long run?

I believe you can always find good outcomes in every situation. I think gyms are more aware of cleanliness and personal spacing, and society has become more conscious of staying home when you’re sick and not exposing other people to it.

The pandemic taught us to take advantage of technology, such as online sign-ups for memberships and classes, and the value of social media to communicate and bring our product to our customers.

How do you see gyms, including yours, competing with in-home options that became popular during the pandemic, along with a whole slew of fitness options?

When the final restrictions lifted, people started to feel more comfortable returning to gyms and studios. There is no replacement for human contact and socialization and the energy it brings to a class or workout. Peer motivation and keeping up with everyone else in your workout class is something you can’t replicate at home. Once we get through the summer and schools start returning to normal, I think our industry will see a big rebound. At some point, people will tire of working out at home.

Our trainers and instructors are certified and bring professionalism to training that you can’t get on your own. People need help and motivation, and that is what we are trained to do. When you get hurt or sick, you can only Google your symptoms for so long. At some point, you need to go to a doctor and get professional help.

How do you feel the gym experience has changed over time?

Over the 30 years I have been in the industry, fads have come and gone, but the basics remain the same: Lift weights, move your body daily and have fun so you will stick with it.

I do think people now want more specialization. People are so busy they want quick workouts that bring significant results. Our small group training classes are an example of that. It’s a 45-minute class designed and led by a personal trainer and aimed at helping people gain results that help them reach their workout goals.

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