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As Kansas City Gyms Move To Online Workouts, People Are Learning New Things About Themselves

Matt Casto
Janet (left) and daughter Lilly Cunningham of Blue Springs are members of CrossFit Cerberus. They've been doing daily fitness challenges the gym posts on its Facebook member page.

As people with gym memberships throughout the Kansas City metro have transitioned to online workouts at home — in coronavirus times, "working in" is the new working out — they've begun to notice something new. 

"It's been actually really enlightening," says Carl Neidholdt, owner of CrossFit Cerberus in Blue Springs.

"As we start training with people online and we lost that physical contact, we started diving more into what people really needed," Neidholdt says. "Everything has become very individual, so we’re having individual conversations with people. I love the level of care that we’re giving."

Neidholdt says he's managed to retain about 90 percent of his 270 members so far. He'd already been working on an online platform for a while, so he was almost ready for this twist in his business plan.

Looking back on how things were just a month ago, Neidholdt sees that the individual was often lost in the class.

Since then, Neidholdt has divided his members into six groups, each of which is assigned to a trainer. Members and non-members interact with staff through two separate Facebook pages, and he’s about to roll out a new page on his website.

"Now that we're coaching people in their own space through the computer," Neidholdt says, "these barriers are breaking down and we’re having really honest conversations with what they need and what's holding them back."

Neidholdt says a lot of gyms only know how to coach CrossFit with ropes and medicine balls and barbells. As a 22-year gymnastics coach, he's built up other types of training in the eight years since he opened Cerberus. His training philosophy doesn't necessarily rely on members having access to equipment.

"We have bodyweight programs. We have programs for backpacks; we teach people how to use a weighted backpack for a workout,” he says.

Most major chains are offering online courses such as the YouTube workouts posted by Planet Fitness in Shawnee, where Maria Roth worked out about three days a week before every gym in town closed.

New 20- to 30-minute routines are added to the Planet Fitness channel once or twice a day.

But even between the videos and added hour-long walks, Roth says, "I'm definitely not exercising my arms or strengthening my legs in the way I was able to do at the gym, but I hope I'm keeping my overall fitness level up."

She says she's happy to keep at it, especially because her teenagers are more likely to join in both the videos and the walks than they ever were to go to the gym.

Dan Roth

Nancy Mays has been walking a lot, too. She's a member of Woodside Racket Club in Westwood, Kansas, and hasn't had any sort of one-on-one with staff there since it closed.

She says that as far as she knows, her club, which she mainly used for yoga and strength training a few times a week, does not offer online videos, but members can check out "kits" of equipment that would otherwise sit unused.

"It's a minor worry in the scheme of things, but I know that working out is important to my mental health," Mays says.

For now, she's leaning heavily on YouTube videos for cardio and yoga. Once she picks up her weight kit, she'll incorporate some strength training as well.

"I think that what’s revealing about this was that I realized how important it is for me. It’s always been a part of what we do, and until it goes away…" she says, then trails off.

Brookside resident Patricia O'Dell feels the same, but for her the biggest fitness disruptor has been working from home and the loss of a routine built around her schedule as a communications coordinator at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

"The flexibility of it is weirdly almost making it happen a little bit less," O'Dell says.

Like Mays and Roth, she walks regularly. She also enjoys a yoga app, Yoga Studio, that she's purchased. She likes that routines of varying lengths are offered, so she can choose one that fits into her day easily.

But just this week, O'Dell says, she saw that that UMKC's Swinney Recreation Center now offers workout videos on its Facebook and Instagram pages.

"I think especially for their demographic, I think that's where their students and some of their younger alum are looking," O'Dell says. Patricularly those students who'd regularly used the rec center.

Jen Denslow

Roth considers what it would take for her to return to a brick and mortar fitness center.

Fellow members were never great about wiping down their equipment after use — except in the days right before the gym closed — and a towel will never be any match for the virus.

"I can’t imagine going back until I knew that I had either had the virus and fully recovered and was immune to it, or I had been vaccinated," she says. "I don't think I’d be comfortable working out in the gym until I had one or the other of those."

Until then, here are a few of the local fitness establishments that have moved to digital:

  • CrossFit Cerberus: Their Facebook page offers videos, tips, challenges and ways to connect. 200 NW 11th, Blue Springs, MO 64015. 
  • City Gym: Facebook Live classes at 8 a.m. Mon.-Sat., 7416 Wornall Rd., KCMO 64166. 
  • OneLife Fitness: Offers “anywhere” classes. A schedule and videos are on their Facebook page. 1261 Main St., KCMO 64105. 
  • Sage Yoga Studio: Offers online classes ranging from pay-what-you-can to $9 per class.
  • SweatKC: Is offering a free 7-day online trial and Facebook Live classes. 12206 Johnson Drive, Shawnee, KS 66216.
  • Thrive Pilates: Has a free half-hour class on Facebook live at 11 a.m. Mon., Wed. and Fri. and at 5:15 Tues. and Thurs. 813 W 17th St., Kansas City, MO 64108.

Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @AnneKniggendorf.

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