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Online workouts, outdoor activity and indoor exercises among options when facilities close

COURTESY; ANDREA PIACQUADIO/PEXELS - Your gym may be closed, but that doesn't mean you can't get out and exercise.Tom Higgins spent Tuesday handing out equipment for members at VC CrossFit to take home.

Like many businesses, his gym at Northwest 17th and Lovejoy will be closed through at least the end of March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Higgins wants to keep serving his customers, so the VC CrossFit owner and head coach spent Tuesday handing out kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, jump ropes and PVC pipe to about 100 of his 175 or so members. Through online interaction, Higgins hopes to maintain the relationships he considers the core of successful fitness.

"Working out with your friends and interacting with them every day at class reminds everyone that this thing called life is not an Excel spreadsheet and that things don't move in a straight line," Higgins said. "Fitness is no different."

Portland resident Hannah Johnson has been working out at VC CrossFit for six years and described the vibe as one of sadness as people came to pick up equipment.

While grateful there is a way to continue training virtually, Johnson said she would miss the daily interactions with her gym friends.

"We all kind of live life together," Johnson said. "Fitness is very important to us, but the community part of it is equally important."

Johnson said her routine is to work out in the morning at least five days a week. "It's not just a stress reliever. It really does impact my day."

Johnson appreciates that she will be matched with a specific coach she can talk with throughout the closure and that she will get daily workouts online

Higgins uses a fitness club management platform called Wodify to communicate workout plans to members. He is hoping by next week to be able to offer some "group" sessions through Instagram.

Johnson knows it will be challenging without the immediate feedback from friends who hold each other accountable and encourage one another to finish that last repetition of an exercise when the body wants to go no further.

Johnson is glad she has the wall ball and the kettlebell she checked out on Tuesday to use in her one-bedroom apartment until VC CrossFit reopens. But she plans to do as much of her training as possible outdoors.

"I can easily go outside as long as I'm not near anyone else. Some of the workouts might be better to do outside," she said.

Outdoor activity is ideal, according to Alicia Hardin.

"My advice is to get outside," Hardin said, a fitness specialist with the March Wellness and Fitness Center at Oregon Health Sciences University. "Bike, walk, paddleboard, cross-country ski, do jumping jacks, use a park bench to do your step-ups, and sit-to-stand (exercises). Just basically keep moving and get some fresh air."

The number of indoor options continues to dwindle as the COVID-19 virus impacts the community.

Across the Portland area, gyms are forced to consider tough options. As of Wednesday, many facilities — including chains LA Fitness and 24-Hour Fitness and the Multnomah Athletic Club — have closed at least through the end of March. Cascade Athletic Clubs I-205 and Gresham locations and the Lloyd Athletic Club were open Wednesday with limited access and no group activities.

VC CrossFit is not yet pausing or refunding active memberships. In addition to loaning out equipment to members, Higgins and his staff are providing online training courses and pairing members with trainers to communicate with during the closure.

The approach is similar at Trainers Club in Lake Oswego. General manager Jenny Lakey, who owns the club with her husband Casey, decided on Monday to close through March 31.

COURTESY: CDC/AMANDA MILLS - Precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus may have closed your local gym, but you can still get out and exercise.Lakey said Trainers Club began changing protocols and schedules in early March as the pandemic news evolved. She said attendance at her gym remained steady until the March 12 suspension of major sports seasons, which she estimated caused a 25% drop in attendance.

Lakey is encouraged by the response from her patrons.

"We've had many members contact us to say they will not be putting their membership on hold — in order to support our staff and health professionals," Lakey said. "One member said he wanted to issue a challenge to all other members to make donations to a fund solely to support the staff, who are being hurt by a situation out of their control."

Exercise should not be a victim of the crisis, Lakey emphasized. Trainers Club has begun offering daily workouts on its Facebook page using Facebook Live.

"The workouts use functional bodyweight training and weights in the form of household items that are easy to grasp," she explained.

Trainers Club is planning several workout sessions at a park where people can stay 10 feet apart. Lakey said all equipment used at the outdoor sessions would be sanitized by the instructor.

Lakey and Higgins both emphasized the importance of exercising for stress relief and a stronger immune system. Among their suggestions were long walks when the weather allows.

Lakey listed several ideas for working out at home.

"Why not grab a couple of soup cans or something similarly unbreakable, crank up the music and dance around and punch the air for 20 minutes?" she said. "That would be a great cardio workout."

Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, burpees, planks, jumping jacks, and marching in place lifting knees high are among exercises that require no equipment, Lakey noted.

"Do each exercise for one minute and then move on to the next in a circuit," she suggested. "Or just do a few of them for 10 minutes, and two hours later do another 10 minutes, and later on, a third 10 minutes."

Social interaction is essential to stress management as well as to successful workouts, Lakey noted.

"For once, we can advocate using technology to keep in touch with family and friends, another important way to manage your stress," she said. "So keep moving, take a few belly breaths, and remember we will get through this together."

Hardin said March Wellness at OHSU likely would develop a virtual program for its members. She predicts the current public health crisis will expand the presence of internet-based fitness programs that people can follow at home. Websites and apps can offer effective training programs, Hardin said, but cannot replicate the emotional support that participants in group activity enjoy.

She said the social aspect of a workout class is more important to older participants in her classes.

"Most people like connection," she said. "Some people go to exercise classes because it's more fun and you can work harder with others."

Higgins, the owner of VC CrossFit, will miss the regular interactions that have happened seven days a week for the eight years he's been open. Despite the necessary separation, Higgins said his goal is to remain positive and help his clients stay upbeat.

"(Closing) will be very strange," he said.

Higgins said he would continue to monitor recommendations from the CDC and the state. If and when it is feasible, his coaches are ready to lead small-group outdoor training sessions in parks.

"We know this is a stressful time. We are trying to focus on good things that are happening, including the way our team members and clients are supporting each other." Higgins said.

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