June 03, 2020
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Bangor gyms survive by keeping clients active and engaged with online video workouts

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Katie Norwood, a trainer at Wilcox Wellness & Fitness in Bangor, instructs a virtual training session via Zoom on Wednesday. Norwood instructed the class from the empty gym, where only she and one other trainer, who was giving a private virtual training session, were present. After demonstrating an exercise, Norwood watches her clients for proper form and gives encouragement as they go through the workout.

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When the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in Maine almost a month ago, Paige and Mike Wilcox faced a daunting reality.

People had begun to self-isolate in their homes which meant their business, Wilcox Wellness and Fitness, was in jeopardy. Making matters worse, at the time they were spending a month in Costa Rica with their two young children.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

The Wilcox’s quickly developed a plan. Before they closed their Bangor location on March 17, they had already posted an online video workout for their clients.

Within a week, Wilcox made the transition to offering a full schedule of live training sessions.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Katie Norwood, a trainer at Wilcox Wellness & Fitness in Bangor, talks to one of her clients during a virtual training session via Zoom on Wednesday.

“We wanted to keep our family safe and save our business,” said Paige Wilcox whose family, fearing being stuck in Central America, returned to Bangor early and self-isolated for 14 days.

Outdoor activities in Maine have been sharply curtailed although people can still walk, run, bike or fish while adhering to social distancing guidelines. With a stay-at-home order in place, some fitness facilities are creatively using the internet to help their clients stay active indoors.

The Bangor Region YMCA and the Old Town-Orono YMCA are putting various workouts on their websites, while Wilcox Wellness & Fitness in Bangor and Brunswick and Crossfit Bangor are supplying workouts via Zoom meetings. That allows clients to interact live via a video feed with trainers and other participants.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Katie Norwood, a trainer at Wilcox Wellness & Fitness in Bangor, greets clients signing on for a virtual training session via Zoom on Wednesday.

“It has been interesting and unique,” said Tiffany Surette, the lead coach at Crossfit Bangor. “For a lot of them, it has been a way to stay connected.”

She said motivation can be lacking when trying to work out alone, but the group format helps inspire clients.

“When you log in and see all the familiar faces you had been taking classes with, it feels like a family. Everyone is so supportive,” Surette said.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Katie Norwood, a trainer at Wilcox Wellness & Fitness in Bangor, instructs a virtual training session via Zoom on Wednesday. 

Paige Wilcox said it is imperative for gym owners and trainers to interact with clients during the live workouts.

“We wanted to provide something special for our clients. We wanted to maintain our relationship with them and help supply them with a sense of normalcy,” she said.

Suzanne Spruce, a Wilcox client, said the virtual workouts have been a godsend.

“I miss the personal interaction, the joking around before the class, but you can still see everybody and hear their voices,” Spruce said.

Spruce said the quality of the instruction is the same. If her workout posture or technique is off, the trainer can spot it and help her correct it.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Katie Norwood, a trainer at Wilcox Wellness & Fitness in Bangor, counts down the time of an exercise for her clients during a virtual training session on Wednesday. 

“It is often the best friend interaction you get that day,” she said.

Scott Boucher of Bangor, a member of Crossfit Bangor, agreed that working out live on video makes you accountable.

“It’s so easy to find excuses not to work out. Quarantine depression,” Boucher said. “But now you can make plans to work out and you get to interact with a trainer, which is a huge help. It’s motivating.”

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Tiffany Surette, head coach at CrossFit Bangor, instructs a virtual training session via Zoom from her home gym on Wednesday. "I feel like it's going well," Surette said about instructing classes via Zoom. Every class is "a whole hour to avoid the chaos."

Maintaining a gym or workout routine can be a critical element in handling the stress of living and working amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Spruce is the chief marketing and communications officer for Northern Light Health.

“This is good for my mind as well,” she said.

“I was a little skeptical at first but it has been a breath of fresh air,” said Wilcox member Mark Leonard, the Veazie town manager and police chief. “It’s just like being at the gym. I can’t say enough good about Mike and Paige for putting this together.”

CrossFit member Barbara St. Peter of Bangor said the coaches have helped them improvise if they don’t have a particular piece of equipment.

“If you don’t have a dumbbell, you can use a bottle of laundry detergent,” St. Peter said. “I live in a small apartment and some things you need to do involve a lot of space, so they have helped me make modifications so I can work out in the space that I have.”

Katie Norwood, Adam Allen, Ben Bunnell and Mike Wilcox are the trainers at Wilcox in Bangor. J.D. Samson is their trainer in Brunswick.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Tiffany Surette, head coach at CrossFit Bangor, welcomes clients as they sign on to Zoom for their workout session on Wednesday. Surette, along with all CrossFit Bangor coaches, is instructing remotely.

“We pride ourselves in being very intuitive with people,” said Norwood, who focuses on proper form and the motivational element.

“It has been a huge adjustment, not being able to be with them, but we are as hands-on as you can be in this situation,” she said. “We have tried to stay in the daily routine as much as possible and given our clients some sense of normalcy.”

Wilcox offers up to 13 classes per day on weekdays and two on Saturdays. The trainers do the sessions from the gym.

Crossfit Bangor offers classes twice daily on weekdays and once on Saturday. Its instructors, Surette, Michele Netzler and Daija Misler, teach from home. Clients also can access workouts online later.

“Our clients are telling us it’s the best hour of their day,” Surette said.

Paige Wilcox never imagined that pivoting to video-based training would be so well-accepted and appreciated.

“It has been amazing. It has really blown our minds,” she said.

“They have been so thankful that we have given them a sense of normalcy and mental health. I am really proud of what our team has been able to do,” she said.

Diane Dickerson, the CEO of the Bangor Region YMCA, has been forced to lay off 140 of its 175 workers. The Y is staying in touch with members and is offering recorded workouts for all ages.

“It has been very difficult. But we are so lucky because 89 percent of our members are staying with us and still paying dues which will be donated to the Y,” said Dickerson. “We have opened up a virtual YMCA to the whole community so everyone can stay engaged.”

The Bangor YMCA serves as an emergency care center from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for children of healthcare workers and first responders and others in essential businesses.

The Old Town-Orono YMCA has launched its “Beyond Our Walls” webpage so their members can stay active through virtual programs.

Watch: How to stop the spread of germs

 

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Scott Boucher’s name and that of Tiffany Surette in photo captions.

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