In terms of timing, it couldn’t have been much tighter: Hamilton’s newest gym was set to open just four days before level four lockdown, waiting only for the final council tick.
Journies, on Victoria Street, was already fitted out with gym gear, and its coaches and clients were set to go.
Then, like so many others, owners Opal and Sam Higgins had to pivot as New Zealand went into lockdown.
“With gyms closed, and remaining closed even at level three, we have been working hard to develop our online services because, well, we had to, it was either make-or-break,” Opal says. “We also noticed that, although things have been crazy for most people, a lot of them have used lockdown as an opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate their own health and wellbeing.”
Social media was key; they quickly built membership of a Facebook group from the initial half dozen who had already signed on to an impressive 400-plus within two weeks.
They even had participants from Australia and the US in their 21-Day, At Home Transformation Challenge, which drew a strong response that saw them cap numbers at 25.
Journies is using the Trainerize app to keep clients on track, with coaching from Sam and their staff member Monic.
Opal says their system is comprehensive yet simple, including individualised nutritional support and a motivational on-line community.
“Sam and Monic develop the programmes for each person. We have a conversation with them, we find out their goals, and we figure out what the lifestyle is, so what’s going to fit for them, and they get a programme that’s specific to their goals through this app.”
The app has participants’ workouts programmed into it, coaches can monitor their activity, and clients can use it to ask questions.
“Accountability is probably the thing that makes a difference.”
As well as regular catchups through the app, Opal and Sam are running Zoom classes from their home gym in Ngāruawāhia. Clients join a virtual workout, with coaches able to see them training and help with their technique.
“A lot of them have said that just knowing that there’s other people in that class – even though the other person is probably gasping for breath and can’t even see what they look like – knowing there’s other people there helps them keep going,” Opal says.
Among those participating via Zoom is a group of six sisters doing their own challenge in a private group from their living rooms around New Zealand and the Gold Coast.
“It’s really cool because they can give each other a bit of flak, they can pump each other up.”
Innovation is the name of the game when it comes to home workouts – not all are fortunate enough to have gym equipment, and some have to resort to the likes of towels, broomsticks or chairs.
“So there’s a few equipment hacks going on and some people get quite creative.”
The occasional child or even startled dog find themselves lifted up and down during bodyweight training.
With the extended reach Journies have built online, they are now developing post-lockdown plans.
“We do have some that are loving this [the online offering]and it’s helping them to push through,” Opal says. “But there are some people that just prefer that social interaction. And we’ve got those six members that were waiting for the gym, saying: ‘this is awesome, thanks it’s keeping me on track but I can’t wait for the gym to open’.
“But it can obviously grow a lot bigger outside of our gym and internationally like we’ve already got.”
They are developing a hybrid model for when the gym re-opens, giving people the option of training in the gym, training on-line from anywhere in the world, or a combination of the two.
“We have been working hard, and although it’s still early days and there is much to do, we are super stoked with our achievements so far.”