Stacy Davis of Restore Fitness

Stacy Davis, owner of Restore Fitness of Centennial

Gyms forced to close. Fitness classes obliterated by a pandemic. Personal trainers quickly figuring out how to be not-so-personal with social distancing, face coverings and other safety measures.

Personal trainer Stacy Davis of Centennial said her fledgling business, Restore Fitness, barely survived 2020 after losing half its clientele.

“They don’t want to stop getting their workouts in,” Davis said of her clients. “But there’s been lot of hesitancy, anxiety as we try to accommodate the protocols as best we can. There’s a lot of mental challenges and a little fear: Will it be safe or not?”

Davis started her business in 2018 after a lifetime of working toward that goal and suffering personal setbacks. She broke her back only a year earlier during a workout routine; her back had been compromised by a fall down some stairs as a child. That's why the focus of her practice is to help others fully recover from injuries post physical therapy.

The Colorado native has a master's degree in health promotion and a bachelor's in psychology and sociology from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“I grew up an athlete and around sports, but my career until starting Restore had just been some odd jobs like being a barista and piecing together a couple of exercise jobs here and there,” she said. “But I’ve consistently wanted to be a trainer.”

Birth of a business

In 2018, Davis partnered with other trainers and rented a 4,000-square-foot space in Centennial, a private gym they could all use to train their clients. She spent that year and the next joining area chambers of commerce to take full advantage of networking opportunities. She built up the business’s web page and launched marketing campaigns to promote it via social media.

She quickly discovered that owning and operating a business consisted of a lot more than training clients.

“At the time, I didn’t know what I was getting into and what it looks like,” Davis said. “There’s a lot of time spent on the back end, scheduling, marketing, inventory, accounting, networking.”

But it seemed to be working and by early 2019, everything seemed to be falling into place for Restore Fitness. But just like everyone else, Davis’ world turned upside down.

“There’s no challenge we could have ever faced like COVID,” she said of her business.

It just made perfect sense to her, and her fellow trainers, that clients would want to follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines to stay healthy and not stop exercising to help fend off the COVID-19. They knew participating in things like yoga and strength workouts are stress-busters and help deal with anxiety. But human nature is nothing if unpredictable.

“I definitely saw those who dropped as the stress level went up,” Davis said. “People just handle pressure differently.”

Online workouts zoom to forefront

As she fought to hold on to customers, Davis quickly realized she’d have to shift gears and begin accommodating customers at their comfort level. And many were not comfortable working out in person.

“I’d never heard of Zoom before,” Davis said. “Never had used it. Never even thought training online would be a thing or possible. It was a learning curve for them and me.”

Some clients didn’t have any workout equipment at home like weights, stretching bands or the large exercise balls. Plus, the rush on home gym equipment left supplies strained.

“It took me months to get a set of dumbbells,” she said. “We were using couches, soup cans, yearbooks, Home Depot buckets — it was all about being creative.”

Davis lost almost half the clients she had spent the last year signing on. And for some reason, the closer it got to the November election, “the worse it got.”

“I was OK business-wise when it (the pandemic) started. All of my clients wanted to continue,” Davis said. “Gyms were closing so there was also a bit of an influx. But that has since ceased. I guess the anxiety of a nation as a whole might have something to do with it. I’m also amazed by the clients who stuck with me.”

What’s next

“I can’t imagine starting a business like this now,” Davis said. “The fitness industry as a whole just seems down. A lot of friends I know lost jobs at gyms and fitness centers as the big-box gyms have shut down or restructured.”

The fitness trend for 2021 appears to favor online workouts, according to a December study, “Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends for 2021,” by the American College of Sports Medicine. It pegged online training, wearable technology (like Fitbits), body-weight training and outdoor activities as the top four trends. Personal training still ranked in the Top 10 at  No. 10, according to the study of 4,000 “health and fitness pros.”

“As we deal with the lasting effects of the pandemic, new systems like online and virtual training are critical to ensure the continued physical and mental well-being of people around the world,” said lead survey author Walter R. Thompson in a statement.

Davis said many fitness buffs will always find a way to work out.

“So many people, especially in Colorado, have a fitness lifestyle. That’s not going anywhere,” Davis said.

The challenge will be how to create something that meets many people’s desire to be social with workouts, and getting support from — or having friendly competitions with — others in that class.

“It’s hard to replicate with virtual workouts,” she said.

“Some have given up,” Davis said. “Not me. I’m staying and I’ve pivoted to in-home workouts and discovered different revenue streams now that I didn’t have prior to March. It’s a steep valley to climb out of, but I figure I’ve made it this far.”