Karachi's fitness trainers struggle under the weight of the coronavirus lockdown

The lockdown and general anxiety over health concerns have shuttered gyms, leaving many trainers scrambling to find alternatives

Shahjahan Khurram

KARACHI: Health and fitness trainers around the world have borne the brunt of the coronavirus lockdown. With gyms shuttered and no respite in sight, the blow to the industry has been immense.  

With Pakistan nearing its peak and Sindh alone reporting nearly 16,000 cases till date, we spoke to fitness trainers in Karachi about how they are coping.

'Completely sabotaged' 

Haider Ali Khan is a certified fitness trainer at the Platinum Fitness and Adrenaline Gym. He has, in the past, competed on a national level as a bodybuilder. 

Speaking to Geo.tv, he described how the virus has had a "huge impact" on business.

"Our gyms were shut down; home training got effected. Boot camps had to be called off and all the other fitness activities are paralysed," he said. 

He added that, save for online sessions, his income had almost entirely been "completely sabotaged". 

Haider, a certified fitness trainer who works at Platinum Fitness and Adrenaline Gym. Photo: Adrenaline Gym Instagram account

Haider is, for now, keeping in touch with clients online — helping them stick to their diet charts and sharing weekly progress reports. He mentioned that he was conducting online training sessions using Zoom, WhatsApp and other communication apps.

However, online training sessions come with their own set of challenges. 

"For one, communicating with people via social media apps is more difficult if you compare it to face-to-face interaction," he said.  

"I have to keep people's motivation levels up [from a distance] and help them maintain correct posture for various types of exercises [which is difficult if the client is not in front of me]," he said. "Then, sometimes, weak internet signals disrupt our sessions."

Haider is wary of the prospect that gyms might remain closed for the most part of this year.  

"It will harm our business a lot because, first and foremost, people will start losing motivation [to stay fit]. No one will remain motivated enough if they are working out alone at home for an extended period of time," he said. 

Haider said that people will also fall prey to "online scams" from those who pose as fitness trainers to earn an extra buck or two. 

Haider says that whike he believes some gyms can open with strict safety precautions in place, but most will not be able to manage. 

"Our gyms can open up with safety precautions, but the [smaller] ones are the places to be worried about, because they don't usually have the capital to take any of those [precautionary] measures," he added. 

Photo: Adrenaline Gym Instagram account

"It [online training] has been a thing for the past 6-8 years and is growing on a regular basis. But thinking of it as an alternative to actually going to the gym is something which will never happen," he said. 

While he thinks the numbers of online trainers are increasing by the day and will continue to do so, Haider wants people to remain focused on finding a knowledgeable trainer whether they want to work out at home or the gym. 

'I've lost clients'

Maryam Bashir has been working as a fitness trainer for the past eight years. Speaking to Geo.tv, she confirmed that the coronavirus lockdown has impacted her business. 

"I have lost a few clients and some clients are not paying their fees on time," she said. 

Maryam Bashir performs the plank exercise at her gym. Photo: Instagram account

With no other option left after the lockdown, Maryam, too, has started training clients online. However, when a trainer is not present in person with their client, it creates problems, she explained. 

"There are a few clients who aren't comfortable working out at home or [are] shy and they don't find it easy working out [in front of family]," she said. 

"At other times, they're caught up with work, or might have little or no equipment to train with," she added. 

She said her students were facing some problems in online learning as it was not possible for a trainer to provide individual attention to every client through video calling apps. 

"At times, internet issues may force a teacher to wait for quite some time for their students to show up," she said. "Other times, clients ask too many questions through the chat box, which get difficult to answer all the time."

Maryam said she offers body workouts and high-interval intensity training classes for her clients through video calling applications. She said she believes her gym could open for clients with safety protocols in place, but she is not in favour of doing so. 

Maryam thinks now is not the time to reopen gyms. Photo: Instagram

"Looking at it practically, I would say no. You never know what might happen," she said. 

Regarding working out at home, Maryam described it as "the future," saying that, despite its attendant challenges, trainers who can train clients in a gym can do the same from their home. 

"The only difference is that you're not physically available to them [clients]," she conceded. 

'Motivation and commitment are a challenge'

Certified HITT, Strength and Zumba instructor Sarah Makki said it's not easy to train clients at home due to a plethora of issues. For one, it is easier for a trainer to work on clients' fitness when they are with them in person. 

"Also, due to changes in their [clients'] lifestyle, routines and everyone being at home, it is difficult for clients to take out time on a regular basis. This is especially applicable to mothers, who have a lot on their plate these days," she said. 

Photo: Sarah Makki's Instagram account

"WiFi issues, space, privacy," she rattled off, when asked to describe the problems people face in training online. "And, when one is at home with the family hovering over your head, it’s generally a little hard to take out time for yourself," she added.

"But I think it’s really important, especially nowadays, since one has more time. You should definitely utilise it to invest in yourself," she said. 

Photo: Instagram

If the lockdown situation remains the same, Sarah thinks online classes are the future for health and fitness training. 

"We should not wait to restart our healthy lifestyle and routine when gyms reopen and things get better," she said. "Rather, we should start it from today and make the best of the situation."

'I have nothing left to do'

Syeda Omama Fatima, who works as an assistant marketing manager for a news organisation, said that the lockdown has had an adverse impact on her mental health.

"Going to the gym was my escape from life. I have nothing else to do," she said, speaking to Geo.tv. "For me, it was like chilling away from home. I'm trying to cope with it [the lockdown]," she said.

Omama said that she went to a local gym, Body Transformers, for nine months and underwent a huge transformation. "I lost 23-24kgs in eight to nine months," she said.

 Omama lost 23-24kg in 8-9 months. Photo: Facebook account

Now, she works out at home, keeping to a strict regimen of exercising for 1.5-2hrs each day before 11pm or just before Sehri. She shared her workout routine with us. 

Omama keeps to a strict workout regimen at home. Photo: Instagram account

When the lockdown initially started, Omama turned to Netflix and snacking before she realised she was gaining weight. It was then that she decided to work out from home and keep to a regimen to stay fit. 

However, exercising at home does not bring her the same level of joy that going to the gym did. "I miss my Smith machine," she said. "Legs day used to be my favourite day at the gym," she said.