SINGAPORE - It has not been all doom and gloom for the fitness industry amid the Covid-19 pandemic as personal trainers here have seen an increase in the number of people interested in engaging their services, those in the industry told The Straits Times.
The factors for this greater demand include the repeated closures of fitness studios due to various coronavirus restrictions since last year, limited consumer spending with international travel curtailed and a societal shift towards focusing more on personal health and wellness.
Since Singapore entered a heightened state of alert on May 16 which saw many indoor gyms halt operations, Alexander Loo, co-founder of mobile gym Hustle Hut, has welcomed several new customers.
Loo, 30, transports the required gym equipment in a van and conducts his sessions at workout spaces such as their homes, parks or car parks nearby.
He said: "Clients that are looking to continue their fitness routine but were unable to do so, my team and I are now bridging that gap due to the flexibility of our business model."
Benny Lam, 28, has seen his clientele grow by 15 to 20 per cent as compared to his best years before Covid-19 struck.
Lam, who has been in this line for seven years and is a former national discus thrower, said: "They're looking for another outlet to spend their money and it also seems like something people care about. There's a lot of sharing on social media, some people have a bit more time on their own and are more aware of their health."
While many still prefer to do personal training sessions in person, Melvyn Yeo, 36, has had six new clients just from his online sessions, including two who are based overseas.
Although there is an abundance of online fitness resources, the former national para-powerlifter believes there is still a place for online personal training sessions.
He said: "Online videos have been around for a long time, but you don't have a relationship with the app. (As a personal trainer) you develop a relationship with the person and the posts I do through Instagram aren't just about giving information, you have to have a human aspect to it.
"People get bored with just information and now there's information overload. It's trying to match where the individual is."
While Daphne Loo, a strength and nutrition coach at Strength Avenue, has not seen an increase in the number of new clients in comparison to previous years, she noted that there has been a different demographic entering the gym.
One group is clients in their 30s who usually spend on dining and travel. The 38-year-old has also seen more women in their late 30s and 40s who have started lifting weights because of health reasons.
Communications manager Eveline How, 46, has been training with Daphne since December after discovering that she had low bone mass for someone her age.
How, whose family has a history of osteoporosis, decided to start weight training as research suggested that strength training could help offset declines in bone mass.
While it is too soon to tell if it has had any effect on her personal condition, she has noticed some improvements.
Her knees no longer hurt when going up the stairs and her muscular strength has improved. She said: "Previously, I didn't have anyone beside me, so I was not sure if I was doing things correctly.
"When I'm with a trainer she can make sure I'm not injuring myself and won't push me over the limit. She also makes sure that my posture is correct so that I'm not causing danger to myself."
The profile of personal trainers is also evolving as some have made a career switch to pursue their passion.
Previously an accountant five years ago, Loo, who was a former national sprinter, signed up for a personal training course with the National Council on Strength and Fitness in 2019. He then started coaching part-time and has been running Hustle Hut full-time since March.
Fellow personal trainer John Suriya, 28, has been juggling his job as an associate lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences with coaching.
After returning from the United Kingdom where he did his master's degree in Sociology last year, he started his job as a researcher. But having previously worked as a personal trainer for almost two years before going to the UK, he did not want to give it up and went back to it last October.
He said: "There's definitely been an uptake in the demand for personal training because people are getting more self-conscious and are more aware of their health.
"With this work from home arrangement, people decide that they need to get out and do something because there's only so much you can do at home."
The current Covid-19 guidelines however, have been challenging for the fitness sector. Organised programmes and classes for low-intensity activities are restricted to groups of two while high-intensity outdoor activities for which masks have to be removed, are limited to two people and there can be no multiple groups of two. This includes the coach or instructor.
Many trainers have shifted their sessions outdoors, but not all clients have been keen to continue lessons for a variety of reasons.
About 90 per cent of Suriya's trainees have chosen to stop their sessions for now because of concerns over the Covid-19 situation while Loo has seen about 20 per cent of clients put a hold on classes for the time being.
Daphne has lost seven to eight private sessions weekly, which amounts to about $1,200.
Some of her clients have opted to halt training for now as equipment such as barbells, weight plates and squat racks that they are accustomed to using cannot be brought outdoors. Whether training sessions take place is also weather dependent.
Despite the challenges, Daphne and her fellow personal trainers are choosing to persist during this tough time.
She said: "I don't do well with sun and heat, nor with rain. As you can imagine, training outdoors exposes me to all the things that makes me uncomfortable.
"But this is my duty to my clients, and as long as my clients are keeping positive, they want to keep moving and keep training, I will do it for them."