Illustration by Tania Lili (Dogwood) Illustration by Tania Lili (Dogwood)

This is part two in a series of Q+As with Virginians on how their lives have changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Read part one with a Fairfax restaurant manager here.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought hundreds of industries to a grinding halt as communities stay home and practice social distancing to avoid further spread of the virus. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered places like restaurants, fitness studios and movie theaters to close their doors to the public on March 23 as the state tried to stave off increasing cases of the novel coronavirus. 

Although many industries cannot conduct business the way they used to, at least for the time being, some are getting creative in the way they reach customers. 

One of those businesses is Solidcore which used to offer studio fitness classes up and down the East Coast. The 50-minute classes revolved around a combination of pilates and resistance training under low lights and loud music. Instructors were encouraged to promote a sense of community in their studios and classes always end with a high five between neighbors and the coach. 

Needless to say, the high fives had to go, and soon the studios closed as the pandemic progressed. Solidcore even had to lay off all but 13 employees in the days following state orders for non-essential businesses to close. 

Since mid-March, however, the fitness studio has hired back a total of 50 coaches to lead at-home classes for their clients. Dogwood sat down with Lisa Marlier, virtually, who is a Solidcore coach based in Richmond to find out more about how the business has changed. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

After the shutdown Solidcore began by offering virtual classes through their social media.

Dogwood: What sort of precautions was Solidcore taking before you were forced to shut down?

Lisa Marlier: About a week leading up to the closures our company started mandating that all studios have clients wash their hands before and after class, as well as having all the coaches deep cleaning each machine, doorknob, and bathroom with commercial grade disinfectant. So we were almost hyper aware of the situation. 

Dogwood: When did the Solidcore studios shut down due to the pandemic?

Lisa Marlier: I would say we’ve been shut down for almost three weeks now. We were trying to stay open as long as possible, especially in Richmond because the city hadn’t really been hit too badly. We didn’t have a lot of cases that we knew about so at one point we were sort of thinking we’d shut down studios on a case by case basis depending on who needed it. But then once the state of Virginia mandated all the nonessentials, we shut down.

Dogwood: As a coach have you been laid off, furloughed or are you still fully employed by Solidcore?

Lisa Marlier: 98 percent of our employees were let go kind of all at once. I believe they kept on 13 employees, which we called the skeleton crew. It was like all of the top tier HQ employees like our CEO and COO and H.R team. 

Then as we started thinking  about how we get out of this and how we save this company we started introducing at-home workouts with recorded videos. They were only 20 minutes long and we posted them on social media platforms like Instagram and Youtube but they got over 200,000 views on YouTube. So at that point, our leadership team started thinking this actually could work. So they brought on 16 coaches and I was a part of that group that was rehired. 

Dogwood: What has been challenging about the change to online classes?

Lisa Marlier: I think there are two parts that are challenging for us. One is just equipment, not everyone has the same equipment. You’ll have the people that have free weights to amplify their movements and make it more difficult but then you have other people that are using like wine bottles to work their upper body, which works but it’s hard to be able to give all of your clients the opportunity to challenge themselves without having the same supplies.

So we’ve gotten creative, we’ve seen some clients taking their child’s skateboard to use as a platform and I’ve seen some people using their kid’s Frisbees as sliders. So we’ve all definitely become innovative. And then the second part of the challenge is we’re doing classes through Zoom meetings which means we’re adding a layer of technology that not everyone is used to so you can run into issues there.

Solidcore attendees exchange virtual high fives after class.

Dogwood: Have you been pleasantly surprised by any of the changes you’ve experienced while doing online workout classes?

Lisa Marlier: As coaches we are always preaching the importance of community and I don’t think people really understood what their community was until I got taken away from them. Even as a coach I was like, oh my gosh, I feel no sense of purpose. So I think, people are really, really, actually understanding what we mean when we talk about community, people are feeling that loss. And this is a way for them to get it back. 

I also personally have been surprised by the messages I’ve received from clients saying how affected they were by us closing and how Solidcore had a positively impact on their life. They’re so happy to have it back even in virtual form. I think, again, you just don’t realize what difference you’re making in people’s lives until it’s taken away from them and people rallied. So those have been, I think, the two most surprising things that I’ve kind of taken away from doing these at home workouts.