The COVID-19 crisis has been rough on the fitness industry, with gyms and studios being forced to shut down and in-home training sessions discouraged in the name of social distancing. Pilates instructor Jessica Newshel is among the industry professionals to see their income evaporate when their workplaces and careers were deemed as nonessential businesses by Gov. Ned Lamont.
“I work in my home studio and I also work at a gym called Fast Fitness in Westport,” she said, noting the gym’s personal trainers have been “texting and calling about what we need to do during this difficult time to stay in business, because most of us have lost 50% to 75% of our clients. And we cannot train people in their homes because of social distancing — and some people just have their kids home all the time now and they’re trying to work from home, but there’s just no time even to do a virtual workout.”
Newshel admitted to being fortunate on a financial level because her husband works full time and she is not the family’s primary wage earner. But rather than remain inactive until the economy reopens, she has created Fit Finder CT, a platform designed to connect Fairfield County-area trainers and fitness professional with new clients seeking virtual coaching in a one-on-one or small virtual group setting.
The platform operates under the banner “Get your workout from someone who needs work.” Independent trainers who are now jobless due to the pandemic are able to promote their services on Fit Finder CT by filling out a form detailing their experience and accreditations in training.
Newshel provides free listings for the qualified trainers, which includes a photograph and relevant online links. People seeking the trainers for consultations can either contact them directly through Fit Finder CT or via the contact data in the trainers’ listings.
Newshel conceived the concept of Fit Finder CT on March 29 and had it online in two days with 15 listings. The site currently has 27 listings and Newshel is particular about who is on her platform.
“The idea is to stay very local,” she said. “There are a lot of trainers that are affiliated with gyms or who are group fitness instructors. And this isn’t necessarily a model that they need because a lot of the gyms have their own online platforms — they’ve quickly gone to having trainers do Instagram Live sessions and they’re getting paid that way as well. I’m trying to target the independent contractors, the ones you know, that aren’t employees at the gym.”
Newshel believed Fit Finder CT will help those seeking training assistance from having to slough through endless social media channels to find the right person to help them achieve their fitness goals.
“It is a great resource,” she said. “I know my gym tends to be an older clientele who are not necessarily on social media as much as maybe millennials are. And so, for those people that have this resource, it’s very searchable. If you’re a senior, you can click the tag ‘senior’ and it’ll show you all the trainers who specialize in working for seniors. For your kids, you can press ‘kids’ and it comes up. If you want to do kickboxing, if you want to do Pilates, if you want to yoga, it’s just it is very searchable.”
Newshel was unaware of any similar platform for the Fairfield County market, and she insisted she would not expand Fit Finder CT to the rest of the state or beyond.
“I decided to focus on Fairfield County right now because, obviously, there are a lot of trainers in the world and I can’t myself post all of their wonderful information on my site,” she said. “I’m starting close to home.”
Newshel was uncertain on whether her platform would continue in the post-pandemic period when the gyms and training salons reopen, stressing that she created it to address an immediate void.
“I’m seeing it as a filling a very urgent need, which is why I launched it so quickly,” she said. “I am happy to keep it around for a while on a month-to-month basis to see how things go.”