Chad and Kelly Edwards and family

CrossFit Local owners Chad and Kelly Edwards stand on their porch with their children and dog.

If you do social media, you’ve seen the shelter-in-place memes regarding potential weight gain from having to stay at home. “Before and After” photos traditionally used to reveal weight loss are being manipulated to show extreme weight gain. The “quarantine 15” has gained a level of legitimacy. 

What do you do, though, if your very livelihood of staying fit and helping others become more fit has been shut down? When faced with this reality, Kelly and Chad Edwards, who own CrossFit Local in Chapel Hill, decided to not take the news sitting down. The two hatched a plan to allow members of the gym to “borrow” equipment for them to use in their homes.

“Leading up to the closure,” Kelly Edwards said, “we started limiting class sizes and disinfecting around the gym, and we tried to encourage social distancing as much as we could. And then the mandate came. Basically we just made the decision that we would allow our active members to borrow the equipment that we have in the gym so they could maintain their fitness at home.”

The strength and conditioning facility currently has nearly 170 members. 80 members took advantage of the offer, taking nearly 350 pieces of equipment.

“When we go into the gym now it’s almost totally empty,” Edwards said. “We probably would have rented out more, but there were a number of things that we had to set aside so that we could still work out. We’ve had many additional requests for barbells and rowers and certain weights of kettlebells. But we just don’t have anymore to let people borrow.”

The couple said it was tough to watch all of their equipment being taken from their gym, but soon developed a more positive perspective.

“It made me sad at first,” Edwards said. “Obviously we were unhappy with having to close the gym, but to also see all of the equipment going out the door. It feels like we’re closing for good, which is a really terrible feeling. But then we reframed it on a positive side. Chad and I developed this culture with our members that instead of using this time as an excuse to not work out, that all of these people were excited, and they wanted to continue their fitness journey. They wanted to take the time to come and get the equipment, to load up their cars and then set up their little home gym. They can continue to work out with us and not lose all of the progress they made. So, after looking at it differently, it was actually a really nice thing to see.”

The only stipulation was that each member who wanted to borrow the equipment would have to keep their membership active.

“We’ve been really blessed in that almost everyone did,” Edwards said. “We understand that it’s a challenging time for everybody. The terms of the agreement for which they signed up for are not exactly services we can provide right now, even though we would like to. We’ve been working with people and we’re being flexible. Some people are just having to delay everything because they’re unemployed. The circumstances are understandable. We’re also unemployed. So we get it. We’re trying to be as helpful as we can. Our rowers are the most expensive piece of equipment that we loaned out. We loaned out 13 of them. Rowers, barbells. Some people would borrow plates to go with the barbells. Kettlebells and medicine balls. Big plyometric boxes. Those were really fun to watch people try to put those in their cars.”

CrossFit Local also went into action to come up with a plan to offer online fitness classes to members by using Zoom.

“One of our coaches has set up different programs with other options, like if you have a barbell you could do this,” Edwards said. “If you have a kettlebell you could do this. If you don’t have anything, you can do this with body weight. It’s really nice. We’ll have our Zoom calls and we’ll be like, ‘What equipment do you have?’ And that way we can go through the movements and people can modify the workouts for what they have.”

The owners have implemented a schedule of classes and posts designed to encourage its members to continue working out and to offer opportunities for social engagement.

“Each day we’ll have a different theme,” Edwards said. “On Thursdays we’ll do Thirsty or Hungry Thursdays, so we’ll try to post a healthy recipe. We have Tip Tuesday where we’ll send out helpful information. This time has been mentally stressful for people. For most of us, exercising is our outlet for mental stress. Some of us don’t really have that, at least not in the same capacity. So we’ve been doing Mindfulness Mondays. We do a little time called Sip ’n Stretch on Sundays, where one of our coaches leads us through some mobility exercises. Everybody shows up with whatever their beverage of choice is, it can be water, it can be wine. It’s a good time to connect and talk about how our week is going while stretching. We’re trying to help people through more than just the physical aspect of what this situation is doing to us.”

The response from CrossFit Local’s members has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve seen a lot of social media posts,” she said. “They’ll post pictures of them using their equipment or tag us thanking us for letting them borrow the equipment. Saying it wouldn’t be possible without us.”

Edwards said she and her husband have been grateful for the gym’s collection of coaches. Shutting down the gym meant CrossFit Local could no longer keep its 17 coaches on any kind of a payroll, but it is still able to pay them for the Zoom classes they teach.

“We’re trying to come up with other ways that they can earn some money when we’re not in the gym. We assign all of our members a primary coach. So they each have an athlete roster that they can text or call and reach out to throughout the week just checking to see how they’re doing, what we can help with and things like that,” she said.

And while having the virtual option is proving to be a useful tool during the COVID-19 pandemic, Edwards said it is no replacement for the real thing. 

“There’s lots of interacting. It’s very social. There’s a lot of high-five-ing and encouragement. People cheering you on. It’s really hard to provide that same energy in the confines of a Zoom class. So, I don’t know that we’re going to keep those,” she said, although she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of using the online class for an unforeseen need to close the gym, such as a weather-related incident.

“I think we’ll definitely keep our Sip ’n Stretch classes,” Edwards said. “Those are really fun. The gym is normally closed on Sundays, so we don’t normally have a full class. It seems to be a good way to get people to actually stretch. I think that would be something that we might keep. We normally do quarterly goal-setting meetings with our members. All of our members will hear from us that it’s time to set some goals. That usually looks like a one-on-one personal training session. Sometimes it’s difficult to coordinate schedules for us to get into the gym with them at a time that works for everyone, so we’re thinking we might start switching those over to a Zoom format.”

Edwards said she’s not aware of any other local crossfit facilities offering the equipment rental. 

“We’ve had people from other local gyms — traditional gyms — contact us to see if they could borrow equipment. But we didn’t have any extra equipment to do that.”

The couple is hopeful their creativity and flexibility in continuing to provide fitness equipment and training to its members will pay off once the shelter-in-place is lifted. But they are aware that, regardless of when, fitness gyms like theirs face an uphill battle.

“Crossfit is a more expensive gym,” Kelly Edwards said. “It basically combines personal physical training with group classes. I do think there’s that caveat that because so many people will have been unemployed and things are just tighter for everybody, having expendable money for a gym membership will, unfortunately, be one of the first things to go. But we are hopeful that people are going to be so excited to get out of the house and to move their bodies that they’re going to be looking for ways to get integrated with the community and to combat the ‘quarantine 15.’”