Personal trainer Noel Davis opened Paris Fit Studios on Vine Street in Old City on Jan. 2, 2020. Two months later, as the pandemic raged, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered gyms to close.
Davis followed her mantra, “Fitness is the future,” to motivate her. People were still interested in fitness, perhaps even more so.
We spoke with Davis recently about how fitness has changed during the pandemic and whether those changes will last.
Let’s start with your own road to fitness.
My fitness journey began in 2016. I had been in a car accident in 2015 and I wound up with lower lumbar bulges — back pain. At the time I was an archaeologist. I had wanted to be one since I was 12, and I was finally in my field. But the accident was a setback. I wasn’t able to do excavations. I couldn’t even handle lifting the dirt. I was determined to be able to get back to doing it.
I went to various doctors and rehabilitation. I finally met a doctor who encouraged me to work on my core, which increases your back strength. After doing that for some months, after working and staying consistent, I was able to do sit-ups and to stand for longer periods of time. I was able to lift weights — the 45 pounds I needed to lift for excavations.
In the midst of that, I met a personal trainer. She said, “I watched you literally not able to do anything, to being able to do everything you were trying to accomplish.” She offered to pay to get me certified as a personal trainer. I started my business as a traveling personal trainer in 2017.
I still do archaeology. I still stay connected with the New Jersey State Museum. And I want to go back to grad school once I have the time. I don’t think that’s a dream I’m ever going to let go. But now fitness is a part of my life, too.
What changed in the fitness world with the pandemic?
A lot of people were afraid. They didn’t want to go the gym, even before gyms were closed. So I started to offer training on the internet.
At first, my clients didn’t want to do it. They didn’t want to be online, or they weren’t internet savvy. They were used to meeting me at a gym and having equipment. Most didn’t have equipment at home. They didn’t feel like it was going to be as effective.
» READ MORE: How to create a home gym for under $250
Also, a lot of people were holding onto their cash.
But I had to keep the business alive. I offered complimentary online classes to get more people in the door. We had classes for all ages. We had kid yoga, kid Zumba, a kid dance workout.
A lot of seniors were always at home, so they weren’t getting the daily physical activity they needed. Some just needed things to do and interactions. So for the seniors, we have a class called Just Move. I have an 87-year-old client who says, “this is important to me especially at my age.”
Some interesting things happened. For Mother’s Day, I told people in my classes to invite their mothers to the class. It was a big hit.
When it came to people losing interest because they didn’t have equipment at home, it was my goal to make sure they adapted. I came up with the Gym in a Box. I packed everything they needed into one box — resistance bands, stretch straps, fitness gliders, a jump rope, a timer, and more. Resistance bands help with so many things — muscle memory, strength. You can still get a full workout with simple resistance bands and a mat.
The pandemic was such a stressful time. A lot of people dealt with depression, with unwanted feelings. I always tell my clients that fitness is a therapeutic outlet. I think they understood it this time.
Is online training as good as going to the gym?
In some ways, it’s better. One reason is simply that people are meeting people. You might think the opposite, but before the pandemic, people were busy. They were in class and gone. They didn’t stop and connect as much.
Now, they do. They know more about one another. They’re gaining friends. Sometimes, when I’m queuing up the music and they have to wait, I can hear them saying, “Hi, Ellen! Hi, Liz!” People don’t have to have their video on during a class, but most do. So they can see each other.
The online classes are a lot more intense, too. I had to make up for the fact that people didn’t have equipment at home, so I did a lot of high-intensity interval training. We did a lot of body weight workouts.
When it came to yoga, we made it more personable. We would add mantras. Or we would sit and talk about our different chakras. With Zumba, the music is always vibrant while we’re dancing, we’ll talk. We had to add a lot more energy into the online classes to make them more fun. I had to think, “how can I do this with a computer?”
Do you think any of these changes will last?
Yes. I will say that video fitness is definitely the future.
For one thing, the online classes left no room for excuses. Before the pandemic, I would have cancellations every time it rained, every time it snowed. Everything. Now, a lot of times people can get out of bed, get dressed, and go to the TV or computer and start working out. They don’t have to put on a coat and get into the car.
Also, we found that a lot more people feel more comfortable working out in their homes. Even before the pandemic, if I was around a client who had a sick child at home, they could get sick, and I could get sick. After the pandemic, I believe a lot of people are still going to be afraid being around other people. Being online is a lot safer.
Overall, it’s more convenient. I wish I had started online training years ago. It’s so simple, and it allows you to connect with so many people. I have a client now in New Jersey who has private group sessions with her friend in Alabama. I have clients in Italy. I trained someone who was in England. I’m able to connect with everyone simply from my phone or computer. I’m happy I don’t have to drive in bad weather to train anymore. Even when I go back to the studio, I’m still going to offer online classes and online training.
Now that we’re all psyched for fitness, give us some tips and advice for staying motivated.
Start not with exercise, but with nutrition. One thing I always tell people is that abs are made in the kitchen. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, or just tone, you have to make sure your nutrition matches what you’re doing in the gym. Your energy can be affected.
Also, if you start with the mindset that you’re going to eat healthy, working out will be no issue. I feel like it’s much harder for people to start working out and then you say to them, “When you go home, no bread, no cake.” Reaching your goal is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise.
As for motivation, my clients motivate me. When they come to me with their goals, I say to them, “OK, this is OUR goal now. It allows a more personal connection with my clients.”
Before I was a trainer, what made me consistent was trying to get back to the strong person I was before my accident.
Now, there are times when, yes, I do feel unmotivated. But I have to think of the benefits of exercise. My mood is better. I feel better. It’s like my senior clients, who say that when they don’t exercise, they feel weak, their muscles are aching. I still need to exercise to make sure my lower back is right. If I don’t exercise, I’ll be in pain.