‘It’s important that people stay active’: How a Munich fitness studio evolved online in the corona crisis

A Munich-based fitness studio for expats and English-speakers lived up to its Evolve name when it was suddenly forced to shift online in the corona crisis.

'It's important that people stay active': How a Munich fitness studio evolved online in the corona crisis
Conway at home at Evolve Fitness in Munich. Photo courtesy of Simon Conway.

Simon Conway has lived in a fitness studio in Munich for the past five weeks.

With 180 square metres of space, it’s a lot loftier than most flats in the Bavarian capital. 

But Conway’s unconventional residence is far from planned: In mid-March, the Irish native was on his way back to Barcelona, where he had opened a third location to his Evolve Fitness studio and moved house at the beginning of the year.

But then borders closed around the continent, leaving Conway stranded. And when Bavaria declared a strict lockdown – with residents only being allowed outside alone and for essential reasons – Conway decided to stay at the studio geared towards the city's international residents which he had opened six years prior.

READ ALSO: Bavaria: How Germany's worst-hit state is emerging from coronavirus lockdown

“I can say that so many people have had their lives dramatically changed,” said Conway. “I'm sitting in an empty studio now and a few weeks ago I was looking at a packed studio with our clients from all over the world!”

Evolve, which also has a location in Frankfurt, offers mostly one-on-one personal training sessions but also English and Spanish languages classes taught by a staff hailing from England, Ireland, the US, Spain, Australia and Bulgaria. 

Soon after the corona crisis hit, he helped transfer these workouts online, led through Zoom in real time by trainers also in lockdown, including Conway.

“We have the human and community element. There's already a lot of stuff online, but this sets us apart,” he said. “From a coach’s point of view we have the ability to clearly watch our clients' movements online and give direction or make corrections fairly easily.”

Evolve students with a trainer before the days of social distancing. Photo courtesy of Simon Conway.

Growth in online fitness

Online fitness has soared in popularity since the beginning of the corona crisis, with fitness and yoga studios across the Bundesrepublik who never offered digital classes shifting entirely online. 

German athletes have drawn attention to their unconventional 'Home Offices', from dancers bringing their dogs and kids into the routine in their living room, to triathlete Jan Frodeno carrying out an entire Ironman competition from his home in Spain, including swimming 3.86 kilometres in a small counter-current outdoor pool.

READ ALSO: Ex-Olympic German champ to stage Ironman fundraiser from his home

One of Germany’s most popular platforms for sports classes and gyms, Urban Sports Club, has transferred a bulk of their course load online – despite initially telling customers they could simply freeze their accounts indefinitely.

Evolve also did not plan to make the switch. “Initially people were thinking: 'I don't want to do an online workout. This will just be a two week thing,'” said Conway. 

Yet several students seemed to have made the shift online at a Monday evening Zoom HIIT (high intensity interval training) class, as an instructor led them through a series of challenging exercises from her Barcelona balcony.

“I can’t tell if you’re exhausted or if the screen froze,” she said after leg rotation exercises. She continued at a swift and steady pace, pausing briefly for individual feedback or a cat that crept by.

As with a regular class, attendees stuck around afterwards to chat – whether about their days at Home Office or sharing the least busy hours to go for a run in the Englischer Garten.

'It's important that people stay active'

Conway, who had lived in Munich since 2013, said he was ultimately glad that he ended up in lockdown in Germany rather than Spain – which has had a lockdown barring even jogging outside.

“Right now it's very important that people stay active,” he said, pointing out that many clients who previously focused on fitness as a way to get or stay in shape are now turning to it more for the mental health benefits. 

While many of Evolve’s clients stayed with the studio amid the corona crisis, Conway said the firm was struggling to pay the rent at its central locations. He applied for, and received, a government grant for freelancers and small businesses.

READ ALSO: How freelancers and small businesses can apply for coronavirus payments in Germany

Bavaria remains one of the strictest states in Germany in how it enforces the lockdown, but it's gradually reopening the economy and as of this week allowing two people to be together outside at once (with 1.5 metres distance, of course).

Conway is hopeful that, by mid-May, the studio can train clients back outdoors with safety measures in place like masks and distancing and offer 1:1 sessions at the studio. In the meantime, his studio is offering trial classes with the code 'evolvetogether'.

He said: “It’s been fantastic to see both trainers and clients adapting to the changes and learning new skills at the same time!”



Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

It’s back again: amid sinking temperatures, the incidence of Covid-19 has been slowly rising in Germany. But is this enough to merit worrying about the virus?

Could there be a new wave of Covid-19 in Germany this autumn?

More people donning face masks in supermarkets, friends cancelling plans last minute due to getting sick with Covid-19. We might have seen some of those familiar reminders recently that the coronavirus is still around, but could there really be a resurgence of the virus like we experienced during the pandemic years?

According to virologists, the answer seems to be ‘maybe’: since July, the number of people newly infected with Covid-19 has been slowly rising from a very low level.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), nine people per 100,000 inhabitants became newly infected in Germany last week. A year ago, there were only around 270 reported cases.

Various Corona variants are currently on the loose in the country. According to the RKI,  the EG.5 (also called Eris) and XBB.1.16 lines were each detected in the week ending September 3rd with a share of just under 23 percent. 

The highly mutated variant BA.2.86 (Pirola), which is currently under observation by the World Health Organisation (WHO), also arrived in the country this week, according to RKI. 

High number of unreported case

The RKI epidemiologists also warned about a high number of unreported cases since hardly any testing is done. They pointed out that almost half of all registered sewage treatment plants report an increasing viral load in wastewater tests.

The number of hospital admissions has also increased slightly, but are still a far cry from the occupation rate amid the pandemic. Last week it was two per 100,000 inhabitants. In the intensive care units, only 1.2 percent of all beds are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

Still, a good three-quarters (76.4 percent) of people in Germany have been vaccinated at least twice and thus have basic immunity, reported RKI. 

Since Monday, doctors’ offices have been vaccinating with the adapted vaccine from Biontech/Pfizer, available to anyone over 12 years old, with a vaccine for small children set to be released the following week and one for those between 5 and 11 to come out October 2nd.

But Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has so far only recommended that people over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions get vaccinated.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who should get a Covid jab this autumn in Germany?

“The pandemic is over, the virus remains,” he said. “We cannot predict the course of coming waves of corona, but it is clear that older people and people with pre-existing conditions remain at higher risk of becoming severely ill from Covid-19”

The RKI also recommended that people with a cold voluntarily wear a mask. Anyone exhibiting cough, cold, sore throat or other symptoms of a respiratory illness should voluntarily stay at home for three to five days and take regular corona self-tests. 

However, further measures such as contact restrictions are not necessary, he said.

One of many diseases

As of this autumn, Covid-19 could be one of many respiratory diseases. As with influenza, there are no longer absolute infection figures for coronavirus.

Saarbrücken pharmacist Thorsten Lehr told German broadcaster ZDF that self-protection through vaccinations, wearing a mask and getting tested when symptoms appear are prerequisites for surviving the Covid autumn well. 

Only a new, more aggressive mutation could completely turn the game around, he added.

On April 7th of this year, Germany removed the last of its over two-year long coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing in some public places.

READ ALSO: German doctors recommend Covid-19 self-tests amid new variant