No one could predict the enormous changes the health and fitness industry would experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the landscape of public health changed to address the pandemic, the industry adjusted swiftly and continued to respond to the needs of clients during these challenging times. Although many studios and gyms were subject to temporary closures, one way the health and fitness industry worked to problem-solve is to encourage outdoor personal-training sessions and classes. Training clients outdoors allows health and exercise professionals to support social distancing while still providing quality exercise sessions. Here’s what you need to know to hold safe and effective outdoor training sessions.

Where to Train

Finding an ideal spot, especially in smaller, more geographically isolated areas or those areas subject to more dynamic weather patterns throughout the year, is the primary challenge when it comes to hosting outdoor exercise sessions. The venue is the single most limiting factor, so consider these points when choosing a location.

  • Is there adequate parking and lighting (if holding early morning or late day sessions)?
  • Does the location offer amenities such as restrooms?
  • Investigate the space usage. What other entities/sports teams/events are using the space and during what times? This will dictate when you hold your own sessions.
  • Are private lands a possibility? You may have a client or contact in your network who has access to private lands that may serve your purpose.
  • Evaluate the quality of the land/surface. Before scheduling a session with client(s) make sure the land doesn’t have uneven terrain, standing water, or other pitfalls that would threaten client safety or the quality of the overall experience.
  • If you select a location that requires a permit, make sure to carry it with you during all personal training sessions and classes.

To select the best location, research your local area parks and recreation department, chamber of commerce or other city entity charged with managing public spaces. In some cases, additional liability coverage may be required and/or obtaining a permit may be necessary. Look for an outdoor venue that offers enough space for participants to participate fully while maintaining a minimum of 6 feet of separation (about 2 arm lengths) from others.

Training Clients Safely Outdoors

As scientists and health experts continue to learn more about the novel coronavirus, safety recommendations evolve. The consensus is that outdoor venues and events are safer than those held indoors. While the risk of spread is not zero during outdoor exercise, it is considerably reduced. Keep these safety recommendations in mind and make sure you communicate them to clients so that they are adequately prepared for the session.

  • Ask clients to complete a COVID-19 self-screening questionnaire as part of the session check-in process. This helps clients take a mindful inventory of how they are feeling physically and helps them reflect on potential exposure or high-risk encounters.
  • Wear a mask whenever adequate social distance cannot be maintained (at least 6 feet). More space is encouraged if activities are high-intensity or involve dynamic movements.
  • Encourage clients to carry an extra mask with them at all times as a back-up should their primary mask become dirty or moist.
  • Limit shared equipment as much as possible. Sanitize any available equipment before and after use.
  • Encourage clients to bring their own mats or any other pieces of portable equipment (medicine ball, bands, a kettlebell, jump rope/cordless jump rope, etc.).
  • Clients should bring water bottles to avoid using public or drinking fountains.
  • Sanitize hands before and after each session or class.
  • Limit small group training sessions to (3 or 4) if having more than one participant in a session at a time. Be mindful of social distancing and keeping a minimum of 6 feet between individuals.
  • Make sure personal training sessions and classes do not overlap; allow 15 minutes to transition.
  • Limit physical contact by not shaking hands, doing elbow bumps, or giving high-fives.

Using Creativity to Structure Quality Workouts

An intense, high-quality workout does not require the use of a gym and/or large weights to get the job done. Using body weight as resistance, incorporating dynamic or plyometric movements, and programming high-intensity or every-minute-on-the-minute (EMOM) exercise routines can elevate the challenge and maximize the caloric burn.

In lieu of using a variety of equipment, you can leverage what nature has to offer. For example, if there is a hill nearby, clients can use that to increase the incline of a run or walk. If there are stairs, use those to up the intensity in between sets.

If you live and train in an area that is subject to seasonal changes, perhaps organizing a snow-shoeing or Nordic ski session would be valuable to clients who enjoy winter sports (and if those are skills you have). A quality workout doesn’t have to always involve moving weights.

Keeping Clients Engaged

Whether a session or class takes place indoors or otherwise, clients still need to be positively encouraged and receive consistent, unambiguous feedback during the session. This is a challenge if masks muffle your voice or minimize facial expressions. Further, social distancing doesn’t allow for the well-timed and encouraging high-five or fist bump. Consequently, you must find new ways to “bring the energy” and offer encouragement to clients. Keep these tips in mind to boost and reinforce client engagement.

  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the session by communicating your excitement from the start. Consider texting your clients before the session to emphasize your excitement of seeing them and working with them.
  • Smile even if part of your face is covered—clients can “hear” a smile and see it in your eyes.
  • Instead of a high-five, clap and/or verbally tell the client “good job” or “your form is looking great” or “keep going, one more!”
  • Ask for client feedback and incorporate suggestions into future sessions. This gives clients ownership and direction.

Training outdoors isn’t too dissimilar from training indoors—in the absence of large equipment, heavier weights and walls, the same basic principles of a quality personal-training session and class apply: client enjoyment, safety and engagement. Be consistent, excited and encouraging while prioritizing COVID-19 safety guidelines and the session will be a hit.

Check out these other blogs that cover special considerations for training in hot and cold environments.

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