Taking the Gym Outside

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Art of Fitness outdoor Booty class
Art of Fitness members use resistance bands during a Booty class in the outdoor exercise area. | Photo by Fernanda Rocha

New outdoor fitness options are popping up around Laguna.

By Sharael Kolberg


Due to COVID-19 restrictions, businesses including gyms have had to get creative with ways to remain open. Some studios have managed to stay within the safety guidelines while still offering clients a way to exercise—by offering workouts outside. From spinning to yoga and more, these pandemic-era gyms allow patrons to get fit in the fresh air. Here are just a few of the outdoor options around town.

Spinning in the Canyon

Exercising indoors on stationary bikes or treadmills that are close together was one of the first activities to be shut down when the pandemic hit hard. But that didn’t stop Rhythm Ride owner Stephanie Chapel from pivoting to find a way to keep her clients happy and keep operating. After temporarily closing in March, she started renting out the bikes for clients to use at home with online videos created by Rhythm Ride spin instructors, but the personal connection was missing. In June, the studio was allowed to reopen with modifications but had to close again in mid-July when COVID cases spiked in the region and gyms were told to shut their doors. When Another Kind cafe in Laguna Canyon reached out later that month to offer its outdoor patio as a space to spin during the eatery’s off hours, Chapel was thrilled.

“We have to figure out ways to continue human connection,” she says. “We are so focused on the physical virus, but for a lot of people, they need this outlet. It’s so important to take care of your mental health, too. Take time to do something for yourself.”

While the indoor classes had 30 bikes, strobe lights and loud music, the outdoor classes are more intimate with only 11 bikes, but they offer views of the canyon. Chapel says that, so far, attendees seem to be enjoying the open-air classes.

“With our outdoor classes, the heart of the studio is still there, the energy is still the same, [it’s] just a different exterior,” she says.

The outside venue does pose a few challenges: Physically moving the heavy spin bikes in and out every day, making sure they are spaced apart and sanitized regularly, and sometimes dealing with the elements, like wind and light rain. Due to a loss of revenue, the studio also had to increase the class price from $20 to $30, with packages offering discounts. But Chapel and her staff don’t let it get them down.

“Every single day, we could be done,” she says. “I’d encourage anybody in a similar position to keep your head up, keep going [and] look for opportunities. Everybody is fighting for you. Ultimately, you’re serving them, but they are serving you, too.”

Rhythm Ride_by Andrew Chapel
Rhythm Ride holds spin classes on the patio of Another Kind cafe in Laguna Canyon. | Photo by Andrew Chapel

The Art of Outdoor Fitness

When the pandemic started and gyms had to change how they operate, Art of Fitness owners Marian Keegan and Fernanda Rocha were ready to face the challenges head-on to keep their business going. At one point, they were allowed to keep the indoor facilities open for a limited number of members at a time, but, as restrictions tightened again, they pivoted to outdoor-only fitness options.

“There has been no shortage of obstacles in our efforts to keep up the quality of our services while also being safe, but we have met every challenge with ingenuity and teamwork,” Rocha says. “We have learned so much through this ongoing process of adaptation and evolving to meet the demands of our community and industry.”

The transition to an outdoor facility means that members now get to work out in a 2,000-square-foot, retrofitted parking lot covered in artificial grass and partitioned for different uses. The tented area also includes heaters to protect members from the elements. Members are encouraged to book through the Mindbody app, which allows the gym to monitor the number of people using the area, so it never gets too crowded. If there is space still available, walk-ins are also allowed to sign up. Classes are capped at 15 people. A special deal through mid-March offers memberships for $99 per month with no contract and no initiation fee.

Members have been utilizing the outdoor facilities available to them, which keeps the Art of Fitness open and in business, something Rocha and Keegan are grateful for.

“Our clients are really thankful to have a safe space to gather where they can reduce stress and build strength,” Rocha says. “Knowing we are doing absolutely everything possible to keep our community healthy gives us all peace of mind. Thankfully, we live in a community where we all take care of one another.”

When the restrictions are lifted and members can safely return to indoor exercise, the Art of Fitness facility is ready to go and better than ever.

“We remodeled during the initial shutdown, put … in an antibacterial floor, added hand sanitizer stations, a plexiglass barrier at the front desk and floor labels for distancing,” Rocha says. “We started taking temperatures [of members and staff] and implemented a protocol for wiping down all surfaces hourly. These amenities and protocols will continue when we open up [indoors] to keep our community healthy.”

Art of Fitness Bootcamp class_by Fernanda Rocha
Participants working out during a bootcamp class in the outdoor area at Art of Fitness. | Photo by Fernanda Rocha

Finding Serenity Online and Outdoors

OM yoga & meditation has been offering residents and visitors mindful-based classes, such as yoga and meditation, as well as workshops and special events. With the added stress people have been feeling due to the pandemic, it was important for OM yoga & meditation owner Lori Kahn to find a way to continue to offer her much-needed services to the community, despite the obstacles.

“I would say the biggest challenge—although there have been many—has been losing the direct connection to our community,” Kahn says. “Part of the experience of yoga and meditation classes is the sense of connecting to community and the support you feel when you’re all in it together.”

Kahn and her staff have created an online and outdoor community to keep mindfulness practices going. For those seeking an in-person class, they offer a donation-based yoga class at 10 a.m. Sundays in Heisler Park by the whale sculpture, where there is plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the ocean view and salty air. Bring a mat and towel or blanket and dress in layers.

Another way of handling the shutdown, has been for OM yoga & meditation to offer 19 classes a week via livestream; preregister for a class at omlagunabeach.com/class-schedule to receive the link. This allows attendees to have real-time interaction with the instructor from the comfort and safety of their own home. The classes are $15 for a drop-in or $108 for an unlimited monthlong access pass.

Those wanting to take classes at their convenience, can access the newly launched OM Video On-Demand Library of recorded live classes at omlagunabeach.com. The fee is $39 for unlimited, 30-day access to all videos in
the library.

Editor’s note: Due to the pandemic, regulations and offerings may change. Please check with businesses for the latest updates.

OM yoga class at Heisler Park_by Sharon Stello
OM yoga & meditation’s donation-based outdoor yoga class takes place at 10 a.m. Sundays near the whale sculpture in Heisler Park. | Photo by Sharon Stello

Other Outdoor Options

If you’re craving in-person yoga more than once a week, Carl Brown, a registered Yoga Alliance instructor, offers free classes at 8 a.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Treasure Island Park. Donations are always welcome and all proceeds go to Thrangu Tara Abbey, a Buddhist nunnery in Nepal, for the education of women. (yogainthepark.blogspot.com)

Additionally, the city of Laguna Beach is offering limited outdoor recreation classes such as pickleball and tennis as well as lap swimming at the Laguna Beach High School and Community Pool. Safety protocols are in place: Only one person is allowed per swimming lane in the 25-yard, heated pool; masks are required when entering and exiting the courts (and at the pool except when swimming); masks are not required when playing tennis or pickleball if 6 feet of distance can be maintained from other people; temperature checks are being conducted; registration is required (no drop-ins); and gear may not be shared. (lagunabeachcity.net/cityhall/community/recreation/default.htm)

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