Health & Fitness

Gyms get back into financial shape


Gym instructor James Atika at Premier Fitness Centre in Nairobi on October 5, 2021. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG


  • Fitness studios are now filling, marking a revival for an industry that was hit hard by lockdowns and the pandemic.
  • At the heart of town, Premier Fitness Centre lost half of its 100 clients.
  • The business has finally picked up since March, a year after.

For months, finding a spot in Nairobi’s fitness studios was relatively easy. Many people were still wary of exercising so close to strangers that gym memberships dropped.

Fitness studios are now filling, marking a revival for an industry that was hit hard by lockdowns and the pandemic.

Many gyms cut class sizes and stopped group workouts to conform to social distancing requirements.

At first, George Obiero, 33, who trains at Total Fitness Connection in Nairobi’s Embakasi, had fears of contracting coronavirus that he stopped going to the gym.

A month later, he contracted the virus, how and where, he does not know.

“I was patient number 40. I went into isolation for a week. When I recovered, I started exercising at home,” says the fitness fanatic who has been exercising consistently since 2019.

When gyms reopened four months later, he hit the gym. He was mostly alone, save for when his fiancée joined him.

“There were a lot of distractions in the house. When I went back to the gym, I took extra caution. I carried my sanitiser. I didn’t dare touch the weights, instead opting for aerobics,” says Obiero.

His fiancée, Millicent Wambui wanted to lose the baby weight and shape up. It was in early May, and she recalls that at the time, companies had started laying off staff, giving unpaid leaves and salary cuts.

“At work, we were only two and worked in half month shifts. We closed at 4pm, and I would be at the gym half an hour later. When off, I would go to the gym as early as 2pm,” she says.

At the gym, she mostly found herself alone as her partner often trained in a different section. As a result, she had to rely on a personal trainer, as group classes had not resumed.

“When clients started coming back, we were very suspicious of each other, and we made sure to sanitise every item before and after use,” says Wambui.

The biggest scare of infection, she says, came when her gym closed for two days to allow for inspection and fumigation by officials from the Health ministry.

The manager of the gym, Maurice Wanjala says that the period tested their finances so badly that the gym’s monthly income dropped from Sh300,000 to less than Sh40,000. They were only left with 20 clients from 80.

“It was so bad that we did not pay our gym trainers for four months. They had to organise outdoor activities to keep them afloat. When we finally reopened, we had to charge half the monthly subscription fee to woo clients,” he says, adding when they also reopened, only one trainer was willing to resume and some clients who lost their jobs have also put paying for gym membership on hold.

Financial shape

To get back to financial shape, he says, they had to assure fitness fanatics that the gym was safe.

The water dispenser was done away with, and clients were required to carry their water bottles and refill them outside the gym.

Those who lifted weights and used benches were required to carry their towels, big enough to cover the bench to absorb sweat. When done, they were required to sanitise the bench and instruments.

“Using white paint, we marked lines one metre apart to facilitate social distancing. To accommodate more clients because we had reduced numbers, we introduced an additional 7am group class, and another at 7pm to accommodate those locked out of the 6pm class,” explains Wanjala.

The business finally picked up in March, a year after.

The other trainer resumed, clients came back full swing to get rid of Covid-19 fatigue, and the monthly subscription fee was revised to the initial amount.

At the heart of town, Premier Fitness Centre lost half of its 100 clients.

James Attika, a trainer at the centre recalled that they shut down for three months, and he and other trainers took salary cuts, each taking home Sh10,000 less. “The business went down, and clients stopped coming because of Covid-19,” says Attika.

“When we reopened, we stopped using the steam bath, required every client to sanitise before entering the gym and ensured our clients observed social distancing,” he says.

They also reduced the number of clients per session to half and spaced out sessions. Clients were regulated as per set timings.

“For those who had coronavirus, we don’t ask them to come back with negative PCR certificate to confirm they are no longer positive because that would amount to discrimination. When they come in, we ask how they are feeling, and follow up to find out how their bodies are responding to the exercise,” says Attika.

“We are now recovering as a gym, and we have gotten our salaries back. We posted a profit as we have had many new clients coming in,” he says.