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When the Prime Minister announced a suite of COVID-19 restrictions on a Friday evening in late March, Oli Wiederkehr was one of many in the fitness industry to take the heaviest blow.
His personal training business, Gym to You, had 100 active clients at the time with small group fitness classes and ten boot camp sessions per week.
However, the tightened measures restricting training to one-on-one meant Oli’s client base would shrink virtually overnight.
“This, along with clients not wanting to train during this time, meant we lost about 40-50 per cent of our work in the first two-three weeks,” says Oli.
“I was really worried at this stage and wondering if the business would survive. Overnight, we had to come up with a plan to be able to run our sessions from a car park across the road from the gym, reassure our clients not only about their need to continue training, but also to provide a safe and hygienic environment.”
But there was a silver lining.
Amid all the anxiety and uncertainty was a heavy dose of good weather, which meant Canberrans turned to outdoor exercise as their outlet—and Oli was only too happy to oblige.
“Everyone was in the same boat, and with people having more time due to not being at work, it quickly became evident that exercise and the outdoors was so important to keeping sane,” he says.
“Our clients loved the outdoor sessions—even the dark mornings and rainy days were character building. A few clients haven’t come back since, but we’ve gained many new ones who are now part of our fitness family.”
Oli launched Gym to You in 2015, after studying fitness and sensing a demand for at-home training.
“Not everyone loves gyms and life is always getting busier, we have less and less time so unfortunately one of the first things that gets ‘axed’ from the to-do list is exercise,” he says.
“If a client has a trainer coming to them, it provides convenience, privacy and a very personalised training session and means they will get their exercise in that day.”
Initially, the business was 100 per cent mobile, where Oli would drive to his clients’ house or a nearby oval. However, with a growing client base and some challenging weather conditions, he decided to rent out a small gym space in Macquarie.
“A lot of my PT sessions were run from there, especially the early mornings and evenings when light outside was minimal.
“This was a good ‘base’ for the next two years but as the business became more popular it was time to employ a trainer. A best friend of mine, Callum, came on board as an exercise physiologist and immediately the business grew. Our client base doubled, we moved to an even bigger gym space and it became exactly what I had envisioned a few years earlier.”
With its large open spaces and sunny weather, Oli believes Canberra is the “perfect city” for personal training.
“In my industry, it’s the perfect city: when I’m not running sessions in the gym, I’m out at Lake Burley Griffin or the lawns of Old Parliament House running outdoor sessions,” he says.
“Not only is it picturesque, but Canberra has fantastic weather, even in winter. This motivates people and urges them to be outside training, which is a really fulfilling experience. The accessibility of Canberra is probably the reason my business model has been so successful.”
Post-COVID, Oli hopes the business will continue to grow, but he says the community support felt throughout this time is something he’ll “never forget.”
“From simple gestures, encouraging words and positive feedback, it kept the spirits up and the business ticking over,” he says.
“This is what I love about small business; the community spirit that it creates, particularly in the fitness industry, meant that our clients supported us and helped us get through it.”
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What: Gym to You
Where: 27 Wiseman Street, Macquarie
How much: Personal training from $77. Visit website for details on group training, classes and more
Photography: Rohan Thomson