Coronavirus: Virtual classes here to stay as fitness gyms, studios in Singapore adapt to new reality

SINGAPORE - Many fitness gyms and studios in Singapore were forced to go virtual following the introduction of the circuit breaker in April.

But as the Republic eases into its phased reopening, online classes in the mixed martial arts (MMA) sector could be here to stay, especially with many continuing to work from home, various industry players have told The Straits Times.

Spartans Boxing Club, which has four branches in Joo Chiat, Balestier, Downtown East and Serangoon Gardens, has been putting up pre-recorded videos online that teach various techniques including how to throw basic punches.

"As soon as the circuit breaker started, we not only did online workouts but kept the community together," said its managing director Russell Harrison. "We do daily Zoom workouts that resonate with the consumers' time schedule and have classes three times a day at 8am, 12.30 pm and 6pm."

Raziff Lau, 31, who picked up boxing at Spartans in February, feels online workouts are convenient as he can start right away from the comfort of his home and cut down on travelling time.

Ruchdi Hajjar, the founder of The Ring Boxing Community, noted how they had no more than seven participants when they started virtual classes.

"Now our sessions have about 15 to 20 people each and are growing day by day during this circuit breaker period," he said.

But the number of students attending signature classes on-site compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic has dropped by 30 per cent. This is mainly due to safe distancing measures.

Hajjar said that virtual classes will be key to helping the business overall. As such, they will continue to run virtual classes in order to offer members "a more integrated experience".

Coaching with The Ring since 2017, Hamzah Farouk trains eight to ten members daily on their boxing techniques and to help them maintain their fitness. PHOTO: BACK ALLEY MEDIA

Evolve MMA has also incorporated virtual classes consisting of Muay Thai, boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu workouts.

Its vice president Wesley de Souza said: "In each class, in addition to the world champion instructors teaching on screen, we also have instructors who monitor the students' training and give them individualised feedback in real-time."

 
 
 

Even though sports facilities here have reopened in phase two, he added that "the online component will remain a big part of the Evolve MMA programme".

Professional boxer Muhamad Ridhwan, a co-owner of Legends Fight Sport at Carpenter Street, highlighted the need to produce digital content to differentiate his business.

"We had zero income (during the circuit breaker) due to the suspended memberships and the short instructional videos on my online platforms helped with brand awareness and our online presence," he added.

He is now working on providing more online content for paying members. They will soon have access to virtual classes such as yoga, dance exercises, and HIIT (high-intensity interval training). There will also be blogs, cooking videos, and healthy recipes.

Arvind lalwani, director and head coach at Juggernaut Fight Club, estimated that 40 per cent of their regulars turned to virtual classes during the circuit breaker.

But he said the club, which offers boxing, wrestling and MMA classes, will always prioritise the in-person experience.

"There is only so much you can do in a virtual class," said the 40-year-old. "For what we do which is highly specialised, we do still need the human interaction."

 
 
 

Bruce Tan, an avid karate exponent, agrees that there is no real substitute for a gym setting.

The 20-year-old brown belt said his dojo is still the best place for him to practise his art.

"The dojo that I attend uses mats, which is what is used in competitions. Training at home has a different feeling," he said. "In some ways, it is better to explore different environments to practise karate in, but at the same time, I do prefer the regular mats that I am accustomed to."