What’s next for Colorado Springs gyms in 2022 as pandemic lingers?


Determined to keep that New Year’s resolution to get in shape?

You’re not alone. Colorado Springs fitness centers and gyms are rooting for you, too.

Struggling to rebuild their memberships to pre-pandemic levels, Springs-area fitness centers and gyms hope more people will jump back on their treadmills as the calendar flips over to 2022.

After barely surviving months of lockdowns and rapidly changing public health measures that included mask mandates, fitness center and gym owners in Colorado Springs have been waiting for COVID-19 caseloads to shrink and customer comfort levels to return to normal.

Like fitness goals, however, results take time and can be tough to achieve.

Accolade Fitness, a local gym shut, down its 8th Street location on the city’s west side in November 2020.

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John Kunze works out during lunch time at Accolade Fitness off Garden of the Gods Road Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. Kunze joined the gym in 2009 when it opened. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Its primary gym on Arrowswest Drive in northwest Colorado Springs has remained open, but it continues to lag in membership by 25% when compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to Duane Johnston, the gym’s owner and a 50-year Colorado Springs resident.

“It’s been devastating,” he said. “As a businessman, you like to look in the mirror and say, ‘Here’s what I did wrong.’ And this one has been very hard because it’s nothing we did.”

To combat the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Jared Polis issued a stay-at-home order in March 2020 that forced the closure of restaurant dining rooms, salons and gyms and fitness centers, among other businesses. As the year went on, the order was lifted and gyms reopened, but capacity restrictions remained in place. 

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Kaelynn Strand works out at lunch Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, at Accolade Fitness near Garden of the Gods Road in Colorado Springs.

Accolade Fitness’ business ramped up slowly because much of its clientele was older and more at-risk when it came to COVID-19. Therefore, they were largely apprehensive to return to gyms, Johnston said.

Johnston, who’s run the gym for 13 years, struggled to keep workers on board as masking became a divisive issue among gym users and employees. Workers struggled to enforce mask mandates and many customers would bicker among themselves, he said.

“It wasn’t a red or a blue thing for me,” Johnston said. “It was, ‘I just want to get my business open.'”

But Johnston said he also witnessed the community pull together to support small businesses like his; some gym members offered to allow the gym to keep their payments even during the months of the shutdown.

While membership still lagged at Accolade Fitness in December, Johnston said it’s better than when he first reopened in June 2020.

At the start of reopening, he was 40% behind on membership; now he’s 25% down from 2019 levels. It’s slow and steady but Johnston hopes he can keep up with corporate gyms — whom he calls “the big boys.”

“One of the places that I always battled the big boys was cleanliness and friendliness,” Johnston said. “I can’t buy fancy equipment, I can’t be in a $20 million shopping center. We’re kind of a hole in the wall. But I can beat them on friendliness and I can beat them on cleanliness.”

Accolade Fitness isn’t the only gym fighting the effects of the pandemic.

Nationally, Dallas-based Gold’s Gym closed three Springs-area locations in April 2020; two months later, 24 Hour Fitness of California shuttered a northern Colorado Springs facility. The chains cited financial fallout from the pandemic, in part, as factors in the closings.

Locally, gym memberships at the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region were down 60% in December compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Jeff Peterson, the YMCA’s executive vice president and COO of the YMCA, said he thinks the slump is largely because of community members’ hesitation over the virus.

“We’ve definitely followed all the criteria and expectations of keeping a very safe and healthy environment for staff and for our members,” Peterson said. “But it (membership) is still not where we were hoping it would be.”

But the constraints of COVID-19 forced the YMCA to innovate, said Jamie Holstein, programming vice president.

The YMCA’s gym offerings now include virtual classes that instructors can lead while gym members are at home or traveling.

“That has been successful for those members to use if they’re not comfortable coming in,” Holstein said. “It’s given them an access point to access their Y on the go.”

The virtual offerings not only broaden access to exercise-related activities, but communal connections as well, Peterson said.

The YMCA expanded the virtual aspects of its centers to include cooking classes, school tutoring in addition to the various workout classes.

“We’ve been trying to be very flexible and adaptable to serve everyone and I think we’ll continue that,” Peterson said.

Some gyms have been luckier than others, however.

Planet Fitness franchise owners Rich, Jonny and Jason Jost, who own a Planet Fitness at 1025 E. Woodmen Road in Colorado Springs, said their memberships returned to pre-pandemic levels when vaccines became readily available.

The development of COVID-19 treatments also quelled many gym users’ apprehensions about returning to gyms, they said

And even as new variants such as omicron spread rapidly and the number of breakthrough cases increased around the holidays, the brothers viewed customers’ return to gyms as an integral part of pandemic recovery; working out helps gym users bolster their mental and physical health, they said.

“We’re seeing a lot of the first-time gym users that really, maybe pre-pandemic didn’t prioritize their health and wellness, and they really want to now,” Rich Jost said.