Fitness professionals are out of work. Their No. 1 tool to survive? Instagram

Fitness professionals are out of work. Their No. 1 tool to survive? Instagram
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The fitness industry, like other industries, has taken a massive hit because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gyms are closed for at least a month, and instructors have had to adapt to stay afloat. The No. 1 tool to do so? Instagram.

In February, Caitlin Collins Gulley quit her teaching job to pursue a career in fitness at Flywheel, a cycling studio.

Just 50 days later, she had to file for unemployment after the studio laid off 98 percent of its staff, including Caitlin. Her husband James Gulley, a fitness instructor at Barry’s and personal trainer, is also without work right now.

To stay connected with their community — and to recoup a little bit of lost wages — the couple is sharing at-home workouts on their respective Instagram accounts that can be done in under 30 minutes with little to no equipment.

“Just 20 to 30 minutes of activity boosts morale in our house. We want to provide that for others and feel connected to our people, too,” Caitlin said.

Many of the people using the free virtual workouts are existing clients, especially for James. But Caitlin has amassed 100 new followers tuning in to the workouts as well.

gulley partner at home workout

Courtesy of Caitlin Gulley

Another Barry’s instructor, Shane Lucas, has also been posting live classes on Instagram, ranging from yoga to total body resistance band workouts. Around 700 people view the videos before they expire, he says.

Lucas isn’t charging either, but some people have tipped him $5-$10 through Venmo.

Emily Daly is a lifestyle and nutrition coach and a Reebok CrossFit instructor who already had an established virtual presence. Even she’s had to pivot while in-person sessions are off limits.

Previously, Instagram was a supplement to her core offerings, and now it’s how she keeps her clients engaged.

Last week, between stories and her main feed, Daly posted 65 more times than the week prior. She had 25,000 more impressions and an increased reach of nearly 600.

“It’s important to keep your body active physically during this time,” she says. “I want to show people that you don’t need a killer workout to get daily activity; just moving throughout the day in different ways can be hugely beneficial.”

She’s used to posting general health and lifestyle tips, but with people stuck at home, she uses Instagram stories to connect with her audience, share workouts, demonstrate proper form, and provide a physical outlet for anyone who needs it.

Online workouts aren’t exactly new, and neither is using Instagram. But Daly thinks fitness professionals and brick-and-mortar businesses are understanding the value of connecting online, and virtual classes will become a permanent offering in the fitness space.

Even Hilliard Studio Method, a boutique fitness studio that charges $300 a month for unlimited classes, is in a vulnerable position.

“We’ve gone from thriving to zero,” founder Liz Hilliard says. “For us to say we’re doing well would be a big big lie.”

The studio offers unlimited online streaming for $19.99 a month and has sold some equipment people can use at home. Hilliard says she’s grateful the studio has streamed classes for the last two years so there’s already thousands of minutes of content queued up, but it doesn’t pull in a ton of money.

Despite the lack of cashflow, people need each other and need fitness more than ever Hilliard says. Which is why the studio has started to share more tips on Instagram and show people working out from home on HSM’s stories.

“Sometimes social media is a problem, but I think Instagram is a strong thing right now for Charlotte. We can communicate and we can connect in ways that feel legitimate.”

Liz and her partner, Lee, are also rolling out a podcast called Hilliard Studio Podcast. The duo hadn’t planned to launch it just yet, but the need is now. They’re going to go in depth on wellness, staying connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, and other health-related topics. It’s meant to be another free, inclusive resource for people during the stay at home order.

“Small businesses, people everywhere, we’re in trouble. We’re in pain,” Hilliard says. “In the middle of chaos, a pandemic, I’m getting creative. It’s a great time to share that with each other.”

HSM class

Screen grab from Hilliard Studio Method.

Looking for a workout? Here are some options.


  • Shane Lucas (@gucciwills), an instructor at Barry’s in Atherton Mill, has been posting 20- to 50-minute workouts on his Instagram stories that you can watch for free. He’s done resistance band training, yoga, and other full-body workouts. It’s free to tune in, but donations are welcome.
  • Barry’s founding instructors in Charlotte, Chelsea Cox and Erica Peñuñuri Rossi, each post live workouts daily on Instagram that include strength training and high-intensity intervals.
  • Health and fitness coach Emily Daly posts daily workout challenges that take around 10 minutes to complete. She also shares other health-related content on Instagram – all free to consume.
  • Flywheel coach Caitlin Collins Gulley and Barry’s founding instructor James Gulley post free at-home workouts with helpful modifications.
  • MADabolic has adapted its in-person classes to offer virtual coaching sessions. $45 a week gets you six new workouts streamed through Vimeo.


  • CorePower Yoga has 20 free videos, including 16 yoga classes and four guided meditations. They’re also streaming three live classes a day, available on YouTube.
  • Yoga One posts free online classes while its studio is temporarily closed. The collection of classes is updated periodically.
  • Be Yoga hosts its classes online. New students get 10 classes for $79 or two months of unlimited for $119.


  • Hilliard Studio Method is offering a free 7-day trial for online classes, and $19.99 a month for unlimited classes after that. The studio also shares helpful tips and challenges on Instagram.
  • Pure Barre Myers Park, SouthPark, and Ballantyne have teamed up to do live streaming through a private Facebook group. You can email the studios if you’re already a member and want to join, or you want to become a member. You can also try Pure Barre On Demand free for seven days, then a month of unlimited streaming is $29.99.
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