Fresh Focus

The Faces of Houston’s Workout Scene

Six Bayou City fitness instructors talk COVID-19’s impact.

By Natalie Galerne June 30, 2020

It’s been more than a month since gyms and fitness studios—shut down for two months because of the pandemic—have begun re-opening under Gov. Greg Abbott's orders. As many gyms have amped up their online classes and sanitation practices because of the coronavirus, we spoke to some of Houston’s leading fitness instructors and coaches on challenging times, gym re-openings, and a fresh focus. 

fitness instructor headshot

Meghan Smith, Barry’s Houston

Meghan Smith, whose sold-out HIIT classes at Barry’s are favorited by professional athletes and busy moms alike, faced health challenges of her own in the pandemic’s beginnings. “In early March, I went through a minor health scare myself and ended up being hospitalized for five days,” she says. Though not COVID-related, she says her experience was frightening, and she says her heart goes out to those who have contacted the virus.

“It’s like they say, ‘You never know what you have until it's gone.’ It was scary not being able to run, lift weights, or even just go for a walk outside,” says Smith. “I realize now just how much I took my health for granted.”

Having fully healed and with sights set on leading Barry’s through this next chapter, Smith wants clients to be rest assured that they can enjoy the signature Barry’s workout with peace of mind. “Barry's has gone above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of our clients and staff, and my job is to make sure that they have the same amazing experience as they did before. Whether it's at 25-percent occupancy or a sold-out class—we're definitely going to bring the heat!”

Antwan Hayes headshot

Antwan Hayes, HIP Fitness 

HIP Fitness trainer and pilates instructor Antwan Hayes, winner of "Best Male Instructor" in last year's Best of ClassPass Awards, asks the community to gain a new perspective in light of recent events. “We are in the midst of a historic time in this country with the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s about time we think about others for a change.” He urges the fitness community to be hyperaware of how their behavior can affect the rest of the city—cleanliness and attitude alike.

“Personally, I’m trying hard to be a change agent for more minorities to be healthier with the little reach that I have,” he says. “Black people are dying from COVID-19 at an alarmingly greater rate compared to other races, and experts attest that this is due to complications with previous underlying health conditions.”

Hayes emphasizes the importance of exercising at least 30 minutes per day and making health-conscious food choices. “There are so many disparities [in minority communities] in capacities where the inequity can be a matter of life and death. Health and wellness is one of them!”

Michael Chabala headshot

Michael Chabala, sphere 

Former Major League Soccer player and sphere founder Mike Chabala says that while the health and wellness industry has been forever changed, his mindset towards life and its uncertainty remains the same. “This crisis just requires more thought and creativity in delivering the same product, just now in a much safer way.” 

Well-known for his love for his clients—whom he calls "teammates"—Chabala has been checking in on his sphere family more than ever before during the crisis. “I built sphere with the intention of creating community with a locker room feel so people could support each other on and off the field. It’s incredible to see those relationships strengthen during this challenging time.”

When he’s not working on his group fitness concept or caring for those closest to him, he is setting new goals for both his mental and physical health: “I just ran 100 miles in May. I'm reading four books in June and I really like the idea of changing my health and fitness goals up every month.”

Taylor Grow headshot

Taylor Grow, Revolution Studios 

“Truthfully, I’ve always been one to sweat the small stuff,” admits Taylor Grow, who celebrates her one-year anniversary as a Revolution Studio Cycle Instructor on June 30. “And like many others, being restricted in my studio apartment during quarantine was really hard on my mind, body and soul,” she says.

Grow says she went back to her hometown, Columbus, Ohio, for part of the quarantine, where she worked on developing a more holistic picture of health. She says her coping strategies in recent weeks have included getting plenty of fresh air and diving deeper into her yoga practice. “These days I am committed to helping others (and myself!) focus on the bigger picture and on what’s really important in life.”

Grow can be found leading cycling classes as early as 6:30 a.m. at the studio. “The most valuable thing I have learned over the course of this year is to continue to lead my riders to be their authentic selves,” she says. “It is the most vulnerable, difficult, and rewarding thing we can do for ourselves.”

John Michael Race, Barry’s Houston

In addition to teaching at Barry’s, John Michael Race works as a radiographer for local hospitals. Following Barry’s Houston’s closure on March 16, the athlete felt the pandemic’s effects from all angles. “When the 'shelter in place' orders were given, my daily routine had become unhinged. I felt completely out of whack,” he says. “When things happen out of our control we deal with the stress in ways that can cause fluctuations in mood, strength, or body image—and that’s okay!” 

Race says that this time has taught him to see health and wellness as a balance. “It’s important to recognize when the scales tip between work and rest, what caused it to happen, and then what we can do to come back into sync.” In addition to practicing increased patience and self-awareness, Race is actively encouraging client feedback, so that individual concerns and weaknesses might turn into strengths over time. “As they return, I want my clients to know that we may fall out of practice, but our strength comes from a lifetime of hustle. You can never undo a push-up or a sprint.”

Jasmine Davis works out

Jasmine Davis, HIP Fitness

As a former dancer, Jasmine Davis brings her love of music to the Megaformer and Climb classes at HIP Fitness. “Music is universal, just like math. I want to include songs in my playlist that make people feel good and help them push through,” Davis explains. Helping people feel their best, particularly during distressing times, is something that comes naturally to Davis, who says her optimistic mentality is essential to her practice. “Hey, times are different, but I want the clients to feel like HIP is the same safe haven. I’ll do whatever I can to help make them comfortable and to help keep the studio clean.”

Through the ups and downs of a tumultuous spring and what is now a distressing summer, the college professor wants her clients (and the general community) to focus on total wellness. “Sometimes people think that wellness is just about being physically fit, but picking up a new hobby or a new task—growing as a person overall—is what wellness means to me.”

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