DMN8 runs outdoor fitness classes directly facing the Santa Monica beach

The pandemic pummeled LA’s enormous fitness industry and from the ashes of shuttered studios a new permanent and semipermanent outdoor exercise industry has taken root in Venice and Santa Monica.

While these businesses are cultivating a growing following, the state of the general fitness industry remains dire.

Aside from a few week window in June and July, indoor gyms and studios have been closed since March 2020.

Some gym managers said that as much as 70 percent of the local industry could still be out of work, even with the limited opening hours currently available.

The businesses that have managed to stay afloat completely adapted their operations, introducing new exercise programs that will have lasting effects on the way people work out.

One such trend is outdoor group fitness companies that don’t own a physical studio space.

In Santa Monica DMN8 is offering HIIT, yoga, sculpt, pilates, and dance cardio classes seven days a week on the Ocean Park grass area directly facing the beach.

The company was founded by former local lifeguard Eddy Roche, who saw a gap in the fitness industry and launched DMN8 in November 2019.

“One day I was sitting in one of the blue towers on the beach and I noticed people exercising on those beautiful green patches of grasses,” said Roche. “Back home in Australia group fitness is ubiquitous. You can’t go out to Bondi, Bronte or any of the famous beaches in Queensland without seeing locals building community and staying active together and I thought ‘hey maybe I can do that here’.”

DMN8’s model is permanently outdoors and currently operates with masking, physical distancing, and no equipment sharing protocols in place.

Community, which many people are sorely missing, is at the center of its model. DMN8 constantly engages with locals on its @dmn8_app Instagram account and hosts monthly ‘Service Saturday’ events to give back to the local community.

Several boutique studios such as Circuit Works, Pure Barre, Modo Yoga and Barry’s Bootcamp have also opened outdoors locally and strive to bring back the motivational aspect of group fitness.

One of the latest offerings is Ryde4, a group spin class that reopened in January on the Burn Fitness roof in Downtown Santa Monica. Instructors said people are looking for someone to push them and a team or group to be a part of.

Even with extensive safety precautions in place, many people are weary of venturing into group settings. In general, the local fitness industry still faces depressed demand.

“There’s a common misconception that DMN8 benefited from the pandemic, because we were already operating outdoors,” said Roche. “But we suffered just like everybody else when the economy suffered and lost a lot of members of our community.”

When Ryde4 first opened in January classes were sparsely attended, but their following has swelled significantly as people came to trust their health and hygiene standards and recommended the classes to friends. DMN8 has noticed a similar trend, particularly as Covid case counts continue to decrease.

While several studios have been open outdoors since summer, gyms in general were slower to adapt.

Gold’s Gym in Venice just reopened on Jan. 15. After waiting for months to get the green light for limited indoor operations, the management team made a cost benefit analysis and decided to bring all of their equipment outdoors.

“There was a pretty big investment to be made. We created a giant wooden platform with sub flooring in our front parking lot,” said Jeff Suender, Gold’s Venice general manager. “We have a massive 4,000 square foot tent. We had to fence the front and back parking lots as there’s quite a few homeless encampments surrounding us and we also had to hire private security.”

It’s unclear how many of these outdoor fitness facilities will last beyond the pandemic.

While outdoor only brands like DMN8 are here to stay, Ryde4 is toying with the idea of a permanent rooftop location, and Gold’s plans on eventually returning its equipment indoors.

There is also speculation that the in-person fitness industry will permanently shrink as people have come to rely on online classes, home workouts, and devices such as Pelotons as convenient and cost effective alternatives to gym memberships.

“I 100% disagree with that belief. You can’t work out at home and get the same results that you’re going to get in this environment,” said Suender. “Joe Gold opened Gold’s Venice out of his garage in 1965 and we’ve had members that have been with us almost since then. I’ve had 78-year-old men come up to me with tears in their eyes to say how excited they are to be back.”

While online offerings certainly aren’t going anywhere, several local fitness owners said they trust that the in-person industry will rebound in the long-term.

“I believe that the market for gyms and group fitness studios is going to come back and it’ll eventually be much bigger,” said Roche. “There is a massive focus on health and increasingly on mental health. There’s a lot of science showing that living an active lifestyle with community around is crucial to our overall well being as human beings.”