February 18, 2020 / 4:26 AM / a month ago

Gyms in China livestream routines as coronavirus keeps patrons away

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) - “Stand in front of a chair. Chest up, core tight and square your pelvis,” said Heidi Liu, a pilates instructor at a studio in Shanghai, as she demonstrated a series of poses and stretches.

But there were no students in the classroom at the Pilates ProWorks studio located in the middle of a central district in Shanghai. Instead, Liu was livestreaming using an iPad, broadcasting to hundreds of people working out with her at home.

Gyms and restaurants are mostly deserted as millions of Chinese choose to or are forced to stay away from public spaces because of the coronavirus epidemic.

While authorities have pledged to offer various support mechanism to virus-hit firms, business owners are scrambling for ways to tide their businesses over or keep busy until policies materialize or customers start venturing back.

Livestreaming has been one of the biggest trends to hit the China’s exercise sector in recent weeks, with gyms going online to help keep residents fit some of whom are stuck indoors for up for 14-day-long quarantines.

“We don’t want our clients to forget us. And if we are not doing anything, some might be afraid that we were already gone. We are trying to do something to comfort everyone,” said Chris Li, Pilates Proworks’ owner.

The majority of these classes are being offered for free, getting many eyeballs - Liu’s 20-minute class received over 4,700 likes - but no income, gym owners say.

“I’m not planning on stealing new clients, I just want to protect my existing customers,” said Liu Xiaojin, the founder of a chain of gyms called Gravity Plus in Beijing, which also started online classes 10 days ago and is renting out gym equipment to make some extra cash.

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“But of course if we can find a real way to stimulate our cash flow that will be great as well.”

Still, gym owners told Reuters while they started livestreaming as it was a popular thing to do, few had expected that the suspension of business was going to last as long as it has, currently at over three weeks. Many are now bracing that it will continue to the end of the month.

“Every day is a challenge. I am thinking to myself if the situation will improve in March; if I should continue to stay in Shanghai, or end the business and leave the city with my cat,” said Li of Pilates ProWorks.

Reporting by Winni Zhou in Shanghai, Huizhong Wu in Beijing; Editing by Brenda Goh and Raju Gopalakrishnan

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