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“Sanity over vanity” FLEXcity Fitness founders helping us keep fit during the pandemic

We're stepping into fitness in this conversation. With many of us working from home, the office is now just a sit up in bed away. Following the months long closing of Michigan's gyms, fitness studios, and pools, many of us have become more sedentary.

In a survey of 3,000 U.S. adults, people who were meeting an exercise goal of 150 minutes per week pre pandemic saw a 32 percent drop in physical activity following social distancing orders. So how can we get back on track or start a new fitness routine without risking injury? Our guests are FLEXcity Fitness co-founders Trista Parisian and Jenny Quinn. Trista and Jenny talk about some of the challenges their fitness studio has faced during the pandemic, how they pivoted to livestream sessions, and some tips on how to get moving before the onslaught of holiday foods.

Trista is a 2005 kinesiology graduate of the College of Education and certified personal trainer with over 15 years of experience. Jenny, who also has over 15 years of personal training experience, holds a BS and MS in exercise physiology and health promotion from Central Michigan University. Together, they co-founded FLEXcity Fitness in 2012.

FLEXcity Fitness is a fitness studio that focuses on high intensity interval training, better known as HIIT, and was recently announced as a recipient of the ATHENA PowerLink Award for 2021. Established in 1999, ATHENA PowerLink is a national mentoring program designed to increase the growth and profitability of women owned businesses. Following the closing of Michigan's fitness centers in March, Trista and Jenny moved toward digital offerings to keep clients engaged from the safety of their own homes. They also took on the task of opening a new fitness studio in Lansing in preparation for the return of in-person workouts.

Can you first define high intensity interval training and give us a little insight into what first drew you to it? Why did you build FLEXcity Fitness around this method of exercise?

“We have tried everything,” says Parisian. “We've done personal training and heavier lifting. We've done the barre workouts, cardio running, and we wanted to create a place that had everything, a one-stop shop. We've found the best of the best and put it all under one roof, and it incorporates everything no matter what fitness level you're at. We have beginners to advanced, and we like to call the high intensity work YIIT. It's your interval intensity work based on you. It's the most efficient and effective workout you're going to get.”

“We found that many people thought their path to health and wellness required a big time commitment,” adds Quinn. “If you couldn't devote an unrealistic amount of time to your fitness then what was the point? We really wanted our program to be efficient and effective, and the interval training is one of the quickest ways to get the most bang for your buck. Our workouts take less than 4 percent of the time in your day, but it will accomplish what you need from a movement standpoint while also being fun and keeping your body truly engaged. Also, the way we do it helps with injuries and just exercise boredom in general.”

“And with our studio workout, it's not like doing a thousand burpees,” adds Parisian. “We have treadmills and spin bikes, too. It's not just the calories you burn in class with the high intensity work. The benefits continue for the next 24 hours depending on how hard you work in class, and that's the fat burning, calories scorching, and all the good stuff that comes from the high intensity work.”

“And we both had done so many other things in our career. We kept thinking, ‘This is awesome, but it's missing this. This is a great option, but it misses this.’ What if we found something like HIIT that could check all of those boxes?"

When fitness studios had to close in March, Parisian and Quinn quickly pivoted to digital alternatives.

“We made the decision to close just before the shutdowns happened,” Quinn adds. “The first day we made the decision to close, we did an Instagram live workout that day from the studio as we were getting things packed up. And then by Wednesday the 18th, we offered our first class for people at home. That was when we all thought the shutdown was going to be two weeks. We had it going within the first week just because we wanted to be able to provide that to our customers, and we knew it was important because everyone was on edge and stress levels were high. We knew that if we could give our clients a little bright spot in their day to do something, that would be good. So we pivoted quickly.

“The feedback was very good and we've learned a lot. There are certain things we've all learned working from home and doing more virtually. We have tried to be mindful of people's time constraints at home and their space constraints. If you're in an apartment, you can't really be doing some of the stuff that you might be doing if you have a lot more dedicated exercise space.

“We improvised. We even developed a workout where you stuffed your suitcase full of books and that was your heavyweight!

“We are still offering our live classes. We're live streaming in-studio classes so people can, if they're not comfortable yet coming into the studio or don't have the childcare, they can still join us. Even if you don't have a treadmill or a spin bike at home.”

As instructors, Parisian and Quinn had to adapt as well.

“Our customers are amazing,” says Quinn.  “We aren’t about ‘Hey, get a six pack for spring break.’ We’ve always sought sanity over vanity and health over the beach bod. Those are good side effects. We both have young children at home, so we know what it feels like to have no breaks whatsoever. Taking care of that mental side that physical activity provides is important, too.”

“If you don't take care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of everybody else,” adds Parisian. “If you're feeling good and at your best, then you can help do all the things that you want to do.”

Parisian and Quinn discuss the challenges in opening a studio during the pandemic and what they’re looking forward to in 2021.

“When we signed our lease last year to move to our dream studio that we designed from scratch, we didn't anticipate obviously a global pandemic,” Quinn says. “But some of the silver linings were that we knew that we would eventually get to a post-COVID world, so we designed the finishing touches in the studio accordingly. We put plexiglass between all the treadmills and installed a new HVAC system.”

“We also bought these really cool headphones so that when the weather got really nice, we've been doing outdoor classes,” Parisian says. “We could get 19 people outside in a group class with the headphones. We could really simulate an in-studio class with the loud music, and people have really been enjoying those special classes.”

“We’re looking forward to the time when people can get out and about more,” says Quinn. “I think we’ve done a really good job with our safety measures and we follow all the protocols and guidelines. Our customers tell us all the time how safe they feel. As restrictions either tighten or loosen, we feel like we can be quick to adapt to a range of scenarios.”

With the holidays on the horizon and some of us looking to get ahead on some of the calories coming our way, what piece of advice would you give to avoid injury and see the greatest benefits from a fitness routine?

“Keep moving,” Parisian says. “If you know you're going to be going to Thanksgiving dinner, make sure you get in a good workout and get active before you eat.”

“Figure out how to allocate your time for movement,” says Quinn. “One of the best tips for holidays is to break up your movement and take shorter bouts of movement throughout your day. Stretch for 10 minutes in the morning followed by a walk with your family or find something active to do rather than just sit around. Make time for non-food related activities during the holidays.

“A lot of people think ‘OK, I don’t want to gain weight over the holidays.’ They feel like they have to be training for the Olympics when they've been sedentary up until that point. So we always say to follow that crawl, walk, run mentality. Meet yourself where you're at, start small, and then slowly start building, because those small steps are the things that are going to give big rewards later on.”

Parisian and Quinn say health and fitness are more than working out. The food we fuel ourselves with is equally as important.

“We believe in the 80/20 rule,” Quinn says. “We believe in making good choices most of the time, but also that life is supposed to be enjoyed and lived. If you are making good choices, eating well, and eating healthy, but also enjoying life, it tends to make it easier. We're not big fans of super restrictive or unrealistic ways of eating.”

“We're big into real food, not things that are made in a factory,” Parisian says. “If you're going for your Thanksgiving dinner, try to eat healthy foods before. Don’t go places starving. Eat a good salad before you go. Fill up on the greens or have a healthy smoothie. And it when you can, drink a lot of water. Water is huge.”

How have you maintained a positive attitude throughout these trying times?

“We have little kids and we have to stay positive for them because they can feel everything going on,” says Quinn. “Honestly we have felt like, what's the alternative? We know that we have to be positive for our customers because we care about their health and wellness. So by just being there for other people and trying to be their cheerleaders has naturally given us that positivity. There are few things we have control over right now, but our mindset is one of them.

“We care. We love what we do. We are going to figure out a way to do it, and it might look a little different than we thought, but health and wellness have never been more important. We know that what we do matters in the grand scheme of things and that life will hopefully eventually return to something like it used to be. We always say you can't control much, but you can control your feet and your forks. That's what we're trying to do.”

Watch this conversation on the MSU Alumni Office Facebook page here.

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