Much has changed for Mishler since then. In eight years, she and business partner Chris Sharpe have grown “Yoga With Adriene” into one of the most popular yoga sources on the Web, with more than 6 million YouTube subscribers tuning in for free or low-cost classes.
Yet 2020 is starting to remind Mishler of 2012.
“[Chris and I] were broke, and everyone seemed to be in recovery,” Austin-based Mishler said of her company’s early days. “The business, it’s not bulletproof, but it was kind of set up to operate in a time such as now, in the unknown and uncertain, and to be of service for others in times like this.”
Mishler is one of many online fitness figures who have seen a major uptick in subscriptions and online engagement since the novel coronavirus pandemic shuttered gyms around the world and confined the restless masses to their houses.
Home workouts are suddenly everywhere online — by March 18, the number of home workout posts on Instagram from the United States had increased by more than five times compared with just a few days earlier, according to a Facebook spokeswoman. On YouTube, average global daily uploads of videos with “workout at home” in the title increased more than 57 percent from March 10 through March 15, YouTube communications manager Veronica Navarrete said. Daily views and daily uploads of videos from the platform’s U.S.-based fitness community hit their peaks for the year March 18.
“We have noticed growth in pretty much all areas, all platforms, mostly on YouTube and social media … definitely an increase in everything,” Mishler said.
For Mishler and other online gurus like her — as well as the regular people who are participating in the home-workout boomlet — staying active at home is about more than fighting quarantine pudge. It’s about mental health, staying connected with a community and maintaining a sense of normalcy amid a crisis.
Shane Barnard, the chief executive of group fitness company UrbanKick in Oakland, Calif., discovered as much after she lost her job at as a trainer at a gym March 13. She sent an online survey to her local contacts to gauge interest in at-home workouts and received more than 550 responses.
Barnard now streams cardio kickboxing and interval workouts live over video conferencing software Zoom twice a day for free, though participants have the option to send in donations. Her largest class topped out at 126 members.
“What’s special about what’s happening now is going live,” Barnard said. “At least people have a set time where we do come together, if you’ve got your video on you can see other people doing it with you, so this collective consciousness is so empowering. And that was a surprise to me, which I didn’t quite anticipate. It’s almost more important than the actual workout.”
Providing workouts for free or at a low cost is a sticking point for both Barnard and more established online brands such as “Yoga With Adriene,” which offers a $10 membership option in addition to her large catalogue of free videos. Kelli and Daniel Segars, who founded their online-workout company FitnessBlender out of their Seattle-area home after losing their jobs in the 2008 financial crisis, recently slashed prices for many of their most popular training programs for new customers.
But the vast majority of their videos — which have earned FitnessBlender 6 million YouTube subscribers — are free by design.
“We started out with the goal for making fitness accessible for people who might not be able to afford a gym membership or access to a personal trainer,” Daniel Segars said. “This is just another way that we’re trying to reach out and help people with their overall health, fitness and, especially now, their mental stability.”
While Mishler and the Segars’ companies were built to run in times such as these, there are unusual challenges for the countless local gyms, boutique fitness studios and private trainers who are heading online for the first time. Barnard and her fellow trainers in California have been trading tips, such as how to get music to come across in Zoom during workouts. She also had to make a decision about pay structure. So far, free workouts with a donation option are working for her.
Jess Pierno, one of the founders of Washington-based studio Yoga Heights, also began posting free, full-length classes on YouTube after the studio closed its doors March 17.
It felt natural to offer free yoga to her regulars in a time of crisis. But Pierno has also pledged to pay her teachers, most of whom are contractors, their regular rates to teach online. She knows Yoga Heights’ fee structure needs to change. She and business partner Amy Rizzotto just haven’t decided how.
“Yoga Heights has been open for six years, and in many ways it feels like in the last week we’ve had to start a whole new business,” Pierno said.
What makes tackling the business challenges worth it is the response Pierno has seen from Yoga Heights’ community. When Pierno started posting online, regulars reached out and offered to pay for classes anyway. The company’s online fundraiser to help recoup instructors’ lost wages raised almost $9,000 in a week.
“That’s purely from our students being like, ‘Hey, these teachers have helped me through a hard time, so I’m going to help them through a hard time right now,’” Pierno said. “It’s been so awesome and heartwarming.”
The communal aspect of exercising online is certainly one perk D.C.-based city planner Ashley Robertson didn’t expect from self-isolation. Robertson, a devotee to souped-up Pilates studio Solidcore, has been exercising along with the company’s online workouts since the studio closed its doors.
She has found herself leaving comments on the company’s Instagram posts for the first time, offering tips on which household items can replace regular gym equipment. She now sends the videos to her mother and her best friend who lives in Texas.
“Now we can sync up when we do them!” Robertson said. “I’ve found that for me, even as an introvert, there are easy ways to connect with folks. It’s pretty amazing. It’s like we’re all working together to crack this code of what our new existence is.”