COVID was launching point for Lebanon gym

By JUSTIN CAMPFIELD

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 05-15-2023 9:00 AM

LEBANON — Of the many industries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, fitness gyms were hit particularly hard. 

The industry association IHRSA reported that 25% of the nation’s health clubs and 30% of its studios have closed since the pandemic began.

But for longtime friends and fitness industry veterans Scott Prince and Chris Wilder, the pandemic was the catalyst to opening their own venture — Lebanon’s CrossFit Off the Green — that, after just two years of operation, has already relocated to a larger facility due to a growing customer base.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns hit the Upper Valley in 2020, Prince and Wilder were personal trainers and CrossFit coaches at River Valley Club — Prince for 22 years, Wilder for four.

While RVC was temporarily closed due to COVID, they both earned income by coaching a mixture of online and outdoor training sessions.

When RVC reopened, the experience of being independent convinced the duo to start their own businesses.

“We decided to make the jump, which we probably wouldn’t have if not for COVID,” said Prince, 46, of Lebanon.

“So for me, good things came out of it.”

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At first, Prince and Scott operated their own separate personal training businesses out of Lebanon-based gym, Amped Fitness.

But when that gym went out of business in November 2020, they joined forces to open their own gym on Spencer Street in Lebanon, which they opened in March 2021.

“I guess I’ve always been one of those people where when the door is half-open, you can’t really look in and see what’s on the other side,” Wilder said. “It could be bad or good, but you know that door is going to shut so you roll the dice.”

With the newfound freedom to structure their own gym from scratch, Prince and Wilder decided to become a CrossFit-affiliated gym so they could offer both CrossFit classes and personal training sessions.

They had each taught CrossFit classes at RVC and are big proponents of the fitness regiment that is a mixture of Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, high-intensity interval training, plyometrics and calisthenics.

“Walking on a treadmill for an hour is a great way to get fitness in, but it gets boring with only one modality,” Prince said. “With CrossFit, you have this whole blend of exercises that are hard, different and intense. The biggest driver is the multiple facets in a workout. The intensity is so high that when you are done, there is nothing like it.”

Fast-forward a little less than two years later — and with the addition of certified CrossFit trainer Rebecca Green — and the space on Spencer Street had grown cramped.

“With only 1,000 square feet, we limited classes to eight people per class,” Prince recalled.

“We were turning away new clients because we just didn’t have space in classes for them.”

Those limitations were resolved early last month when the gym relocated to a 4,800-square-foot space in the basement of the former junior high school at 75 Bank Street in Lebanon. The move has already resulted in five new members, putting the gym’s membership at around 70, according to Prince. It’s also changed the experience of existing members for the better.

“More space in the workout area makes it easier to spread out and not be on top of each other,” said J.R. Rader, a medical resident at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center who has been a member of the gym since June 2021. “Everyone can have their equipment and that aspect is really nice. And it’s been great meeting some of the new people coming in with the new space. Classes are a bit bigger, which builds a bit more community.” 

Another benefit of the extra space is that members have more time before and after their classes to socialize and add extra workouts to their routines.

“(In the smaller space) we had to tell people that if you are here for a class, you can come in five minutes early, and then have to leave five minutes after the class so we could clean it and get it ready for the next one,” said Wilder, a 32-year-old Grantham resident.

“Now people can come in early and stretch or maybe get an extra run in or hang out with people after class.”

That opportunity for extra interaction has been a positive change for Grantham resident and gym member Ashley Matthews, who says she appreciates the extra time before and after classes to talk and workout with her fellow classmates.

“I’m one of those people who loves to stay after class and hang out,” said Matthews, who joined the gym 10 months postpartum to regain fitness levels she felt she lost during her pregnancy. “Now we can linger after class and sit and talk before we have to go to work or do extra exercises if we want.”

Importantly for the business’ bottom line, the extra space also allows Prince and Wilder to work with their personal training clients while CrossFit classes are going simultaneously, something they couldn’t do in the previous gym because of lack of space.

“In the old space, if we were running a CrossFit class of eight people, we couldn’t also personal train in the space; I couldn’t do a one-on-one with a client during class times,” Prince said. “Now we can run a class with Chris or Rebecca coaching CrossFit, and I can still come in and train one of my clients.”

It all adds up to positive momentum for the business side of the gym, which charges members $180 per month and non-members a $25 per class drop-in fee, even if the partners say they are working toward a larger goal.

“The business outlook is to try and get as many people as we can that want to enjoy fitness and be a part of a community,” Wilder said. “Yes, we are trying to run a business and we want to make money, but I want every person who comes in here to feel like it’s the best hour of their day.” 

Justin Campfield can be reached at jhcampfield@gmail.com.

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