Boulder gyms answer difficult questions with returning to full-capacity operation

One Boulder martial arts academy plans its return

By Tatyana Sharpton Apr 30 2020

As Boulder plans its phased reopening on May 8, gyms and other businesses the state considered as non-critical in its recent safer-at-home order have to wait until at least May 26 for their re-entry.

Boulder by nature draws a health-focused community, with all of the climbing and hiking, opportunities for winter sports and holistic-minded businesses. Though a huge portion of the industry has pivoted to online offerings, and continues to grow through the quarantine, the prospect of reopening back up to full capacity looks like a long and winding road.

Many local businesses have experienced high numbers of cancellations, like Kondition Fitness, a boutique fitness studio with an emphasis on barre, boxing, yoga, dancing, spin and HIIT, who lost 40 percent of its members within the first week.

The virus isn’t going anywhere; everyone will eventually either get it or get the vaccine, and until then, gyms have to come up with strategic phases of reopening while considering varied opinions.

Easton Training Center, a local martial arts academy specializing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), ground-based grappling, and Muay Thai (MT), a striking sport, has recently grown to nine centers in and around the Denver metro, including a headquarters in Boulder. It opened its newest academy in Longmont just before Covid-19 struck.

The Boulder center, home to a massive membership of over 1,000 members, has lost 50 percent of its members due to Covid’s freeze and continues to drop at an average of eight to 10 percent each week.

Founded in 1998 by Amal Easton after he returned from training with the renowned Gracie family in Brazil, and bought into by his student and former UCF fighter Eliot Marshall, Easton draws people from CU students to Boulder entrepreneurs such as Rosetta Hall’s CEO Donovan Greene, Rocky Mountain Regenerative Medicine’s Vassily Eliopoulos, and River and Wood’s Josh Dinar who also co-owns Boulder’s T|ACO and publishes DiningOut Magazine.

Mike Tousignant. Image:

The gym held an all-hands staff meeting live on YouTube this past Friday to address how they planned to handle the coming reopening to normal operation.

Since Easton, similar to group fitness schools with an emphasis on touch and adjustment, operates a training academy focusing on close-combat sports rather than a standard gym, a huge portion of its programming centers on human-contact, which obviously puts it in the Covid strikezone.

Easton has had to scale its staff back from 130 employees to 18. 80 percent of Easton staff are part-time workers so a good deal of them still maintained their other jobs, said Easton President Mike Tousignant.

Reintegration + the fight

Some things Easton has considered implementing into Phase One of its reopening at the allowed 10-person capacity include no locker rooms, heightened availability to hand sanitizer on the mats, “No Touch” signage, limiting training partners, and ending class early for live training.

People could come in dressed for class and go straight to their taped-off section of the mat. With the instructor accounting for one of the 10-person limit, classes would cap at nine students, who would work in groups of three. If one person from that group gets sick, then the others who worked with them wouldn’t be allowed to train for a specified time.

This plan remains a work in progress, as directions from the state and local officials come in, and they evaluate the options.

While the academy has lost membership, its online classes continue to grow, with an average number of over 50 kids in its Kids Zoom classes. The pivot to a virtual model has proved more than just a “fix;” it has actually opened new doors within Easton’s business.

Moving forward, Easton’s owners and administration plan to keep the online system going, setting up a camera on the mats to film each class so that people have the freedom to take class from home.

Easton co-owner Eliot Marshall told BLDRfly that the Covid slowdown spurred a move to an online training platform, originally designed for gym owners, but with a new goal of developing a platform for MMA that resembles the one Peloton built for stationary bikes.

The community remains a huge part of Easton’s spirit. If you haven’t noticed the red, yellow and black stickers on cars around town, you will now.

Navigating the path through business during the new Covid paradigm can feel messy — part-data, part-feel. Easton’s incredible community of coaches and students has kept them afloat as the heart of the academy.

“We created an entire new business in two weeks with volunteers and support from students,” said Mike. “I feel better and stronger now than I did going in because of how strong the team is and how good we’ve become at dealing with crisis.”

Header image: Easton kickboxing by Rebecca Slaughter.