With Lawrence parks and rec buildings closed, fitness instructors provide free online workouts

Screenshots from videos posted by parks and rec employees show multiple workouts that are available on the city's YouTube channel.

With City of Lawrence recreation centers closed, some fitness instructors took their workouts online, giving residents the chance to try everything from yoga to taekwondo from their living rooms.

More than 30 workouts have been posted on the city’s YouTube channel for anyone to access, nestled among decidedly more stationary recordings of city meetings. Assistant Director of Recreation Lee Ice said the videos came about following general direction from the city manager and city commissioners to think creatively about services following shutdowns related to the coronavirus.

Ice said the department was looking for ways to provide inexpensive or free health benefits to residents even though recreation centers had closed and programming had been canceled, and that Recreation Programs Supervisor Jo Ellis and her staff came up with the idea. Ice said the idea was communicated to instructors and several opted to make videos.

“They wanted to keep doing what they were doing, even though they couldn’t come in and do it face to face,” Ice said.

Ellis said that when classes were canceled in March because of health orders, the department gave instructors, who are part-time city employees, the option to move classes that had been on the schedule online and continue to receive their pay. The approximately six-week session recently concluded, but the videos remain online for anyone to access for free, not just those who were enrolled for the sessions.

Several instructors have posted videos, providing a variety of workout options of different intensities. Workouts include yoga, pilates, high-intensity interval training and taekwondo, among others. There are also low-intensity workouts, such as a seven-minute stretching, gentle exercise routines that can be done while seated in a chair and a 15-minute routine of balance exercises.

Instructors record the videos themselves, Ice said, some simply using their smartphones, and the settings include actual workout studios, city parks and some that are simply shot from instructors’ living rooms. Ice said some instructors already had an in-person following for their classes, and that some of those participants stuck with their instructors online after classes had to be canceled because of the pandemic.

Recreation centers were some of the first public buildings to close because of the pandemic, ordered to close by Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health on March 13. But for Lawrence residents missing their group exercise routines, they may be able to gather again soon.

Under the Parks and Recreation Department’s reopening plan, recreational programming, including programming for aquatics, fitness, dance, special populations and lifelong recreation, will resume under phase three of Gov. Laura Kelly’s reopening plan. The buildings themselves will not reopen to general public use. Phase Three is currently scheduled to begin no earlier than June 8.

Ellis said the next session of fitness classes was scheduled to start May 31, but that the start date has been pushed back to June 15, so that instructors can resume in-person classes.

“We’re ready for people to come back,” Ellis said.


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