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After COVID-19 shut down public places in New York City, personal trainer Isabelle Derond had to adjust everything about her small fitness business, including how she communicates with clients, routines and the cost per session.
Derond is originally from France and has been the face of Nike Dance Workouts in Paris, a trainer at Bowery Crossfit in the Lower East Side and has been featured alongside athletes like Billie Jean King in a Visa campaign narrated by Morgan Freeman. She’s used to switching up workout routines based on major life events. After giving birth to her twins, she shifted her training style to moms recovering from giving birth and couples who are preparing to walk down the aisle.
“Becoming pregnant and giving birth to twins was intense for my body, and I had to stop working at the Bowery and focus on my family. I started training myself during my own recovery and I ended up getting certified to train other postpartum women,” she said.
Overcoming the recent economic shift is impacting small business owners across the nation. Here’s how a personal trainer is managing to stay afloat, motivated and moving.
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I think it's a difficult time where everything is slowing down, and I understand at the end of the day, everyone has to pay rent, buy food and pay their bills. I want to give back to the community because this is hard for everyone. For my business, I'm adjusting myself and my rates — I can’t charge full price because we don’t have the proper equipment and I’m doing shorter than usual sessions.
At the end of the day, I want to make sure everyone has access to fitness because my clients may have an income today but who knows, maybe tomorrow they won't and it will be more complicated — but you have to keep moving. For me, I need that social interaction to make sure my clients are alright. So it’s a balance between staying afloat as a business and giving back.
It’s completely affected my business and I’ve lost some clients — things are difficult. It’s different because, one, we can’t see each other physically and two, we don't have access to equipment. There’s also not a lot of time on our hands because my kids are home and my clients have newborn babies.
So, I'm adjusting my work schedule to earlier in the day when the kids are napping and shortening the length of my classes. It’s hard to dedicate an entire hour, but it’s less difficult to do 30- to 45-minute workouts. Without equipment, we focus on warming up with a strength portion. A higher-end intensity workout would aim to burn fat and get our heart rates up. To do these workouts without equipment means I have to reinvent everything and be super creative while making sure you’re working out different muscles with similar exercises.
I train clients within my community in my building’s gym — which is closed now. I used to do two sessions per day. As a mom, I have to arrange my sessions around my kids' schedule. I have a four-hour window dedicated to personal training — when the kids are in school. Some days I do three sessions, but I average two one-hour sessions per day Monday through Friday — I usually avoid weekends.
Because the gyms are closed, I have to Facetime my clients. Although, some moms can’t because they are taking care of their babies. So for those moms, I’m sending video recordings of the workouts, showing them how to do each rep and exercise. In terms of receiving payment, I've always used Venmo, so that hasn’t changed. I’ve also started sharing daily family at-home workouts (without equipment) on my Instagram.
After giving birth I realized there was a need for personal trainers for postpartum moms, who are my main client base. I’d say my style starts out easy and increases in difficulty, depending on my clients.
Right now I’m working with moms who are recovering from giving birth, which means a lower-impact workout with a focus on healing the core and getting strong. It’s important to build strength in the upper and lower body. I also work with clients who are getting married and want to get in shape before their wedding day, which would be a high-intensity workout, for example.
It’s funny because I’m a personal trainer but don’t have any weights in my apartment because I’ve never needed to have them before (although I do have bands) but my clients do have some equipment and weights — so when I coach them, I know what they have and what they need to prepare in advance.
If you don’t have equipment, you can use water bottles as dumbbells. If you can, use a gallon of water for extra weight. To make it more challenging, you can put water bottles in a backpack and do squats or pushups. You can use chairs or couches for arms. If you have a jump rope, that’s a great tool to get your cardio in. You can use anything to add weight, like canned food or books. It forces us to get creative.
While you’re laying in bed you can do some core exercises: Lay on your back and elevate your legs and do some kicks. You can do a superman and lay on your belly with your legs and arms in the air. That will strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
If you’re really trying to push yourself and get your heart rate really high, 20 minutes of a high-intensity workout is enough. If you could do 100 squats every hour for 10 hours for 1,000 squats a day. You can do a squat with a chair 50 times if you set aside a few minutes every hour to do it. For example, you can do 50 squats and go back to work just to get your body moving. Or instead of squats do push ups, or a combination of both.
If you don’t use heavy weights it’s not a big deal to repeat exercises. Although there are some high-intensity exercises you should space out. For example, if you're doing heavy back squats, don't do it every day. That way you won’t have that much recovery. But try to mix it up anyway, like 500 squats today, then focus on the upper body tomorrow. If you can, go outside and jog then come back and work.
It’s so important to move. For me, I have to move my body and when you create a routine you feel good about progress and you want to maintain that. I know it’s a risk to even go into your building’s hallway, but you have to move around. You can do something as simple as push ups in your living room.
It’s really important to get your heart rate up, get your blood flow going and work on your muscles and bone density. We're all in the same boat and now everyone is saying, “well no one can maintain the level of exercise success, we don't have access to gyms or equipment,” but you still have to get moving and you have to do it for the endorphins.
Going three or four days without moving would make me lose my mind. I know it’s a risk to even go into your building’s hallway, but you have to move around. You can do something as simple as push-ups in your living room. For me, it’s a way to stay sane and balanced, healthy and a better me.
For those that are just starting to exercise and aren’t sure if they’re doing an exercise right, I work with a free app called FitCam that uses AI technology to perfect your form. For example, if you put your phone on the floor and do a push up, it will tell you if your form is incorrect and how to correct it. Having good posture is important for your health, preventing you from hurting yourself and getting the most out of your workout.
Check out one of Isabelle's 10-minute workouts from home
This interview was lightly edited for style and clarity.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko
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