Teresa Harris is a personal trainer and taught many types of fitness classes including Body Pump, CXWORX, and freestyle step, all on-premises in gyms and fitness centers around Charlottesville, Virginia starting over two decades ago.

Then, in March of 2020, just like after a class when everyone leaves winded but energized, COVID turned off the lights and shut the doors. Teresa Harris suddenly had no place to train her clients or teach. But instead of hitting the panic button, she got creative, and she signed up for Zoom.

You can watch the video interview above with or without subtitles, or read this transcript:

Online fitness pro Teresa Harris

Online fitness pro Teresa Harris. Bio and contact info below. Photo: Ande Shirey

DANA: Hi, everyone! I’m Dana. I’m the co-creator of Online Video Mastery, which is a training program for creating effective and engaging Zoom meetings and video. So, we all know that the pandemic has changed the way we live and work, and those especially in the fitness industry know that, too. We’ve had to remodel the way we train clients, the way that we run our businesses.

And so, my guest today is Teresa Harris. Teresa is a superstar, seasoned personal trainer with ACAC (Atlantic Coast Athletic Clubs), which is here in Charlottesville where I live, too. And I’ve actually had the pleasure of working with Teresa during my own time working at ACAC, so I’m really pleased to have her with me here today.

Teresa has been successful in taking her own personal training business over to Zoom, and so we’re going to talk about that today. So, Teresa, thank you for joining me! And tell me, how long have you been in the fitness industry? Just give me a brief background on your career.

TERESA:  Hi, Dana. Thank you so much for allowing me to be here with you. This is fun! I have been in the fitness industry since 1996, as a group ex instructor. So, I started many, many moons ago back with a company called New Fitness for Ladies. And then, I went to Gold’s Gym and then, I went to Boars Head and Farmington. So, I’ve been teaching everywhere, all around town, group exercise for a long, long time. And when it came to personal training, I started that when my daughter went to college. And she’s our one and only, so I was an empty nester and decided to have a new career. And that was probably about 12-15 years ago.

DANA:  Wow, cool. So, you’ve been in the industry for a while. What kinds of formats do you teach? Let’s go over a couple of group exercise formats that you like.

TERESA:  Before the pandemic, I was teaching Body Pump – Les Mills classes such as Body Pump, CX Worx, which is a core class. And then, I was doing freestyle step class, which is a whole lot of fun. One of my favorites, the freestyle step class. And it was my own choreography, so that was the best part about it, so you get to be creative in that class. So, those were the three classes I was teaching before the pandemic.

DANA: Gotcha. So, when the news came out back in March that everything in Virginia was shutting down due to COVID, and the gym closed for some time, how did you feel? How did you react to that?

TERESA:  Honestly, terrified. Absolutely terrified. I didn’t know what was going on. Clients didn’t know what was going on. The gym didn’t know what was going on. We were doing what we were told to do. And I figured that I had to quickly get my bearings and try to make it work out because people still needed to work out. I needed to work out. So, it was scary at that time. It really made me sit down and put my life together real fast and learn some new things real fast.

DANA: Right. So, speaking of those people who still need to work out during this time, how did they feel about meeting virtually? Because obviously, okay, you’ve got to kind of retool everything. You’ve got to start meeting people on Zoom. How did your clients feel about that?

TERESA:  I think they were just as terrified because it is brand new to all of us. And my demographic of clients – it’s an older population, so having to learn technology was a whole new ballgame for them. Actually, a whole new ballgame for me. So, it was a fast learn for all of us.

But what I did find is keeping constant communication with them was helpful. “Hey, look” – for example, I would say, “Hey, let me – let’s Facetime for five minutes and I can show you what we can do on Facetime. Let me show you what a Zoom is. Let me show you how to get into Zoom.” So, we took it very slowly at the beginning.

DANA: Sure, absolutely. So, that’s awesome. I love that tip about the communication. That’s really great that you’re so open to them and open to being so helpful.

So, speaking of your demographic, you talked about having an older population. But let’s talk about demographics or geographical region. I know that when you were training at ACAC, it’s really just mostly club members there who live in the area, in Charlottesville. But how has that changed, or has it changed since the pandemic started and since you went to Zoom?

TERESA:  It has changed because during this pandemic, I’ve had clients who have moved away. I have clients who have stopped their membership for one reason or the other, and we totally understand that. But they still wanted to train, and luckily, ACAC offers a non-member training package, so people can still train with us there virtually through ACAC.

So, right now, I’ve got a lady in Canada who joins us. I’ve got some Chicago people who join us, and I’ve got some Georgia people who join us. It’s a lot of fun to have people in different areas of the world coming in and joining us because they get to talk about how they’re doing in the state that they’re in as well, not only Virginia. So, I get to learn about everything.

DANA:  Well, that’s very cool. Yeah. So, it sounds like even developing some new friendships. That’s really cool.

So, as far as challenges go – because we know that Zoom can be challenging – what’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced since transitioning to virtual training?

TERESA:  Zoom, it’s crazy. I guess number one, the one thing I absolutely miss is the personal touch. That’s personal training, you know? You’re face to face with somebody, and I truly miss that with my clients. I also miss saying, “Hey, can you feel this muscle that we’re working?” Because it’s a little bit harder when we’re not in front of each other. And then, of course, you’ve got the internet. Right now, I’m looking at my screen, and it says, “Your internet is unstable.”

DANA:  Yikes! [laughter] It’s saying that right now? Oh, great!

TERESA:  [laughter] Just to warn you!

DANA: Well, if you drop off of this interview, then I know what happened.

TERESA:  So, it’s all in the Wi-Fi gods, wherever they are.

DANA: You know, some of that is. There’s just sometimes when you can’t help whatever may happen. Yeah, that’s interesting.

And what’s the biggest thing that surprised you, then? Because I know with Zoom, there have been some positive aspects. You talked about being able to reach out to people in other geographic areas, kind of forming some new relationships with people in that way. What else has kind of surprised you about Zoom that you found to be a positive experience?

TERESA:  For me, what I have found is that people will adapt. You know? You’re stuck at home, but you want to move. You’ve got to move. We know so many studies say it is good for you, it’s healthy, you have to move. People will.

You don’t have to go to – I probably shouldn’t say this, but you don’t have to go to the gym to work out, you know? You can work out at home. You can use a backpack full of books as resistance. You can use water bottles for resistance. You can use cans of soup. I mean, way back when, that’s how I got started after having my daughter, and I was trying to start exercising for the first time. I had two cans of soup in my hands. So, it works, and here we are again, working with cans of soup.

So, I find that people will adapt to what’s going on in the world, and you learn quickly. You have no choice. But you have to learn quickly. So, I’m very happy that I have quick learners in my circle of clients.

DANA:  Absolutely. That’s really important to be able to adapt, of course. And I wanted to kind of piggyback with another question related to what you said earlier about – you know, it’s a little more challenging over Zoom with not being able to know – to be accurately able to tell someone what kind of muscle is supposed to be firing.

I know when I was a personal trainer, I was a very hands-on kind of touchy-feely personal trainer. So, I used my hands a lot on someone’s body to be able to cue them. You know, just like, gentle touches. And I’m just wondering, how does that translate over to the virtual world when you can’t use that physical touch when you’re training someone? What do you do instead?

TERESA:  You have to ask them to slow down, and you have to ask them, “Think about the muscle group we’re working. Because right now, I can’t put your hand on your back so you can feel that muscle work. You have to think about the muscle group you are working.” So, really, it’s a lot of explaining and a lot of explanation that, in the gym setting, you don’t have to do that much because you’re right there because you can touch the muscle and say, “Well, I can feel that, and you’re working that muscle.” But right now, I have to tell you to think about it, and I have to tell you to slow it down, to really think about wrapping your shoulder blade back, keeping your shoulders down.

It’s just a lot of explanation, I guess. A lot of words. It’s very wordy now. But it’s okay, and it’s fine. And you know what? That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing to slow us down and make us think about that.

DANA: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. I think that I totally agree. I think that this pandemic has forced us, in a lot of ways, to slow down in general.


DANA: Yeah. But that’s