The routine had been the same for six years.
On Saturday mornings, Jason Atlas changed into a T-shirt, a pair of comfortable shorts and lightweight training shoes, then headed down to the basement gym of his home on Long Island, where precisely at 10 a.m., he met his personal trainer, Matt Sulam, for an hourlong strength-training workout.
Sulam, 48, an independent contractor who until recently saw most of his clients in their homes, had become a familiar presence since he was hired by Atlas, a lawyer, in January 2014.
Their sessions are now virtual, via Google Hangouts — just one example in a field that is figuring out what the socially distanced future holds for those in a business that involves close physical contact with clients.
Like many other fitness professionals, Sulam saw his business come to a lurching halt when the epidemic struck.
On March 12, he got a call from one longtime client. “They were apologetic,” said Sulam, who has made a full-time living as a trainer since the late 1990s. “It was like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t have you come to the house. We want to adhere to this shelter-in-place policy.’ ”
Text after text followed from clients expressing similar sentiments. “It was an avalanche of cancellations,” Sulam said. “ ‘I thought to myself, ‘I have to shift on the fly.’ ”
And he did, with a grace that belies a 178-pound man with 18-inch biceps. His reimagining of the way he does business mirrors what many others in his industry have done since the onset of the epidemic.
In the course of a few days, Sulam did nothing less than reinvent the delivery structure for his service: He took a Google Hangouts tutorial online and purchased, on Amazon for $10.85, an adjustable cellphone holder that allowed him to give his clients a better vantage point when he needed to demonstrate exercises. He also made a more significant investment with an upgrade of his Android phone to the model with the largest and highest-resolution screen.
He also set up an online payment account through his bank that allowed for easy billing and payment for his sessions ($95 per hour).
As of mid-May, all but one of his approximately 20 clients have continued training with Sulam on a virtual basis. Moreover, he has gotten inquiries from new clients who live out of state — business that he previously would not have been able to accept. “I can go anywhere now,” he said with a laugh.
And where Sulam seems headed to a more successful business model. “The savvy personal trainer is not sitting back waiting for things to return to normal,” said Mark Nutting, author of “The Business of Personal Training.”
Nancy Waldron, an entrepreneurship expert and associate professor at Lasell University in Newton, Mass., said the lesson of Sulam’s pivot is relevant to all businesses, not just those that involve barbells.
“So many small businesses have said, ‘I can’t sell my product, I can’t sell my services, I’m just going to have to shut down,’ ” Waldron said, “without giving themselves the time to think about possible changes and be innovative.”
Other personal-services providers in the fitness and health industry have also changed what Waldron calls this “value proposition.”
When the lockdown in California began and Sarana Miller realized her livelihood was on hold, the Berkeley yoga instructor responded in true yogi fashion.
She decided to take a stab at virtual teaching, even though she had no experience with it. Within a few days, Miller, 45, had downloaded the basic version of Zoom and set up lights and a camera in her home studio.
Now, her Sunday classes average 135 participants, compared with 30 to 35 before. Students log in from across the country, as well as Mexico, France and Austria.
“I’ve grown my business in a way I would have never expected,” she said.