I was raised on the grapevine. 

My first foray into the world of fitness was with Jane Fonda. She and I would meet regularly in my basement afterschool in the 80’s, her clad in a pink leotard and leg warmers, me in my cropped Adidas shorts, synchronizing our leg lifts to the music: up three, down one, hold and pulse. Do you feel that burn?

I felt it.  

And it spoke to me.  

Fitness was my calling.

In university, I got my YMCA fitness instructor certification and embraced aerobics, designing complex choreography with “around the worlds” and “mambo cha-cha-cha’s”. Fitness was something you did “on the side” while you went after a “real job” …so I got a Masters in Journalism, teaching in small community gyms part-time.  

When I moved to Toronto in 2001, I saw that fitness could be a career. I embraced every course and certification canfitpro offered and by the time my daughter was born in 2009, I was a certified personal trainer, cycling instructor, and group fitness instructor; I added health and nutrition coaching along the way and began to specialize in health communications. When Equinox, one of the world’s leading brands, offered me a job, I leapt at the opportunity. I balanced my communications business with my fitness career while raising my kids. Life was busy, but rewarding.  

Then the pandemic hit. 

My “brand” had already been defined: Exercise is medicine and has helped me cope through the most difficult moments in my life – from my father’s death to recurrent miscarriage, sobriety, and divorce. My father died of a heart attack, and I knew the power of exercise for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Most importantly, I knew that I needed exercise to keep my mental health stable – and I knew I was not alone. To get through this pandemic, we would need exercise more than ever.  

So, I got to work. I popped on Instagram and Facebook the first night of lockdown and started teaching. And 18 months later, I have not stopped.  

I got hooked on virtual.  

Many of my Equinox students started taking classes with me that first night and are now devoted members of my FitFam; I reconnected with other students from gyms I had not taught at for years – one of the many silver linings during the pandemic. In the first few months, I taught twice daily, and got a bike so I could offer a cycling program. People donated money but every class was free. I was collecting CERB, and we were going back to the gym soon, right? 

As the pandemic dragged on, I began to wonder – could I make this into a business? I revamped my basement into a proper “studio” with lights and suddenly my half-baked “let me just throw on my phone and go live” became a schedule and something more. I shoot Live on Zoom and in a private Instagram, so my students can do the classes whenever they want.  

The magic is in the Live classes – my “people” showed up not only for me, but for each other. We have built a community.  

But, would my students be willing to pay? They had an array of options to choose from – much cheaper than what I was offering. Although I had a drop-in rate, I was looking for members. 

I was astounded when dozens signed up without batting an eye. I had created something magical, and they did not want to leave. When I asked for testimonials, I burst into tears reading them, “I would never have made it through the pandemic without the FitFam…. The best part of my day is starting with you…Your classes have made me stronger than I have ever been…. You made me finally embrace exercise!” 

We are now about to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Erin Phelan FitFam. I am not going to lie, it is challenging, for both my mind and body. Running a business is something I am learning daily and there are many moments when I have doubts. But I know if I have doubt, that is fear talking – and the moment I replace it with faith, with the belief that what I offer is unique, the doubt leaves me. People long for connection – and even though the Big Box virtual is there, they do not know your name. I also must balance my business with my job as communications director for LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic.  

Every day I wake up filled with purpose and for that, I am eternally grateful.  

When I show up to teach, and my students show up to sweat, I realize something:  We show up for each other. 

I would never have made it through the pandemic without exercise, and without my FitFam. I embraced my calling in the virtual world. We celebrate each other’s milestones and wave at each other from our Brady Bunch boxes every class.  

I taught my first in-person class a few weeks ago and though it was amazing to be in front of a class, my virtual program is here to stay. It is amazing to wake-up in the morning, pop on Zoom, and embrace change with my community.  

We are always stronger together.  



Erin Phelan is the owner of the Erin Phelan FitFam and the director of communications for LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic. You can connect with her at www.erinphelan.com, or follow her on Instagram @erinphelanfit