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Ep. 121: Alexis Perkins

Alexis Perkins is the Founder and Creative Director of Chair One Fitness which was sparked by a conjunction of her close relationship with her grandmother and teaching fitness to seniors for years. Alexis encourages community leaders to get creative in the midst of social distancing and help residents exercise while having fun.


Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast, with Josh and Lucas. And we’ve got an amazing episode today to lighten the mood and also get you into shape. We have got Alexis Perkins, founder and creative director at Chair One Fitness on the show today. Welcome to the program.

 

Alexis: Thank you for having me.

 

Lucas: We’re so glad that you’re here and we’ve been fascinated with your energy and your story. You are the director of Chair One Fitness. Tell us what got you into fitness and how did that get you into senior fitness?

 

Alexis: Yeah, well, I’ve actually been in the fitness industry for over 10 years and that was an awesome experience, high impact, high intensity, all that good stuff, Zumba, mixed fit. It was a lot of fun. So I got to teach all over the world: Serbia, Tokyo, France, Italy, you name it. And so then during this time I also was asked to teach at an assisted living facility and I thought, okay, I can try. And I was doing fitness full time and prime time is in the morning before people go to work and then after hours, so to teach at a senior facility, it was like, okay, 10:00, 11:00 in the morning, okay. And they said, have you taught people who have had dementia? No, but I can try. Have you taught somebody who’s had a stroke and who can only move one side of their body? I said, no, but I can try. And so I said, just so they can do a demo. 

 

And then I had never taught people of that age with those types of ailments. So I just went home and I called my grandma and I said, give me some songs that you think that they would like. And she gave me lists of songs. And then I put some choreo together. I went and did the demo and it went really, really well. And they all loved it. And it was crazy for me to have so much, but sweat from being nervous, teaching these new people. But then it ended up going from different place to different place and then that’s when I started getting into the senior fitness and it was later when I decided to develop a program. 

 

Josh: That is so cool. So talk us through a little bit of the evolution of this program. You know, you, you rolled out this program, what were some of your I guess surprises and some of the outcomes that you’ve been seeing?

 

Alexis: Well, what inspired it was during this time when I was doing all of the high intensity stuff, I also had a 30 minute television program that aired locally, so no bragging rights. It was the local fitness lady, like the one that comes on the school channel lady, okay? But it was my 30 minute workout show. And we were on air for five years and we have 40 episodes. And out of those 40 episodes, 38 of them were for your high intensity jumping people. And then I said, I was also co-producer of this show,  said, can we do two that are in a chair? And we tried it. I didn’t know if it would go over well or not. I didn’t know if people would find it to be boring or heck you’re sitting down in the chair, right? 

 

So what happened next is that I just happened to look at the views one day and if you look at the 38 episodes that are all high intensity, they all have between like one and 3000 views. But if you go to the chair episode, it jumps to 450,000. And then when you read the comments, that’s really where it’s an eyeopener, right? Cause you see my dad is 90. Me and him work out to this everyday together. I had a hip replacement. I had a torn ACL. I didn’t think I could dance anymore. I’m only 33, but I have fibromyalgia and this is great for me. And I thought, holy crap, all these people don’t have something that is specifically for them. And now I have a passion for seniors, but I also wanted to do something for everybody else too. So that’s when we decided to, well I decided to develop Chair One Fitness. 

 

I just sat down in a Starbucks one day because I’m a dork and I wrote out this training manual. And, and then I said, okay, now what I sent it to my friends who were doctors of physical therapy, specialized in curriculum. And then cause I wanna make sure it’s right. And so after that I said, let’s get this baby accredited. And I fully expected to submit the program, get rejected, ask them why I got rejected, resubmit it and then get accepted. But I didn’t know I was going to get accepted from all the different organizations on the first try. And that felt really good. That made me confident. And this program is good and it works and it’s fun. So that’s when we finally launched the program and started getting the trainings out there and continuing letting people go out and teach the classes at all these different places so that we could just give the gift of fitness to those who need them, who need it most.

 

Josh: Wow. So, you know what you’ve just touched on too, is that your program and chair exercises in general are actually, it’s designed for really anyone of any age or any disability that has trouble standing, is that correct? 

 

Alexis: Mmhmmm. 

 

Josh: And obviously there’s a big, there’s a big group there of seniors that have different balance issues and things like that. So this is obviously extremely relevant to them from what you’ve found.

 

Alexis: Yeah. Well the thing is, when you talk about all the other groups, right, let’s talk about the person has fibromyalgia or the person who just has an amputation. All those people are eventually going to be seniors. So all these things crossover into seniors, eventually, God blessed they live to be a senior, right?  But with a chair, one, what we do is we break down the ability to teach at a high intensity level and a low intensity level. And then we have modifications that go as low as skilled care. So even if we just were to focus on seniors, you know, we have those who are in independent living. Those who need us be in home health. We have those who live at independent living place, assisted living, skilled care, memory care, all these different things. So we made sure to show our instructors and offer different classes at varying levels. The reason why we offer it varying levels is because it takes the thinking and the guesswork out of it. When you want a person to move their body and have fun, it’s easier when they’re not having to think, Oh, how can I modify this? We go ahead and modify it for them so that people can just select their level.

 

Josh: I love that. And so what are some of the ways that you’ve been able to creatively make this, something that actually is fun for the residents and kind of helps those particularly speaking to those communities makes it accessible and makes it fun to wear something that the residents actually look forward to doing?

 

Alexia: They are completely prepared for all these different groups, because we wanted them to say, we wanted them to know this is what you can walk into. All right. I got on the job training and it can be interesting when you walk into a place and you see something that catches you off guard, you’re like, wait a minute, why is this person caring adult? Why wait this person, they don’t people don’t just naturally know what tardive dyskinesia is or what do I do? And I have somebody with dementia start dancing in front of me and I’m like, uh oh. So we prepare our instructors to handle all these situations. So it creates a fun environment where everything is still running smoothly, alright? A lot of times the people just feel like they’re having fun, but as the instructor or through video on demand, we know what we’re doing.

 

There’s like a move where we extend our arm out to the side and then we pull it back in, right? When we do it in the song, it’s really fun. It’s like reach and pull in. But on the backend, we know that that’s an ADL because we do that move all the time in life. I’m pretty sure we’ve all been to an ATM. We need to be able to do that. I’m pretty sure we’ve all sat on the couch and we want to be able to reach the remote control. So therefore we just added in as fun. So the people are just listening to the music, having a good time, moving their bodies. And we, as the instructor or as the person who developed the 30 minute workout on demand, we know what we’re doing. We don’t, we don’t want them to feel like, oh yeah, they’re making me do this so I could reach the door knob. No, that’s not fun. Not for them. We know that. They don’t have to know that, right? So it’s almost like hidden in between all the elements. So the participants just have a good time.

 

Lucas: So talk to us, the transition you mentioned now you have videos that are on demand, but you didn’t start there. You’ve spent a lot of time inside the communities. So talk to us about your experience in the classes that you’ve been teaching in the communities and kind of the generation of moving it toward an online platform as well.

 

Yeah. Well, I still love the instructor part and somebody can be live. And so what happened was as things changed, I was like, okay, if people are not permitted into senior homes right now, it’s due to COVID, but let’s just say it could be for anything else. We don’t know what the future is going to bring. What is even bigger than that? Actually, what if it’s just a facility who currently doesn’t have an instructor, but they still want to offer it. What if there’s an in-home health worker who they are not capable of teaching a class, but they’re capable of helping somebody through a class. So I kind of just opened up my eyes and was like, our instructors are the superheroes of the world. They go out there and they do this thing, but what about everybody else? And then I thought about going back to that YouTube channel, look at all the people who would help by having it up there, all those different people, they might not be able to get to a class.

 

Another one of our populations is the obese. I had somebody message me. I’m obese, I’m in my bed. I happened to be scrolling on YouTube and I came across this and I liked it. And I actually moved today. You’re not going to get them to go to a senior facility. You have to go to them. So that’s why we developed the 30 minute workouts on demand. And that’s really easy. I mean, all they have to do is go to the website, rent a class and they could choose their level. We have high intensity, low intensity, and also lowest intensity and/or skilled care. And then coming up in June, I believe we’re going to have the one that is just upper body, because we do have those people who are in wheelchairs. And if they can’t move any of the lower body, we want to cater workouts specifically for them too. So the on demand videos are great and it usually will help people save on their budget with activities, especially if they’re in a senior community.

 

Josh: Gosh, I love that. And how relevant, you know, taking the program to a digital platform especially, you know, kind of with all the changes we’ve dealt with, you know, in this season of podcasting gosh, from the time we started the season to now how much more accessible digital platforms have made programs like yours to the countless, you know, thousands of seniors that are in their homes or they’re in senior communities. I’m sure you’re getting incredible feedback since you’ve done that.

 

Alexis: Yeah. Speaking of like the whole transition thing it was a blessing in disguise for us over here at Chair One, because I think it’s going on like week 10 or 11 since this whole thing had transpired. But all of our instructor trainings used to be live in person. We would fly out. One of our trainers have a group of people in that region. And then that will be that. And then they can go out in this truck. So, and then I was also teaching my classes. So after a COVID happened, it was literally like one day every training had to be canceled or postponed. And every class, all my senior homes messaged me due to the government, blah, blah, blah. You’re no longer allowed in the building. I’m like, ooh, this is an interesting day, right? And so I thought, wait, you went from having all these trainings and all these classes to nothing? You went from being able to help all these people to doing nothing? 

 

So of course I took one day to kind of get my brain right. And in the next day is when I had a glass of Pinot Grigio. And the third day is when I was like, let’s do something about it. So then we decided to transition the trainings to online. And the cool thing is that in the first training, we pretty much doubled or tripled the amount of instructors that we have. So as soon as this whole thing is lifted, there’ll be ready to go. 

 

And then with the classes, I liked that it opened it up. I’m only one person even me teaching nine classes a week, that’s only nine groups a week. If we open it up on a digital platform. So many other people can benefit. I think the only hurdle, which isn’t really a hurdle because Apple has gone through this many, many times is getting people used to it because at senior homes, they’re not necessarily used to streaming everything. They’re not used to plugging the HDMI cord. They’re not used to all this. So you’re like, wait a minute. No, we have this cool option for you. And they’re like, what do you mean? It’s not on a VHS. It’s like, so it’s kind of getting the different senior homes up to speed on what good options they have. And I think during COVID while they get bored, cause they don’t have anything to do now they’re starting to explore and learn the digital platforms so that it’ll be easier for them to utilize them.

 

Josh: I love it. And I think you know, long after you know, we move past you know, the disruption that has occurred because of the COVID, this is still very relevant and I think it’s forced us into a lot of creativity and a lot of putting things into digital platform that will live on, you know, the benefits and the accessibility, the adaptiveness the ability to reach more people. And I love that you’ve done that. You’ve also had a little bit of a personal experience. Tell us a little bit about your grandmother and, and that’s that situation and maybe how you go about selecting music and things like that for your programs.

 

Alexis: Yeah. Well, so for our program, like I said, I asked my grandma, my mom and my dad. And then cause they just always happened to like good music. And I mean, they’re not that old, but they’re older than me. So I had to get some insight, right? So if you have no money now in dork, so I had to do my research. So I was like, okay, well, if I’m going to put in the Drifters and Eta James, okay. On the flip side, I also need the Elvis Presley and the Patsy Cline. Okay. And then we opened up our gospel division for those who go to church and I’m like, okay, let me go ahead and get when Jesus says yes, because if they want to do Chair One after Bible study, let’s make sure they’re able to do it.

 

But, my grandma was really, really helpful with that. I know in our program we have two types of music, which is, there’s a pure science behind it and it is timeless music or of their time. And we have both of them in a class. What that means is timeless music is that feel good music that you play at the company party that you play at the cookout is that stuff that everybody likes, it’s the station music. It’s like the Bruno Mars, it’s the, you know, just the feel good stuff, right. Or maybe Beyonce, something like that. And then we have “of their time,” which is when we look at their age, their demographic and say, okay, well, if you are 90 years old, then I know for fact that when I play Save the Last Dance for Me, you’re going to resonate with that.

 

The reason why that’s important is because if somebody has dementia or Alzheimer’s, even if they don’t do anything else, the moment that they start singing along with the song, then we know that they’re at least experiencing some brain activity to remember the lyrics. So that’s why we are very selective about our music. And we combine both. For example, somebody wants it, Oh, well you can’t do anything new. None of that new music in a senior class, I said, stop. That is not true. I was like, my student who is 96 in a high intensity class, we dance to Old Town Road every week. She has a good time and I have a video clip of it. And it were literally like, I’m going to take my horse and she’s 96. So I’m like, don’t be scared to introduce new things to them. Even though they got the words wrong, they thought, they thought old town road was, I’m a take my horse to the old folks’ home and I’m like, no, it’s the old town road, but either way they still had a good time. 

 

So timeless music, which is just feels good to everybody. And then of their time, and the reason why we specifically say of their time is cause I had another person who took the instructor training course. And she was maybe only like 45. And she was, she was black, cute as a button and she had a spinal issue and she was like, do I have to use old music? I was like, no, she was like, because I know I’m inches, but I’m still sexy. And I said, okay. And she said, Oh, cause if I want to do a class with my girls, I’m not trying to listen to Etta James. And I said, did you hear what I said, timeless and of their time. I was like, we also have choreography to Mary J Blige. I was like, use that. Okay. So we do like to cater to a little bit of everyone and put a lot of thought into the music. 

 

Josh: Well, I think you have got to, now that you’ve told me about this changing up the lyrics to old, old person’s home, I’ve got to see some videos, call them spoof videos if you want on some remakes or remixes of some of these hit songs specifically to our friends and senior living. That would be hilarious.

 

Alexis: Ironically, somebody did a spoof on that specific one. So apparently my group of people wasn’t the first ones to get that they did a whole video of like these old people jamming to the song about to the old folks. How so? It’s really great. But so he definitely loved the music and we love how they mix it up.

 

Josh: Oh wow. I love it. Well, kudos to what you are doing. It’s obvious that you’ve got such passion. And your personality I know is, is so fun for anyone that gets to participate in these. And I love that it’s so accessible. Now Lucas, I feel like, you know, you and me, we get to sit and record these so much. We may have to incorporate some of these chair exercises into our kind of pre warmup before we get ready to podcast. 

 

Lucas: Yes. After 10 weeks of sitting in my chair I am in desperate need of some activity myself. So I may be signing up for some of your on-demand classes.

 

Alexis: You should! Take the high intensity. 

 

Lucas: Well, don’t, don’t assume that I’m ready for that. 

 

Josh: I’m going to say, we may want to start out at the entry level Lucas and work our way up. 

 

Lucas: I think that would be the start. 

 

Alexias: You could do high intensity. It’s really fun. Try it. You know what you should do? You should do the high intensity, but while you’re doing it, take a video and then send me what it was like on your first try. So I can see you in action. That would be great.

 

Oh, I can’t wait to showcase that. I really can’t. A little sarcasm, believe me. 

 

Josh: Oh, I got it. I know it’s going to happen now. It’s going to happen. 

 

Lucas: Josh, you know, I, you know, this is, we hope that a lot of our caregivers and frontline workers and people that are really advocating for seniors and doing this hard work right now, we hope that this has kind of lift their spirits. You know months into this, people are physically drained. They’re emotionally drained right now. And and they don’t have visitors like Alexis coming in and bringing that energy. And so we long for the time that the we’re able to open the doors again and maybe all of us together enjoying a class, but Alexis let’s let’s end with a special note to all the people and the seniors that are there that have not had visitors in so long. Just some encouragement for them.

 

Alexis: Well basically I know that these are definitely hard times, but the one thing I would probably want to let people know is one of our two of our core values, we have compassion for the people is one of our core values. And in our mission statement, we want to always remove the boundaries created by perceived limitations. So that’s an abbreviation, but mission statement remove the boundaries of perceived limitations, core value, number one, compassion for the people. So understand that there are limitations with visitors and things like that, but we should at least do what we can. I always say, if we can’t be perfect, we could still be our best and we can offer the best services that we have. So if you can’t have a live person in there, get an aide or somebody just to kind of help along, make sure that people are safe, but still let them dance and have a good time or get creative.

 

I saw a video where somebody at a senior facility, the instructor was in a hallway and everybody else was kind of at their doors and they were able to do it that way. So I say, get creative and don’t think of this as a time for limitations. It’s literally just a time to evolve and emerge victorious. 

 

That’s been my quote this whole time: evolve and emerge victorious, and still think of creative ways to get people moving. And it’s so important for all the special populations, but especially for our seniors who already have circulatory issues and things like that. We want to get them moving. We want to uplift their spirits because the emotions and things like that are very important as well. So I say, just take off all the limitations, focus on what we can do versus what we can’t do and evolve and emerge victorious,

 

Lucas: Alexis Perkins, founder and creative director at chair one fitness. Great conversation. Thank you for your energy this morning, and thank you for your passion for older adults and their wellbeing. We really appreciate you being on the show today.

 

Alexis: Yes. Thank you, Lucas. And thank you Josh. 

 

Josh: Oh, it’s awesome.

 

Lucas: And thanks for being a listener also. So we’ll connect with you and your organization in our show notes. I know that our listeners are going to want to engage with you. You’ve got a great social media page; I know you’re on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn and all those pages. So tell us the website one more time.

 

The website is www.chaironefitness.com. That’s chair, like sitting down in a chair, the number one O N E fitness.com. So chaironefitness.com.

 

Lucas: Perfect. Perfect. Well, we’ll put that in the show notes and also connect BTGvoice.com. And thanks everybody for listening to Bridge the Gap. 

 

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Ep. 121: Alexis Perkins