Business as (un)usual: Strong House Training

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting small businesses in a plethora of ways. Businesses are being forced to adapt quickly amid changing guidelines and adhere to extensive safety protocols. The “Business as (un)usual” photo series highlights local small businesses near CSUN and dives into how they are navigating through the challenges they have to face in these times.


Sonia Gurrola

Rosangela Lunsford, left, attempts a deadlift while Evina Del Pizzo, the co-owner of Strong House Training, coaches her about proper deadlifting form during a private training session in the back parking lot of the training facility in Chatsworth, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.

Chris Torres, Photo Editor

Wedged in the corner of a popular Chatsworth strip mall at the intersection of Lassen Street and Topanga Canyon Boulevard is Strong House Training — a gym which has a spacious interior with pull up bars, squat racks and dumbbells lining the facility’s walls.

But due to the pandemic, all the equipment was left unused and the facility had no one training in it.

Evina Del Pizzo and her husband Wilson Del Pizzo Jr., who are independent personal trainers, opened Strong House Training in March 2019.

When they first opened, the Del Pizzos said they started with about 20 clients and used their first year of opening to figure out how they would run the training facility through trial-and-error.

Three days after celebrating their one year anniversary of being open, Strong House Training was forced to close their doors due to the stay-at-home orders.

Wilson Del Pizzo Jr., left, the co-owner of Strong House Training, watches Kamran Farinpour’s form as Farinpour does a dumbbell incline chest press during an exercise class in the back parking lot of the training facility in Chatsworth, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. (Sonia Gurrola)

“It was a panic,” Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said. “I didn’t sleep for like 24 hours because you just go into survival mode like how can we make things happen?”

With in-person classes being postponed, Evina Del Pizzo and Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said they had to adapt. They offered exercise classes via Zoom, Youtube tutorials and held training sessions at the local park. They said the biggest challenge was to keep their clients engaged despite not being able to train in the facility.

“There’s only so many people who want to do Zoom [classes],” Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said. “There’s only so many people that want to go to a YouTube page and look at a workout, but we dedicated ourselves to really just flood as much content as we could to our clients and keep everybody engaged. For who we are and what we teach and what we do, people want to be in the gym and they don’t want to go out in the park and do pushups and burpees.”

Berenise Alfaro does weighted split squats in the back parking lot of Strong House Training in Chatsworth, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. (Chris Torres)

The couple said they shut down the gym for about three months and were able to reopen once the stay-at-home order was lifted the first time. They were open for two weeks until the number of cases spiked again after Memorial Day.

They were forced to close their doors once again.

Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said it was such a short time of being open that he doesn’t even count those two weeks.

After officially reopening at the end of September, Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said they were fortunate that the other businesses around them in the strip mall allowed them to train clients in the back parking lot, but that led to another problem.

“It gets a little hot here in the San Fernando Valley,” Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said. “So a lot of people at 5 p.m. in the evening don’t want to come out in 100-degree weather, which was the problem we were having when we were doing stuff outside at the park.”

Evina Del Pizzo said that they have multiple protocols in place to comply with public health guidelines. For every client that comes in, they must have a mask on, get their temperature taken at the door and bring their own water and towel.

During workout classes, they set up individual workout stations with fake turf 10 to 12 feet apart outside in the back parking lot. They set up workout equipment at every station depending on what kind of exercises they will be doing. After every workout circuit, the clients have to sanitize and wipe down the equipment they use.

“We’re exceeding the protocols that we’re supposed to be doing because we want to keep everybody safe,” Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said. “We want people to have a good, safe environment to come into.”

Both Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. and Evina Del Pizzo acknowledged that the pandemic not only affected the business but also their personal lives. Evina Del Pizzo said the built-up stress from the business led to raised voices and frustration between the couple at home.

Evina Del Pizzo, the co-owner of Strong House Training in Chatsworth, shows a client how to squat properly during a private training session on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. Del Pizzo said they do all their private training and group classes outside in their back parking lot in order to comply with the Los Angeles City health protocols. (Chris Torres)

“Yeah, we fought,” Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said. “Because it’s stressful and this is our only source of income, this is how we feed ourselves. This is how we feed the family and this is how we pay our bills. So when you’re in the thick of it, you both just care so much that sometimes you just don’t hear each other, because you’re both trying to work toward the same thing when you both have your own idea with how it’s supposed to be.”

Wilson Del Pizzo Jr. said that the quarantine also took a toll on his mental health and led him to become more observant at home.

“I don’t know how the quarantine was for everybody else, but sitting in the same spot, 24/7, seven days a week, at a certain point you notice certain things, it’s like ‘did you always brush your teeth that way?’” he said.

Despite operating during a pandemic, the Del Pizzos believe having the right attitude and complying with protocols during this time is all they can do.

“Every day is an adventure,” Wilson said. “So you just kind of attack it with a positive attitude, improvise, adapt, and overcome. That’s the only option at this point.”