Unite Fitness Is Turning the 23rd Street Armory into a Huge Socially-Distanced Gym

The local boutique fitness studio is transforming the 14,000-square-foot building into a group workout space for 24 attendees at a time.

Unite Fitness will be turning the 23rd Street Armory into a huge gym. | Photo courtesy Unite Fitness.

This past year has been, to say the least, a challenging time for Philly’s previously thriving fitness scene. We’re seeing beloved stalwart studios sadly close, national brands declare bankruptcy, new ones open, and the ones that remain afloat trying new tactics to remain nimble, hoping to somehow keep their businesses going while also keeping their members healthy.

One such new tactic comes from Unite Fitness, a fixture on the Philly fitness scene since it was founded by Gavin McKay in 2007. Unite specializes in energetic HIIT workouts that provide a mix of cardio, strength and recovery training. Before the pandemic, their studios were full of fun perks like cold brew coffee and kombucha on tap, plush towel service, and sweet-smelling shower products for after your sweat session.

But the perks (a smart add-on to compete with those offered by chain HIIT competitors like Barry’s and EverybodyFights) weren’t what kept people coming back; the homegrown brand has a cadre of enthusiastic instructors and devoted members that have been training with them for over a decade.

Like all fitness studios, Unite has been trying to adapt and survive since the spread of COVID-19. To stay safe, they’ve been offering virtual classes through their live and on-demand platform, which launched in late summer, as well as outdoor classes in locations around the city. And now, they’re trying a (quite large) new tactic. As of October, they’re taking over the 14,000 square feet of the 23rd Street Armory, so that they can provide safe, socially distant workouts in a new location as the seasons change.

The 23rd Street Armory (22 South 23rd Street) is usually host to large entertainment events and weddings. What’s particularly interesting about this space is that it’s classified as an indoor and outdoor event space — it’s got two huge doors and multiple industrial vents. That means the guidelines they’re adhering to are for outdoor gatherings — which is why they can manage and promote 24 people per class instead of ten people per class, the city-mandated requirement for indoor workouts in small boutique fitness studios. It’s also likely a mutually beneficial agreement between Unite and the Armory, since large weddings are not the order of the day in coronavirus times.

The HIIT strength classes will consist of a strength series, paired with HIIT cardio bursts — “similar to our Unite Pump classes when we were in the studio,” explains Mark Donohue, Unite’s director of branding and marketing. Unite is not moving in its typical treadmills and spin bikes to the Armory just yet — but they hope to down the line, Donohue says.


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In addition to the inherent airflow benefits of the space, Unite is taking the following measures to ensure safety and adherence to all local, state and national health ordinances:

  • Capped Class Size:​ All classes will be capped at 25 people, staying below group assembly mandates.
  • Workout Zones: ​All reserved attendees will be assigned to their own specific area while working out, ensuring greater than the minimum six feet of social distancing mandated.
  • Mask Wearing: ​All coaches, staff and members are asked to wear a mask when not in their designated workout zone, including on their way into the Armory and when walking about the space.
  • Sanitation Stations​: Participants will find hand sanitizing stations throughout the Armory as well as bathrooms to wash their hands before and after workouts.
  • Extensive Cleaning​: All equipment used will be wiped down after every use, and the facility will be cleaned several times per day.

“Our team has worked tirelessly since the start of the pandemic to bring the safest, most effective workout possible to our members no matter what the format,” said McKay, founder of Unite. If you’re a member (or want to become one) you can look for their classes at the Armory starting October 1st. Get more information about membership, class pricing and the schedule here.

As our fitness brands continue to face changing norms and unprecedented challenges, they’re continuing to look for new ways to evolve — Unite’s latest move is just one more example of that evolution. And we’ve got to hand it to them — it seems like a pretty brilliant move to us.


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