Bright Side of (Downtown) Business: Free Form Fitness doubles down in the core

Free Form fitness
Editor's Note

The Bright Side of (Downtown) Business, presented by Star Motors, highlights business success stories in Ottawa’s downtown. 

Transformation stories are nothing new for Free Form Fitness. In fact, helping clients reach their health goals is a large part of the reason why CEO Ashley Lawrie loves running the business.

But lately, she has been working more on transforming Free Form itself and keeping its five locations — including one on Albert Street and another in the ByWard Market — humming. 

The approach at Free Form is a little different than most big-box gyms. With a focus on 30-minute personal training sessions, the goal is to work more directly with each client. It was a risky business model to follow, Lawrie said, as she effectively turned her back on the standard gym membership approach. 

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But the risk paid off and Free Form found itself so busy that, at one point, it had two locations on Albert Street.   

Then the pandemic hit. As the world went into lockdown and businesses everywhere struggled to stay afloat, Free Form Fitness was no exception. The gym facilities were shut down for months at a time and faced severe uncertainty about policies that might have kept them locked down.

“COVID was a big curveball,” said Lawrie. “We pivoted our model completely online. We were doing workshops, webinars. We were trying to figure out what we can do to help as many people during this really weird time that everybody should still be working out. 

“We even came up with things to use around your house to work out, like cans, like water jugs. It was great. It was honestly, we wouldn’t be here had it not been for our clients, that’s for sure. But it also was like our team rallying together to be like, how can we keep our clients active and still provide our personal touch as much as possible?”

The clients were loyal and didn’t want to see Free Form fail. Most continued to pay their fees, even with a scaled-back, at-home offering. Lawrie is happy to report that staff continued to be paid.

At the same time, the pandemic brought Free Form an unexpected gift: data. Lawrie said she began to understand her customers even better, as she and her team could step back and look at larger trends.

“The data we had on our clients and their changing needs became crucial,” she said. 

“Our clients’ feedback and the data we had pointed towards a strong need for a holistic approach to health. People were not just looking for a place to work out, but a space that catered to their overall well-being.” Lawrie said. 

Recognizing this shift in the fitness landscape, Free Form will transform again this month, when it officially begins collaborating with La Vie Health. 

“We’re noticing that it’s very hard to go see your doctor and ask for blood work or just general tests. So we partnered with the doctors at La Vie to help each other out. We both know how important it is for people to stay active and eat well and move better and improve their mental health,” Lawrie said.

And so, three years after COVID wreaked havoc, Free Form is launching a sister business, Sain Personal Training, which will operate alongside La Vie Health. This partnership allows Free Form to expand its offering under the Sain banner, combining fitness programming with wellness programs. The new service will operate out of the World Exchange Plaza on O’Connor Street downtown. 

“They deal with a lot of executives and do health assessments with the doctors there. They have a huge health team. They kind of put you in this roster of two days of full assessment. And then we do the fitness assessment part,” Lawrie explained.

The fitness assessment looks at muscle tone and oxygen intake measurements (VO2). Clients also work with a dietitian.

“So we can dive into these clients a little bit more thoroughly. And it’s a personalized option for them,” said Lawrie.

Alongside Free Form’s locations in Kanata, the Glebe and Wellington Village, Lawrie says her locations on Albert Street and in the Market are seeing business building back, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

“(COVID) was a rough period, but I feel like we’re past that. So I just see bigger and better things for Ottawa.”

This column is presented by Star Motors, Ottawa’s original Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes Van dealer. Since 1957, Star Motors has provided its customers with the Mercedes-Benz “The Best or Nothing” standard in vehicle selection, service, genuine parts and certified collision repair. For your convenience, you may shop, research, chat and compare vehicles online at, visit the 400 West Hunt Club location or call (613) 737-7827 for the very best in personal service.

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