Feature post Fitness Front Wellness

Is it time to go back to the gym? 

We surveyed people already back to see what it’s like in the era of Covid

If you’re still wary about heading back to the gym, take heart. Gyms and outdoor workout programs are going to great lengths to stop the spread of germs. Deep cleanings, temperature checks upon arrival and socially distanced workout space are just a few of the measures implemented to stop the spread of Covid-19. The good news is that many of the changes will also stop the common cold and the flu. Even so, just because most gyms are open and taking extra precautions doesn’t mean people are flocking back. We decided to interview a handful of people who are back to the gym to give you the inside scoop. 

Many gym “regulars” are back working out; while others aren’t as eager to return.

Temperature checks, hand sanitizer 

“The gym is definitely different with Covid in the air!” says Cindie from Wisconsin. She attends cycling, barre, strength, power yoga and high intensity interval training at a local gym. “The first noticeable change is that there are way fewer people using the gym,” she says. “We also have to stop and line up our face in the outline on an iPad type device to check our temperature (no admittance if 100.4 degrees or higher) when we enter the gym.”

Gone are the days of last-minute decisions to join a group workout class. Cindie says at her gym group exercise class reservations are required to allow for social distancing, which means they’re running at half capacity. Overall, there are also fewer class offerings to allow for all areas and equipment to be cleaned after every class. On the floor every other treadmill, stepper, etc is roped off and other equipment has been spread out. Numerous cleaning stations and bottles of hand sanitizer are spread around the gym. 

It’s a similar scene in Arizona, where Kate from Scottsdale, says the “hardcore regulars all came back, but attendance is still very low.” A 61-year-old, self-described “lifelong fitness devotee,” she recently returned to Mountainside Fitness, a regional chain. It was  closed for two months during a second phase lock-down. Her gym can handle 25 percent capacity and requires people to make reservations to attend a class or do independent workouts. That said, she adds, “Reservations are easy to make through the app with a bar code scan at the front desk.” Temperatures are also taken upon entry. 

Many fitness centers are cleaning equipment such as weights multiple times a day.

 

Mask requirements could be keeping people away

Mask requirements are fueling the debate over whether or not to return to the gym. Some people don’t feel safe without masks on. While many feel like it hinders their ability to breathe during a cardio workout. Masks policies fluctuate widely by state.  “When the gym re-opened at the end of May, we were required to wear masks to enter, but not during workouts,” Cindie says, but since the governor put a mask mandate in place, people are required to workout with a mask on.  She says that a noticeable number of people left the gym when that happened.  “I have a health exception, so do not wear a mask during my workouts and quite frankly cannot imagine wearing one while working out,” she says. “I’d say at least half of the people have the mask down on their chins as the class progresses, so it definitely impacts your workout.  

Working out with a mask is required in some states.

In some places like 24 Hour Fitness, which is also implementing entrance temperature checks upon arrival, mask usage is less restricted. For instance at one Texas location, a gym member says masks are required walking around the gym. Once you reach your group exercise station or equipment you plan on using, you can remove it for the duration of your workout. At Mountainside Fitness, masks are required in common areas but you can remove it for cardio if you’re 6-feet away from another person. Meanwhile, workout boutique Orange Theory received pushback on social media when they announced its reopening plans with  masks. It’s now loosened its rules on when masks are required. Rules vary from gym to gym and state to state. 

 

Gyms investing in cleaning tech

Another added safety measure is high tech sanitization. Frequent SLB Contributor Andrea Metcalf, who runs Studio Fuse Pilates in Chicago, says they are making many changes. They include smaller class sizes, online and outdoor classes and investment in clean tech. A new Coral UV lightbox sanitizes the handles to the reformers. Fuse also supplies disinfectant wipes and organic disinfecting misters to help purify the air and surfaces within the studio. “Like most businesses, these unanticipated costs and with the lack of business income imposes tougher decision making processes,” Andrea says, “We feel though that our new cleaning processes will help keep our staff and customers safer.”

Upon entering the gym,  all participants and staff take a thermoscan, use hand sanitizer and are asked the CDC questions for dealing with Covid, she says. In addition, Andrea says they are purchasing MatFresher, a new mat cleaning vending machine.  It  has a 3-step process to clean exercise mats, using UV light, brushes and vacuums. It then sprays both sides with a sanitizer. “It’s really cool and helps customers to clean and sanitizer their mats for less than a small cup of coffee,” Andrea says. “It’s peace of mind for students and a little extra income for business owners like myself.”

MatFresher is a vending machine to sanitize yoga mats.

 

Outdoor classes with fewer restrictions 

Because Covid transmission is less likely outdoors, many gyms are moving classes into the parking lot. Outdoor boot camps have already been doing this for many years. Cindie says her gym has tried to accommodate people by setting up an outdoor turf area with weights. On the East Coast, Samantha tells us she started going back to the gym about a month ago. She attends group workout classes at Synergy Fitness in Fairfield, N.J. “All of our group workouts have been outside in the parking lot or via Zoom,” she says. “I prefer to do the workouts in-person because it helps keep me motivated and it is something to look forward to.” 

So far, she likes the setup. “Everyone cleans their equipment and is keeping their social distance,” she says. “The only downfall I have experienced is when it rains, the classes get cancelled at the last minute. For example, the few times I was about to attend the 6 a.m. Sergeant Flo’s Boot Camp class, it got canceled because of the rain.”

Outdoor yoga 

 Some of the outdoor social distancing workouts are starting to take on a life of their own. A pop up studio in Toronto has started to offer classes in pods. Although we’re not sure how long that will last once the weather turns cold. 

In Denver, the Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre hosts “Yoga on the Rocks.” Classes now have mask and distance restrictions. Denver resident Kori attended a recent sunrise session. “I loved the event and it being outside,” she says. The event wasn’t packed because they reduced the number of available tickets. It was still worthwhile. “Doing yoga outside in the morning was so peaceful and amazing. The only thing I didn’t like is that even though we were all social distanced. Wearing a mask during a workout isn’t ideal. If it was any warmer out I would have struggled a lot with the mask. But overall LOVED it.” 

Yoga on the Rocks at Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre.

Health benefits outweigh the risks 

If you suffer from underlying health conditions that put you at risk for Covid-19, you might be better off working out alone at home. But for the rest of us, the fitness benefits could outweigh the fear of catching a virus. “My advice to people afraid to go back to the gym would be to embrace getting back to a “normal” routine!” Cindie suggests.  “A good workout at the gym goes a long way in helping to deal with the stress we are all feeling right now from Covid and other current events.  As long as the gym has enhanced its cleaning routines and maintains social distancing, I feel reasonable precautions taken are a good way to live your life.  We can’t control everything and it’s not healthy to live in fear!” 

–Patty Yeager