As states in the United States and countries around the world begin to reopen, the resounding question is: what is the new normal? Businesses and communities have adjusted around the pandemic, and with fear of a second wave rising, many people look to the future expecting their lives to be fundamentally different from what they were in the past.
Is it Safe to go to the Gym?
When it comes to working out, many people had to adjust their workout routines to account for closed gyms. Now that gyms across the country are being allowed to reopen, many more people wonder about the safety of attending fitness classes or working out, even alone, in such a public space. How will gyms comply with this new, complex set of laws, that can differ at the federal, state, and community level? How will they protect patrons from the risks associated with being exposed, especially as government officials promote an active lifestyle to boost immune systems?
Gyms are considered high-risk environments for spreading germs, in part because many gyms are relatively humid, and in part because of the use of shared equipment. While many people clean equipment before and after using it, reducing risk of spread by contact, research shows that coronavirus can live in the air for up to three hours. While evidence on coronavirus itself is still pending, previous research on flu germs has proven that they can spread to others up to six feet away through the air. On top of this, evidence shows that the heavy breathing that often accompanies working out likely spreads germs even farther.
How are Gyms Responding?
Because of varied guidelines at different levels of government, laws are not practical guidelines for gyms’ responses to the virus. Standard responses include contactless check-ins and payments, requiring employees to wear gloves and masks, increased cleaning schedules, and in some places even requiring a temperature check at check in, to avoid allowing someone with a fever, who might be sick, into the gym. Some gyms, like Equinox, are requiring patrons to wear a mask when not “vigorously exercising.”
Many gyms are closing for periods of up to an hour in the middle of the day, or several times a day, to thoroughly clean equipment. Gyms that usually provide fitness classes will close the studio for 30 minutes between classes to clean it. Other are investing in professional grade equipment, like floor scrubbers that are rated to kill coronavirus. Gyms are also adding more sanitation stations, and shutting down water fountains that require touch to activate. Air circulation is also an important consideration, with many locations investing in fan systems or keeping doors open where possible.
In order to comply with the six-foot distancing suggestion, many gyms are closing every other machine or otherwise reducing equipment. Pools, spas, team sports areas, and even locker rooms are often remaining closed even as other portions of the gym open, because of the impossibility of maintaining the recommended distance of six feet.
Other gyms are requiring patrons to make appointments before showing up, often through an app or website. While this helps to limit the number of people in the building at any given time, complying with some states’ orders to open at certain percentages of capacity (as low as 25% in Texas), it also severely cuts down availability during prime work out times. To compensate, many gyms are also limiting the length any individual can spend in the building, frequently to only an hour. This causes an extra level of frustration for people who don’t find this to be enough time to complete their entire work out. Its often compounded by longer wait times for machines.
Fitness classes also have reduced capacity, in some cases going from up to fifty students to closer to a dozen. Instructors often have to mark out areas on the floor where students can stand, and are no longer able to provide hands on assistance or encouragement. Many students are mourning the ban on high-fives. This issue also effects personal trainers, whose job requires a certain proximity, and will be made more difficult if not impossible by distancing.
One gym in California is even using large plastic pods to completely separate members and reduce risk of contamination. The pods are made of clear shower curtains and plexiglass, meant to be cost-effective. Clients have initially proven excited and appreciative of the move, though because each pod requires its own complete set of equipment, it could prove cost-prohibitive for many other places despite the low cost of the pod itself.
Other gyms are going an entirely different route by converting partially to digital classes. Initially, it was a necessity, when gyms were considered non-essential in many states and forced to close. The only way to maintain revenue and connection with clients was to be available in their own homes, on their computers and phones.
Will Home Fitness be the new Gym?
ClassPass, a digital fitness class subscription that partners with local fitness boutiques, introduced live-streamed classes in March 2020. More than 500 studios added bookable classes.
Other gyms have turned to YouTube and other social media sites, posting free workouts to keep their customers engaged and loyal. Many gyms have already had to close, and as worry about a second wave of the pandemic spreads, gyms worry about their customers returning even when they are allowed to open up.
Besides online classes, customers have committed to taking their workouts home in other ways. Fitness equipment sales have grown by 170% since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. This is another indication of changes that may be coming to the landscape of fitness in the future. Now that many people have the necessary equipment, how will gyms compete with the ease and lower price of working out from home? Only time will show the innovations in structure and benefits in the industry moving forward.
Were you one of many who invested in home workout equipment while your gym was closed? Is your gym using any interesting methods to keep patrons safe? We’d love to hear from you in the comments, or email us at email@example.com.