News that gyms, health clubs and dance studios will be reopening on the 13th of June in NSW has brought much excitement to the fitness industry. Gyms were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the easing of restrictions has provided much needed relief to businesses struggling under lockdown.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard has reminded business owners that the fitness industry will ‘need to do things a little differently than in pre-COVID-19 times.’ To ensure the safe reopening of the industry, businesses will need to develop a COVID-19 safety plan to prove that they can offer their members a safe place to work out.
James Hart is a personal trainer who runs Bird on Fire Fitness. Mr Hart says that while there is understandable excitement about the reopening of gyms, people will need to ‘manage their expectations’. Mr Hart stresses that the reopening of the industry needs to happen at a ‘slow and safe’ pace.
While it’s obviously tempting to throw open the gym doors and let the public come streaming in, the fitness industry needs to take care that things are ‘reopened properly’.
At present, classes will be restricted to just 10 members at a time. These restrictions may prove challenging for many, but careful use of safety equipment and hygiene practices will offer viable methods of safely reopening gym doors.
To ensure the safety of members and provide a viable method of returning to work, some F45 studios have installed germ protection screens in their fitness centres. This allows them to divide their larger rooms into two so they can run 2 classes of 10 at the same time without endangering participants.
Professor Mary-Lousie McLaws, an expert in infection control at the University of New South Wales, and a member of the World Health Organisation, says that while ‘most of the spread of COVID-19 is through direct contact’ you can also get it through contaminated surfaces. Most contaminations occur through ‘expressed particles’ in the form of a cough or a sneeze.
Jordan McCreary is the director of F45, which has 27 studios across NSW, Victoria and Queensland. Mr McCreary of F45 explains that, rather than working out in ‘stations’ as is standard practice during circuit training, people will now stay in the one spot with long rest breaks in between exercises. By minimising contact with surfaces that other people have touched, gyms can help prevent the spread of disease from the contaminated surfaces described by Professor McLaws.
The placement of fitness equipment must also be carefully considered, says Professor McLaws. Machines that are low to the ground like rowing machines shouldn’t be put near cardio machines such as exercise bikes. Droplets of saliva can travel as far as 6 metres in 5 seconds, which means that as ‘particles fall to the ground [they] could potentially put the person lower down at risk’.
Professor McLaws recommended that gyms place perspex screens between cardio machines to provide gym members with a safe environment to work out. With perspex screens safely separating gym equipment, a cough or sneeze is unlikely to travel far.
The reopening of gyms marks a victory for the fitness industry, and for Australia in its ongoing fight against COVID-19. While businesses will undoubtedly be changed by the events of this year, the fitness industry has been offered a sobering demonstration of the importance of hygiene within their facilities.
While fitness junkies everywhere may find their excitement tinged by a hint of anxiety as they step back into the gym for the first time, with proper care and safety, the humble gym may open its doors healthier, safer, and more hygienic than ever before.