This is what you can expect from gyms as they begin to reopen
TORONTO -- After nearly three months of closures, Brickhouse Gym in Winnipeg finally reopened its doors on Monday.
With a dedicated membership eager to get back in the gym, owner Paul Taylor said he was not surprised by the overwhelming response he received that morning.
“Within the first hour, I personally took 110 bookings,” Paul Taylor, owner of Brickhouse Gym, told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday over the phone. "It was overwhelming, but I knew this would happen.”
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Having members call ahead to book their workouts is one of several new measures being implemented by the gym as a way of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Via their website, Instagram and email, Brickhouse Gym informed its members that it would be taking bookings over the phone for 75-minute blocks of exercise. They are only allowed to schedule sessions for the same day or the following day.
“It’s not a perfect system, we’re in that beta stage but people seem to be very understanding of that,” said Taylor.
As many Canadian gyms remain closed, Brickhouse is one of the first in the country to begin experimenting with what working out in a post-pandemic world may look like. And they’ve implemented a variety of new rules in hopes of keeping gym-goers safe.
Included in phase two of Manitoba’s reopening plan, gyms were allowed to reopen as of June 1. In British Columbia, indoor gym facilities were given the go-ahead to reopen on May 19, as long as they met physical distancing requirements. In both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, gyms are among some of the facilities that will be permitted to open on June 5, meanwhile, in Saskatchewan, they’re expected to reopen as of June 8.
Prior to the pandemic, both of Brickhouse Gym’s locations were open 24/7. Upon reopening, they’ve reduced their hours to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The gyms have also taken steps to maintain physical distancing and make sure facilities stay clean. Both locations are operating at 50 per cent capacity, which includes staff members. Between appointments, employees spend 15 minutes sanitizing high-touch areas such as doorhandles and cardio equipment, while change and shower rooms remain closed.
“People have to come dressed and ready to train,” Taylor said. “That’s a pretty major change for some people, but being that it’s summer time, it’s not that difficult to pull off.”
Upon arrival, members are provided with hand sanitizer and asked a series of questions related to their health and potential exposure to COVID-19. They’re also given a bottle of disinfectant and are expected to wipe down machines and other gym equipment both before and after using them.
Taylor describes this process as a labour of love, given the financial toll lockdown measures have taken on his business. But the positive impact that physical exercise can have on a person’s wellbeing, especially after being isolated for so long, is what keeps him going.
“I see how it can change people’s lives and how the gym can really be such an anchor for people,” said Taylor.
“It’s so good for your physical and your mental health that in times of uncertainty, if you can at least have a really good workout in a day, even if everything else in your day has gone horribly, you can get a sense of accomplishment and know that you’ve done something to better your situation.”
LESS EQUIPMENT, MORE SANITATION
The very nature of gyms, from their shared use of equipment to enclosed spaces full of droplets, can potentially make them a hotspot for the spread of COVID-19. But those looking to reopen after months without business are taking steps to make the experience as safe and clean as possible.
GoodLife Fitness is one of Canada’s largest gym chains. Facilities in Prince Edward Island are set to reopen on June 15, and gyms in New Brunswick and British Columbia will follow a week later.
Among some of the biggest changes members will notice during their first visit back is less equipment.
"When people start to come back, they will see certain pieces of equipment will be clearly marked as available for use versus those that aren’t,” explained Jason Sheridan, senior vice-president of operations for GoodLife Fitness, over the phone on Tuesday
“We want to make it easy and efficient for people to recognize this is how they can get their workout in and stay distanced from others.”
GoodLife also plans on limiting the number of people in its facilities by allowing members to book workouts ahead of time, either online or through the gym’s mobile app. Workouts are one hour long and can be booked up to seven days in advance. Members are allowed to schedule just one hour-long block per day.
While members can still drop by on a walk-in basis, Sheridan explained that their entry will depend on whether enough space is available. The purpose of booking online, he said, is to make the process of going to the gym more efficient.
“We’ve all lined up more over the past few weeks than we’ve probably lined up for anything in years,” said Sheridan. “We want to try to avoid that sort of an environment — we want people to be able to know from home that they can get into the gym [and] that there’s space available.”
Members can also expect enhanced cleaning protocols, including additional spray bottles, wipe stations and hand sanitizer dispensers. Each of the chain’s 300 gyms will also be equipped with its own electrostatic sprayer. These devices give an electrostatic charge to sanitizers and disinfectants as they pass through a nozzle. Positively charged droplets repel one another to aggressively cling to and coat surfaces for a deeper clean.
Additionally, 30 minutes of dedicated cleaning time will be set aside after every hour of member activity to “reset” the club and prepare for the next workout block.
While some amenities won’t be available for the time being, others will be continue to be provided, but restricted in some way. Front desks, for example, will only be operated by one employee and handle one guest at a time. Barriers will also be installed in certain locations to separate workers from gym members.
TAKING A CUSTOMIZED APPROACH
Sheridan explained that specific reopening plans are developed on a club-by-club basis. Regional managers responsible for each facility are working closely with existing teams to consider things such as square footage, high traffic points throughout the day and the type of equipment most members are looking to use, he said.
From there, decisions are made regarding hours of operation and which tools and machines to make available.
This, said Sheridan, is so that each club’s services are specific to its membership base.
“It has to be done on a club-by-club basis to make sure that it’s well thought-out and safe and comfortable for everybody,” he said. “We know there is enough space and time in the day that we can easily get the same amount of people through the club as we had prior to.
“It will look and feel a little different but the ability is there.”
National gym chain Anytime Fitness has been gradually reopening its facilities based on provincial rules. Ashley Viljoen is the director of sales for facilities in southwestern Ontario. He explained that certain locations have already reopened in British Columbia while others will soon reopen in Saskatchewan.
Despite being able to look to these facilities for guidance on how to reopen those in Ontario, Viljoen explained that nothing is set in stone just yet.
“It’s all up in the air at this moment in time,” he told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday via telephone. “Everything is on the table.”
In British Columbia, for example, locations previously open 24/7 are now open for 16 hours. Many of these gyms have also started operating on a by-appointment basis, Viljoen explained, where members are only allowed inside for 60 minutes.
It remains unclear what could happen to the company’s facilities in Ontario, where gyms remain closed.
“We’re not 100 per cent sure what it’s going to look like in terms of being a 24/7 facility [or] how many people are allowed in the facility,” said Viljoen. “I do feel that it will be by appointment only.”
Like other gyms in Ontario, he said Anytime Fitness is still waiting on specific guidelines from the provincial government.
NEW SIGNAGE AND LAYOUT
Regardless of when the province gives gyms the all-clear, Viljoen said a number of safety measures will be in place. Showers, for example, will be closed off, but washrooms and change rooms will remain open. Staff members will also be expected to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and face shields.
In terms of cleanliness, facilities will be stocked with more medical-grade disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer. Increased signage with instructions on cleaning protocols will also be posted throughout gyms.
“It’s going to be in people’s face. We want to make sure that everyone is safe,” said Viljoen. “A lot of people are going to expect everything to be back to normal, the way things once were six months ago but…things are going to be different.”
The director and his colleagues are also having to consider new ways of designing the layout of gyms to ensure that staff and members can easily keep a physical distance of at least two metres from one another.
“I’ve been working on that for the last two-and-a-half weeks, looking at the facilities and actually spacing everything out so that everyone is six feet apart at all times,” he said.
This will likely involve spacing out machines and equipment, and using tape to mark out designated areas around them, explained Viljoen. This is to ensure they aren’t moved and the necessary physical distance around them is maintained.
Additionally, the temperatures of both staff and gym members will be taken upon arrival and those hoping to workout will have to complete a survey before they can do so
“We’re preparing for absolutely everything, we want to make sure it’s a safe place where people can feel confident and comfortable working out,” he said. “We’d rather be over-prepared than underprepared.”
ADDITIONAL ROLES FOR EMPLOYEES
Kate Carroll, chief operating officer of Movati Athletic, said the fitness club is taking a similar approach. Upon reopening, additional safety measures will be put in place across the club’s 16 locations in Ontario.
One of these measures involves creating a new position, known as a Movati ambassador. Between eight and 10 of these representatives will be placed in high-traffic areas throughout each facility, which can be up to 80,000 square feet in size.
“This is to ensure that our employees and our members are playing the right part and doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, which is disinfecting their equipment before and after they use it and following all of our [physical] distancing protocols, which are going to be really new for people,” Carroll told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday over the phone.
She also explained that in order to meet physical distancing requirements, certain pieces of equipment will be out of service and group fitness classes will be cut in half.
Facilities will also keep extra sets of equipment for group fitness activities in order to swap between them. A gym will have 50 to 60 sets of dumbbells, for example, so that employees can switch out the used ones for brand new ones while they get disinfected.
“We will have cycles of refreshed equipment that no one’s touched and is already sanitized,” she explained. “It’s all going to be like clockwork.”
Enhanced cleaning measures will also be put in place. Electrostatic sprayers – one per facility, costing the company more than $35,000 – will be used routinely on the hour as members leave their group fitness classes, as well as overnight. Employees are also required to wear face masks and gloves. While the club won’t force its members to do the same, gyms will have these supplies on hand should they want one.
As of now, Movati has no plans to limit the number of people looking to workout in its facilities, said Carroll, as the club is still waiting on guidelines from the government.
FROM THE GYM TO ONLINE
Since the lockdown took effect in Ontario, Movati Athletic has taken some of its group fitness classes online, using platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to livestream free workouts.
Carroll explained that when the club reopens, classes will transition from social media onto Zoom. For members with pre-existing health conditions who may be reluctant to visit the gym so soon, this is another way they can maintain their fitness.
“We hope everyone’s going to run back,” she said. “But we want to make sure when we do reopen, that we have alternate avenues for our members to be able to do some online workouts from home.”