INDOOR gyms are reopening on July 25 and when they do, will we see a rush of people heading to them, as we did with pubs, or are home and park exercising here to stay? With nearly 10.5million Brits a member of one of Britain’s 7,200 gyms in 2019, and the sector valued at more than £5bn (according to The Sports Think Tank), it’s fair to say the fitness industry (and chancellor Rishi Sunak) will hope for the former.
Staying fit and at a healthy weight has also been shown to be an effective way to prevent yourself becoming seriously ill with the virus. But what will indoor gyms, sports halls and leisure centres look like when they reopen next week?
Strict social distancing guidelines will be in place across all spaces, including capacity limits controlled by timed booking systems. This will be the case for outdoor pools and lidos too, such as Parliament Hill Lido in London, which reopened with a booking system last weekend. In classes, expect fewer people per session with temporary floor markings denoting personal space. On the gym floor, equipment will be spaced out and ‘spotting’ a pal on the free weights or working out together is banned.
And best leave more time to get ready for work if you’re heading to the office post-workout. Customers will be encouraged to shower and change at home, and only use the communal facilities if absolutely necessary.
Better Leisure runs 270 UK leisure and sports facilities on behalf of local authorities and has 850,000 members. Marco Coppola, the Better Group’s health and fitness manager, says they’ve worked hard to provide a ‘Covid-safe’ environment, including hand sanitiser stations at the entrance and around facilities.
‘Customers will need to book a time slot via our app — we won’t accept anyone who just drops in,’ he warns. ‘This is to ensure we can manage the number of people on the premises at any time and the one-way systems we’ve put in place.’
He adds: ‘You need to arrive punctually. Too early and you’ll find you’re queuing outside and too late and you won’t be allowed in.
‘We’re asking that customers change into their fitness clothes and shower at home before they visit the gym, pool or leisure centre in order to limit “contact points” in changing rooms and showers. We’re also suggesting everyone arrives with their swimming gear underneath clothes.’
Better Gyms requires users to sanitise hands before and after using gym equipment. It would also like clients to bring their own water bottles and towels, and advises you to bring your own mat for yoga or pilates.
At the 24/7 Fitness chain, the sauna and steam rooms will be closed for now and the chain ‘strongly recommends’ all gym goers wear masks and gloves while working out. While the clubs will ‘remain open 24/7’, they’ll be operating a ‘first come, first served policy’ that will allow 150 members to work out at one time.
PureGym has been working with NHS physician Dr David Lawrence and sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte OBE to make working out safe. Alongside antiviral cleaning, the chain has redesigned the layout of its facilities to enable social distancing. It is implementing contactless entry with QR scanners and encouraging users to use its app to avoid peak times.
Total Fitness has worked closely with safety consultants, medical experts and the industry’s trade association, UKActive, to prepare its 17 health clubs across the north of England to reopen. The chain’s gyms have been redesigned, contactless entry, exit and payments are now possible, and there are bookable individual One Zone workout spaces.
‘Total Fitness gyms average 73,000sq ft,’ they say. ‘If each member were apportioned three square metres, the gyms wouldn’t even reach 40 per cent capacity during peak hours, meaning more than enough space to exercise safely within the new regulations.’
View from the climbing wall
As well as gyms and leisure centres, many specialist sporting activities will be open from next week, if they’re not already. Few, however, will have been forced to innovate quite like the nation’s climbing walls.
Robert Woods, founder and CEO of the 18,000sq ft Climbing Experience in Maidstone, Kent, says that while it has overseen a complete overhaul of its cleaning regime (including cleaning surfaces on an hourly basis) and staff will be ensuring social distancing as best as possible, it is impractical to clean climbing holds after each use.
‘We have around 3,000 holds,’ Woods says. ‘We recommend the use of liquid chalk, a high-alcohol based, quick-drying liquid for use on hands. Our Fun Wall climbing area, mostly enjoyed by kids under the age of 14, brings extra challenges. Capacity will be halved and harnesses will be cleaned after every session. Our staff are required to help children put the harnesses on and check harnesses are fitted correctly, which involves much closer contact.’