Last Monday, ping, ping, ping, one after the other, I got emails from three of my gyms/fitness studios with surveys asking me when I will want to come back to the gym, with questions about what kind of sanitation measures I would expect. Articles started popping up everywhere asking whether it’s “safe” to go back to the gym.
In most of Canada, gyms aren’t open yet, but clearly, they have their feet in the blocks waiting for the starter pistol. It’s understandable — fitness studios depend on class and member revenue to survive, and most have hefty investments in space and equipment. We had an animated conversation about this among the bloggers about our own comfort, and realized that most gym managers/ owners are not likely to err on the side of caution — they want to open, and as soon as they are permitted, they will be looking to their members to tell them what will work for them. So what DO we feel safe doing? I captured the key themes from a few of our bloggers.
First, our overall consensus is that none of us is comfortable just quickly going back to any gym in the near future, starting with concerns about heavy breathing and close proximity. Covid19 has been spread through choir practices and, in one study, through a fitness studio in South Korea. Sam captured the general consensus: “Too many people, breathing heavily, in an enclosed space just doesn’t sit well with me right now.” Nicole agrees: ” I don’t believe it to be a safe environment, working out closely, breathing heavily, indoors.”
Gyms are also hotbeds of possible droplet-spread through touching, and that seems both dangerous and icky. Bettina loves bouldering, but even if she weren’t pregnant, she wouldn’t be going any time soon: “Some gyms are reopening with restrictions where I live (Germany) but it doesn’t feel right. The idea of touching the same holds as other people and potentially touching my face after to wipe off sweat (old habits die hard) doesn’t seem appealing at all.”
Touching of shared equipment is my personal big issue — I can’t imagine going to a gym where we all touch the same equipment, but I might be open to a space like spinning with lots of distance between bikes, good ventilation and a good wipe of the equipment between classes, and no use of shared washrooms or showers. (I may not be logical about this, but I really miss spinning!)
While sharing equipment feels like a no no for everyone, others are concerned about avoiding other people in breaks, the change room and washrooms. Nicole noted “how would the washroom/change room, situation work? I cannot go to a class and not pee before and after! And the change room would seem like a hotbed of potential virus transmission right now.”
Bettina agreed. “Pools aren’t open yet where I live, and I miss swimming so much! But with pools, the problem doesn’t seem to be the actual swimming so much as the time spent outside the pool, or taking a break without suitable distance from others.”
Kim also misses the pool, and is ready when they are: “I’ve read articles from trustworthy sources that suggest pools are one rec site that can reopen safely sooner rather than later, as long as social distancing measures take place in change rooms. I live close to my local pool so will not plan to shower there; instead I will change into my suit at home, and then throw my clothes on in the change room before going straight home to wash everything (myself included).”
She is also focused on solo riding right now: “My cycling club is run by a surgeon, and there’s NO WAY he will let us ride together until he is convinced it is safe for us to draft each other. I have total confidence in him, and am enjoying solo rides right now.”
After three months of training ourselves to view any touching as possibly risky, we have developed a strong tendency to notice if other people aren’t observing the same “rules” as we are. Several bloggers talked about how they MIGHT be comfortable in a gym where they could work out, safely apart from others, wiping off equipment before and after use, but being anxious about others following the same protocols.
Nicole said, “I am anxious sometimes at the gym anyway about people following rules at the best of times — there are people who don’t pay attention to station flow, keeping things in their station, etc. It’s too risky right now for that to happen and i would be even more anxious now, and that would overshadow the enjoyment I find at the gym.”
Martha agreed: “I know how careful I am. I’m just not confident others are as careful. How do I know this? Because I’ve been in classes in the past where people show up barely symptomatic with a respiratory illness but are determined to sweat it out. Or they say it’s allergies but it turns into something else. I believe we have to rest when we are unwell. As someone who is self-employed, I don’t get sick days, but I still take my days so I can recover. I realize not everyone feels this way so my answer for now is “thanks, but no thanks. It’s too soon.””
Several of us miss our gyms, and understand the impact on small businesses — but recognize that this doesn’t overshadow a need to take care of ourselves. Nicole again: “I want to support them, but I can’t let my sense of guilt or obligation to the small gym owner, or fear that they will not make it if they do not open to in-class programming, overshadow my concerns about being in the gym right now.”
Overall, as a group, we agreed we will either continue with our at home and virtual workouts for the foreseeable future — and for some, this feels great. Nat has found a new rhythm at home: “My gym isn’t reopening soon and that’s okay. I’ve gotten into a nice at home workout groove. I’ve never been so consistent or felt so disciplined. This confinement has taught me to reclaim my inner locus of control. I’m enjoying being free from the gaze of others or waiting on a machine. I do miss the social aspect but not enough to go find another gym.”
Catherine has also adjusted. “I’ve been gymless for more than a year now. After my latest bout of physical therapy, I got set up at home with some light weights. I do miss working with heavy weights. However, now is not the time to go gym shopping! Doing both bodyweight exercises and functional fitness are appealing, and I hope that zoom classes will continue even after gyms reopen. I feel like I can get most of what I need from those. For the rest, I’m sitting tight…”
Weighing the risks and benefits, Sam is also going to keep working out at home. “I might ask Meg, the personal trainer I work with, to come visit our backyard in the summer and work with the group of us, including my mother. Between now and next winter, I think I’ll buy some more weights. I’m very happy with my indoor cycling set up and Zwift. We’ve got the TRX. If I had more space I might buy a rowing machine. Bottom line: I’ll proceed pretty cautiously. But I am also pretty privileged in terms of space and workout company at home.”
Overall, we miss lots of things about our gyms and fitness studios — Bettina and Kim miss the pool, Sam misses hot yoga, Nicole and Nat miss the community, Catherine, Nicole and I miss heavy weights, I miss spinning and yoga classes — but for now, we’ll stay focused on at-home or solo movement, and make thoughtful choices about group spaces one at a time.
What about you? Will you be there on “Day 1”? Or are you in a wait and see mode as well?
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she’s been discovering new spaces on her solo runs.