Gyms are set to reopen in July. After living without them in our lives for three months thanks to coronavirus lockdown, we've all become pretty accustomed to working out at home, or exercising outdoors. But as lockdown starts to ease gradually, with non-essential shops reopening earlier this week, plenty of people will be excited about the prospect of getting back in the gym.
But what will that look like? How will our gyms adapt when they reopen? With the importance of social distancing now ingrained in our behaviours and interactions, we know one thing: gyms will have to make some changes. Because where you'd previously have gathered in large groups for a workout class, or run on a treadmill just inches away from the next person - none of that will be deemed safe for the time being.
We asked PT and CEO of GearJunkie, Sean McCoy, to share his expert opinion on exactly what going to the gym will look like when they reopen. And from what he predicts, you should prepare for "significant changes".
Here's how gyms may change when they're reopened after lockdown:
No changing rooms
As non-essential shops have reopened across the UK, government guidelines require clothing stores to keep their changing facilities closed. PT McCoy believes gyms may be asked to follow suit. "I suspect that many gyms will close their changing rooms to encourage social distancing and disallow showers to avoid transmitting the virus through moisture," he says. "Many gyms feature showers that are not fully contained as they are open at the bottom. Essentially, water is passing through each cubicle and could cross contaminate surfaces."
Instead, it's thought gym-goers will be asked to head home and shower there after a session, which may prove disruptive for anyone who tends to go in their lunch hour or before work. Having said that, it may be a while before full time (or even part time) working in offices resumes, by which point the rules may be relaxed.
McCoy adds that lockers may, too, be out of bounds, "as they can serve as a hotbed for bacteria and it may not be possible to sufficiently clean them after each use." As well as that, the sharing of any personal items at the gym will also likely be prohibited. "Towels, brushes, and most importantly water bottles all pass on viruses – as well as fungi, yeast and bacteria."
You could be asked to wash your kit more often
It's advisable to wash your exercise gear after each wear to prevent hygiene issues regardless of the pandemic, but the PT predicts this might be something gyms enforce more strictly when they reopen. "Some gyms may feature signage that encourages members to wash their kit as much as possible – bacteria/viruses love humid places and can serve as the perfect environment to breed," points out the expert. "An extra step could be to use a bag to hold your clothes and shoes inside your gym bag, as you want to contaminate as few items as possible."
Your temperature could be measured at the door
By now, we are all familiar with the key symptoms of COVID-19 - one of which is a high temperature. For this reason, it's possible that many gyms will require participants to have their temperature taken at the door. "Gyms may allocate staff to take members' temperatures and some outlets will also require gym goers to sign a disclosure that ensures they have not experienced symptoms within the last 2 weeks," says McCoy.
Regular cleaning and wipe downs
Anyone who attends the gym regularly knows that it's exercising etiquette to wipe down your equipment after use, but things might be a bit different in after lockdown. "The days of simply wiping down equipment with paper towels is now a thing of the past. Maybe that was ok for getting rid top show moisture, but the current climate requires a deeper clean," says the PT.
"Bacteria and viruses can live on a surface outside the human body for several hours, so it is essential that gym equipment is wiped down with universal cleaning products that have antibacterial and antiviral properties frequently. I would expect staff will be working in heavy rotation, cleaning all surfaces to maintain a bacteria free environment, especially for high use areas such as pin pads, door handles and equipment."
And then, of course, gym-goers will be expected to partake in regular hand washing, covering their faces if coughing, and avoiding the touching of eyes, nose and mouth.
Fewer machines and more screens
Social distancing advice is currently to stay 2m apart, and although there's conversation about this being reduced, some element of distancing will still be in place when gyms do reopen their doors. For this to be possible, McCoy says it will impact the internal layout of many gyms.
"Where possible, expect to see glass dividers in between equipment, as well as a reduction in machines on the gym floor to reduce the number of gym goers," the PT predicts.
Staggered entry times
It's always been a free-for-all in terms of when members turn up to the gym (classes aside, of course), but that may not be the case going forward. "It is likely that gyms will ask members to stagger their visits and allocate times in order to avoid queues awaiting entry," suggests McCoy.
He also believes class formats may change for gyms in certain locations. "During the summer I also imagine there will be more of an emphasis on outdoor classes, partly for social distancing, but also for health reasons. A lot of exercises lower the rate of breathing, and with a mask on that is dangerous. Moving these activities outdoors would solve that issue, as well as create much needed space."
What can you do to stay safe at the gym?
- Be prepared. Make sure you always have face covering, antibacterial wipes, hand wash, and anything else that helps you wipe down the machines before use.
- Change up your routine. Has working out at a park changed your approach to exercise? If it has and it works for you then stick with it – there’s no need rushing back to the gym if the safety of the local park is working for you and your programme.
- It goes without saying that if you’re felling under the weather you should avoid gym activity. I know it’s hard to take a rest day when it’s not planned, but the last thing you would want to see at the gym is someone with a cold working out.
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