- According to inside sources, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be "satisfied" that it's now safe to re-open gyms in England "within days", which have been shut since March 23
- Gyms can re-open if "extensive restrictions" are in place, similar to pubs, barbers and shops, according to reports
- Instead, Business Secretary Alok Sharma says that it is "absolutely our aspiration" for gyms to re-open from mid-July
- Previously, a roadmap was 'enthusiastically received' by government from UKactive, a fitness trade body
- Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said gyms, leisure centres, five aside leagues and all the other normal fitness activities will return at the "start of July at the very earliest".
- New safety measures could included a limited capacity, 2m between equipment and temperature checks at the door
- According to a recent survey, 87% of gym-goers are likely to resume their membership once gyms and health facilities reopen, after closing down on March
- Popular chain fitness centre PureGym has shared with Men's Health its plans for re-opening, including prohibiting ‘pair-training’ or ‘spotting’, pre-booking allotted times to workout and capping the number of people in the gym and those permitted in its classes
When will gyms reopen? It's a question on everyone's lips that, despite recent government advice, remains to be answered in full. On May 10th, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on coronavirus, with a mixed reaction from the public.
"Throughout this period of the next two months we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity," said Mr Johnson, who contracted and recovered from coronavirus in April. "We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health."
"I must stress again that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big ifs. It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R [rate of infection] down."
Mr Johnson's address signalled a change in the way the UK is approaching 'lockdown', as the country moves into a new phase of containment, allowing non-essential shops and retail areas to open from June 15th. Many topics were explored — from going back to work to schools and universities returning to education — but one of the most discussed issues was that of safe exercise and the re-introduction of gyms and health centres.
On June 17th, culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced that an "important milestone" had been reached with the return of the Premier League, and that gyms, leisure centres and health clubs could reopen at "start of July at the very earliest", having been closed since March 23rd following the coronavirus 'lockdown'. However, following the announcement that revealed barbers, pubs and other UK attractions will be open from 4th July, gyms will remain closed.
A Sport England/Savanta ComRes survey of over 2000 people showed that the British public misses going to the gym or a fitness centre considerably more than any other sporting or leisure activity. 14% of respondents chose the gym, ahead of swimming (13%), football (5%) and, in addition, found that 87% of gym members were likely to resume their membership once facilities had re-opened after the 'lockdown'.
Johnson's address in May did not cover a key aspect of the UK economy and, also, a large swathe of the population's choice of go-to exercise: the gyms. Perhaps, gyms, leisure centres and health clubs fall under the 'hospitality' umbrella.
In which case, as Mr Johnson explained, the UK government could reopen "at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places" in England, but this is likely to be after the re-opening of shops and schools.
When Will Gyms Reopen in the UK?
Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said current plans place the reopening of gyms and health centres in mid-July, tweeting "Many people keen to hit the gym & keeping Britain fit is key in Covid battle. We’ve made lots of progress & I know steps businesses have taken to make their spaces & equipment safe".
"Subject to public health, our aspiration is to reopen gyms & leisure facilities in mid-July." Outdoor gyms, however, have remained open, despite industry leaders warning the PM that pubs and restaurants opening before gyms and health centres could be detrimental to public health.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said to Sky News that is "absolutely our aspiration" for gyms to reopen in July, the first time in four months, so fitness enthusiasts can start exercising within weeks.
Previously, a recent report from the Guardian reveals that government officials are discussing wider proposals to open up grassroot sports and other fitness facilities across the country, following gyms and health centres working "really hard" to offer "sensible solutions" about reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. Comments from culture secretary Oliver Dowden echoed this, saying that "all the other normal fitness activities" will return at the "start of July at the very earliest". Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.
Currently, this is what the rules from the UK government stipulate:
- From Monday 1st June, groups of six people will be able to meet outdoors
- People can "take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise" instead of only exercising once daily
- People will also be free to sit in parks, and "play sports" with people from the same household
- Social distancing rules – keeping at least one metre away from people outside your household – must still be followed
- Face masks or face coverings must be worn on public transport
In other parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, gyms and leisure centres have begun to re-open. A Bloomberg journalist recently shared the new social distancing and public safety measures that one gym was using to keep its users safe:
🏋🏃 Is this the new normal?— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) May 18, 2020
Hong Kong gyms have reopened with new #Covid_19 #SocialDistancing and safety measures like glass partitions. More @business: https://t.co/JQ1OsTVBau pic.twitter.com/5bC8ynkGUB
Inspire South Bay Fitness, a group training facility in California, has erected several workout 'pods' for customers and members to work out in, following its re-opening after weeks of lockdown. Members stand six-feet apart from one another, with the 10ft-high pods containing a weight bench, foam rollers, dumbbells and hand wipes.The class is capped at nine members per session, each pre-booking through an app. Each member is instructed to use hand sanitiser upon entering the gym and must obey social distancing guidelines. For the trainers and the staff, each must wear face masks or PPE and stay six feet away from those training nearby.
When it comes to the re-opening of UK gyms, it's dependent on scientific advice, advances with anti-body tests, vaccines and how the population adheres to continuing social distancing measures playing a part. Currently, a six-month 'roadmap' from non-profit organisation UKactive is due to be published, which will provide much more clarity on when (and what) to expect from your local gym or health and fitness centre.
1Rebel, a London studio chain, has been working with UKactive on this plan and, according to the studio's co-founder James Balfour, it has been "enthusiastically received" by the government, leading to a possibility of re-openings "in early July".
"We have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure our clubs will be a safe place upon reopening for our team and members," explained a spokesperson for Virgin Active, which has over 40 clubs in the UK. "[We] will be following government guidelines to finalise our reopening plans."
Conversely, an "inside source" working with the government told Sun Online: "Six months is a reasonable timeframe. Gyms won't be open any time soon. It won't be sooner than autumn."
According to The Telegraph, the PM has been 'urged' by fitness companies to reopen gyms to encourage the 'wonder drug' of exercise that can keep Britain healthy. The pressure follows research suggesting that obesity can increase the risk of hospitalisation with Covid-19 and doubles the danger of death from the pandemic disease.
"The evidence suggests that keeping the body fit and healthy could be one of the best things to do to prevent Covid-19, but I think gyms and leisure centres are quite far down on the pecking order of opening things up again, which seems pretty counter intuitive," said Chief executive of David Lloyd Leisure (DLL), Glenn Earlam, who operates 100 health clubs across the UK.
"I believe leisure centres and gyms could be safely reopened quite easily, not everything would be the same at the start, there would have to be screens on reception desks, floor markings ensuring members stay two metres away and every piece of equipment would be cleaned after every use, with hand towels readily available. The numbers of people entering could also be limited, with ill people advised to stay at home."
PureGym CEO Humphrey Cobbold explained to BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that the gym and health club chain was working to upgrade hygiene standards and sanitation procedures, to "provide a safe environment for the future" for its clients.
Coronavirus Safety Measures in UK Gyms
The Gym Floor
Social media footage of gym-goers exercising between plexiglass barriers recently went viral and has helped people around the world understand what the future of fitness may look like, with users having to get their temperature checked and sign a health declaration before being admitted inside.
In Switzerland, gyms have also reopened. Over the past 10 days, the gyms operated at about 70% capacity, using a model that's "very similar to the one which we are recommending to government," according to Huw Edwards, chief executive of UKactive. There will also be no towels allowed on the gym floors, with users also being encouraged to sanitise everything that was used during a session.
According to CNBS, gyms and fitness centres in Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona have been given the go-ahead from local government. Strategies, including a fractional operating capacity, (roughly 25 per cent), strict booking systems and temperature checks at the door, are also being used to keep customers safe.
So, can the UK expect to see plexiglass barriers between squat racks? "The individual operators will make decisions, but as it currently stands it [screens between machines] is not something that UKactive has been recommending," said Edwards. "It will feel different, lots of visibility in terms of signage, management of flows of people coming in and out of the facilities, lots of sanitisation options for individuals."
On 12th June, PureGym shared a glimpse of what the gym floor will look like once Coronavirus 'lockdown' measures are lifted and gyms can reopen. "We will provide highly sanitised facilities for the safety of our members and staff through enhanced cleaning and disinfection regimes. Our equipment will be spread out and user numbers will be monitored and limited to ensure safe distances are maintained. Our new safety protocols are already in place in Switzerland, where we have re-opened gyms, and we’ve received approval from local authorities and positive feedback from our members," a spokesperson for PureGym told Men's Health.
PureGym has drawn boxes around its weight benches, squat racks and floor space to encourage gym goers to keep them in the same place and to ensure the people are kept at a safe distance away from each other.
For group classes, place-markers on the floor show where gym-goers can exercise while abiding to social distancing rules. PureGym has also put up signs that remind people to keep up cleanliness, keep a distance, wash their hands and clean down kit after use.
Here are the further measures PureGym is taking to provide a safe environment and reopening:
- Put a limit on the number of people in the gym and those permitted in its classes
- Ask people to pre-book allotted times to workout, using the PureGym app, rather than just having them walk-in
- Prohibit ‘pair-training’ or ‘spotting’ and encourage ‘lighter-load’ exercise to prevent heavy breathing
- Follow government guidance on wearing of masks for staff and members
- Consider closing the facility if local risk levels are in the ‘red zone’
For those who prefer to get a sweat on in a group setting, things will change drastically. Classes are likely to be shortened and breaks between them — to allow for deep cleaning — will increase. Overall, the class members will be significantly reduced and markings on the floor, not unlike the supermarket, will encourage strict social distancing.
Equinox, a popular group fitness class, recently published an Instagram post detailing what the future will look like for its clients. The post shared plans for Plexiglass barriers, in-app 'self-health' checks, zero-contact thermometers on arrival, 'touch-less' hand sanitiser stations and a strong recommendation for clients to wear gloves during workouts.
"You wouldn't have that level of proximity in studios as you would have seen prior to the Covid-19 crisis, the dynamic within the studio will change," said Edwards to BBC Sport.
CrossFit Classes and 'Functional Training' Spaces
CrossFit gyms — 'boxes' to those who frequent them — are often very small and very cramped. When compared to a spacious commercial gym, CrossFit boxes seem to pose a greater risk for contracting or spreading coronavirus. As the images above show, Brazil's CrossFit Extreme Force have deployed a grid system to keep its members at a safe distance during training and California's Combat Sports Academy, a hybrid MMA and CrossFit box, are using incrementally-measured areas to keep members from sharing equipment or moving into eachother's zones.
Much like the gym floors and group fitness settings, swimmers will need to practise diligent social distancing once health clubs and gyms reopen. Currently, the framework from UKactive says that "maximum bather loads are based on one bather per three metres", meaning swimmer limits will be met far quicker and only one parent or carer supervising children during activities. Currently, there's no evidence that suggests Coronavirus (Covid-19) can be spread by use of swimming pools or hot tubs, so long as pools are properly chlorinated and cleaned, they should be allowed to open.
As of 15th June 2020, Swim England published new guidelines on swimming amidst growing concern over Coronavirus safety measures in the pool. The new Swim England guidelines outline the precautions swimmers should take when returning to the pool:
- You should not go to the pool if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.
- You should check your local pool's timetable and swimming guidelines before leaving the house.
- You should aim to arrive at the pool ready to swim, with your swimming costume or swimming shorts on to minimise time spent in the changing room. Once you have finished your swim, you should leave. Shower at home pre and post swimming.
- At the pool, follow the facilities guidelines on the duration of your swim and social distancing measures when in the pool.
- When it comes to overtaking in the pool, Swim England have said, 'Choose your lane using the fast, medium and slow signs and by watching those already swimming. Please do not overtake whilst swimming. Before pushing off at each turn, check to see if anyone faster is approaching.'
- Wide strokes such as butterfly should be avoided when lanes get busy.
- When resting, Swim England have shared the following advice, 'Whether stopping for a rest or catching your breath after completing your swim, please be mindful that others using the lane will want to keep on swimming without stopping; so keep yourself to the edge of the lane allowing others to turn at the wall, turning head away and allowing others to maintain social distancing measures.'
Will I Need to Wear a Mask and Gloves?
At the time of writing, the UKactive framework says "'Face masks will not be mandatory for staff, unless their role requires this." For many gym-goers, however, this will be a personal choice, so expect to see an influx of personal safety and hygiene equipment. A recent report from the Royal Society's Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics (DELVE) shared that "If correctly used on this basis, face masks, including homemade cloth masks, can contribute to reducing viral transmission."
But, what about wearing gloves to the gym? According to World Health Organisation (WHO) advice, regularly washing your hands is a safer precaution than wearing gloves, so UKactive reports that they will not be mandatory.
Changing Rooms and Showers
At the time of writing, UKactive has suggested to the government that gyms and health centres should use "extra signposting to maintain social distancing" to encourage users to keep high-touch areas — such as lockers, shower taps and door handles — clean by using spray and cloths. Some gyms, however, are planning to keep their showers and changing rooms locked for now.
Visiting The Gym
As non-essential workers and furloughed staff become accustomed to adjusted working hours, the changes that we've listed are likely to affect the 'peak' times for gyms and health clubs, with the usual 08:00 and 18:00 spikes dissipating to adjust to new working patterns.
Similarly, to encourage social distancing and high safety standards, the framework used in the UKactive report has suggested 'queue management' protocols and 2m spacing markings outside the entrance of the gym.
So, What Happens Now?
It seems, amidst the confusion from the population, business owners and key-workers, a hard answer on the re-introduction of gyms, health clubs and fitness centres remains to be found. For now, however, we'll be here — every day of the week — to provide our best home workouts, kit recommendations and easy, digestible fitness and health tips to keep you happy, healthy and motivated at home, while we all work towards saving lives and protecting the NHS.
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