Boris Johnson Just Confirmed When Gyms Will Re-Open and Outdoor Activity Is "Prioritised"

Edward Cooper
·11-min read
Photo credit: SAFIN HAMED - Getty Images
Photo credit: SAFIN HAMED - Getty Images

From Men's Health

  • Gyms and outdoor hospitality will reopen on 12 April in England, if strict criteria is met

  • From 29 March, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be permitted

  • Outdoor sports, including football, golf and tennis, will be allowed to resume from 29 March

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed Parliament today to unveil a long-awaited exit strategy from the coronavirus lockdown, saying that "we will ease restrictions in all areas at the same time", and outdoor activity will be "prioritised"

When Did The Gyms Close, and Why?

On January 5th2021, daily exercise was limited to one outdoor session, to be done alone, with a person you live with, or with one other person outside your household. Despite mounting pressure from business owners and the public to re-open gyms for their positive effect on mental and physical health, fitness centres and health clubs have remained closed as part of lockdown measures. Training facilities for elite athletes, dancers and choreographers remained open.

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'.

When Will Gyms Reopen in the UK?

Shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality will reopen on 12 April 2021 in England if strict conditions are met, it was announced on 22 February 2021 by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

As for outdoor activity, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed from 29 March. Similarly, outdoor sports, including football, golf and tennis, will be allowed to resume.

Coronavirus vaccines have a significant impact on the risk of serious illness Public Health Scotland analysis has shown, with hospital admissions decreasing by 85% and 94% afte the Pfizer and AstraZeneca covid jabs.

What Are the Current Rules on Exercising?

Currently, this is what the rules from the UK government stipulate:

  • Exercise outside once per day.

  • Meet up with one person from another household (or outside of your support bubble) to exercise – with two-metres of maintained social distance.

  • Continue to walk, run, jog, cycle, and workout in public places including parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests, public gardens, heritage site grounds and playgrounds within your local area.

  • Face masks or face coverings must be worn on public transport

Inspire South Bay Fitness, a group training facility in California, went viral after photos emerged of the gym having erected several workout 'pods' for customers and members to work out in, following its re-opening after weeks of ‘lockdown’ in the United States. 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.

Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS - Getty Images
Photo credit: PAUL ELLIS - Getty Images

What Will the Gym Look Like?

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.

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,” said Huw Edwards, chief executive of UKactive.

PureGym has also 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’

Group Classes

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 each other's zones.

Swimming

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, Should I Wear a Mask When I’m Exercising?

A studypublished in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that wearing a mask does not hinder performance or oxygen levels. The research suggests face masks don’t actually hinder your performance in terms of time to exhaustion or peak power output, and had no discernible negative effect on blood or muscle oxygenation levels, rate of perceived exertion, or heart rate in young, healthy adults.

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan gathered a small sample of 7 men and 7 women, ranging from slightly inactive (not meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week in Canada) to elite cyclists and tested the effects of wearing a three-layer cloth face mask, a surgical mask, and no mask on their exercise performance. (The Association of American Medical Colleges suggests that cloth masks should have at least two layers whenever possible to be most effective.)

The study participants started with a brief warm-up on a stationary bike, then underwent a progressive-intensity exercise test, during which they had to maintain the same pedal rate while the resistance was continually increased until exhaustion, Phil Chilibeck, PhD, professor at the University of Saskatchewan College of Kinesiology and co-author of the study explained to Runner’s World. Heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, and rate of perceived exertion were recorded every 30 seconds.

The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it’s possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you’re in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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