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Thinking About Heading Back To The Gym? Here’s What To Expect

From fewer folks working out at one time to plexiglass dividers, here's how your workout will change.

A white woman in teal spandex pants and a black tank on a treadmill

(Photo: iStock)

You may have achieved some personal bests while working out at home during these past few months of lockdown, but now with much of the country in Stage 3 of reopening, comes the moment fitness fanatics have been holding their breath for: gyms and studios are reopening. Because let’s be real—non-runners may have dabbled in jogging and Zoom workouts helped fill the void, but for some physical activities, nothing compares to hitting up our favourite fitness facility. From the social aspect of seeing your gym buddies and trainers pushing you to do one more set, to unfettered access to fancy gym equipment (and let’s not forget the juice bar smoothies!), gym workouts are a big part of not only our physical health but our mental well-being, too.

Michelle Mucilli, for one, can’t wait to get back to her favourite fitness studio as soon as it reopens. When the lockdown came into effect, she had been attending four or five classes a week at Body Barre Fitness & Training Studio in Vaughan, Ont., and she just didn’t feel right being out of her routine. Although Body Barre started doing virtual classes on Facebook Live, something Mucilli says has been a saviour for her—“I wouldn’t have been able to get through months of quarantine without the virtual classes,” she says—she’s eager to get back to working out in person.

Before you step out to get that endorphin high, here’s what you can expect from your gym workouts in cities moving into Stage 3 of COVID-19 reopening.

There will be fewer people working on their fitness at one time

The social atmosphere of gyms and studios may be a distant memory of the “before times.” With social distancing protocols, the number of people inside a gym or studio will be slashed to 50 percent of the gym’s capacity. At Toronto’s Sweat & Tonic, classes that once hosted 48 people will be down to 24, for example. Fewer folks in the gym or class may be a bummer for those who thrive on the boost they get from working out as a group to get across that proverbial finish line.

You’ll have to book your workout time

Say goodbye to dropping in for a workout when you’re suddenly feeling inspired to sweat or have been able to carve out time in your day. Having to book your workout allows gyms to manage the flow of clients through the gym and schedule cleaning the premises after each session. Once you’re at the gym, try to be efficient because your workout time will likely have a cutoff; at Goodlife Fitness, Canada’s largest fitness chain, you’ll have 60 minutes to exercise. With these new protocols combined with the limited overall number of guests, expect wait lists for classes and be prepared to sign up early for your gym time.

In addition to hand sanitizer stations and social distancing stickers on the floor, you’ll find plexiglass partitions, shoe disinfectant and more

Upon entering the vestibule at Toronto’s Sweat & Tonic, your temperature will be checked and you’ll be asked to step into some disinfectant. Since there has been some evidence that COVID-19 can be tracked in on people’s shoes, S&T has added this precaution since fewer people change their shoes to workout in the summertime, says Sharon Xie, social media and marketing manager at the boutique gym. Your spin instructor will still be up on the podium, but behind some plexiglass, and plexiglass will divide the rows of cyclists, too. Given this is a less personable experience, says Lucy Ulmer, co-owner of Spin Society in Vancouver, your instructor will be giving more detailed cues so that you can be sure to be able to follow along during the class. This kind of physical distancing is what you’ll experience anywhere you interact with staff at Goodlife Fitness locations, with protective barriers up in spots such reception and consultation areas.

Gyms will be designating more space for each guest working on their fitness and at some gyms, partitions will separate you from the next person. At studios like Toronto’s Fit Squad Training, the workout stations have been reconfigured so you have a designated pod to yourself and your trainer. At Sweat & Tonic, you’ll find two treadmills in your workout pod in the HIIT studio, and punching bags moved to your own designated area. Smaller changes you may not notice, though, include ones like at Body Barre Fitness & Training Studio, where the fabric handles of the reformer machines have been replaced with synthetic ones that are easier to disinfect. And your newest workout accessory may be disposable gloves; at Sweat & Tonic, although the boxing gloves will be disinfected after each use, you can opt for a pair of disposable gloves to wear inside of them as an extra layer of protection. While fitness facilities will be disinfecting the equipment after each client (including items you borrow or rent such as spin shoes), you will be asked to clean items you’ve used, such as dumbbells and elliptical machines, both before and after your session.

Your workout will be mostly contact-free

You’ll be able to grab the dumbbells, treadmill, yoga mats and whatever equipment you need for your workout, of course, but be prepared to check in using your smartphone because the iPad you once used to sign in on at some studios, like Fit Squad, has been removed. And there’ll be no more yoga instructor massaging your neck during Savasana, or trainer manually correcting your form. When it comes to staying hydrated, Ulmer, who also co-owns Hustle in Vancouver, says they’re encouraging members to bring their own full water bottle (there’s bottled water for purchase as well, and if you must, you can use the frequently sanitized water station to refill your bottle), although you may find your gym has replaced water taps with touch-less water dispensers. Be sure to also bring your own towel since gyms won’t be offering towel service.

There might be a change to the cost of your fitness membership

While many gyms have maintained or raised their prices (which is understandable considering the significant increase in overhead with having to invest in safety measures while running at a reduced capacity), you may find that some fitness facilities have reduced their fees. In light of the limited amenities and fewer services offered (gym showers and saunas remain closed for Stage 3, for example), Sweat & Tonic, for one, has cut their membership fee by about 10 percent.

Here’s how to make your gym workout safer

With the continuing pandemic and all of these precautions, can you feel confident working out in a gym safely again? Health experts say yes, but to approach your workouts sensibly. “One of the best indicators of risk of transmission of the virus is the overall risk of the community,” says Sumontra Chakrabarti, an infectious disease expert with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. So if there’s a higher risk in the community (he used Miami compared to Toronto as an example), don’t engage in higher risk activities. Matthew Oughton, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, adds that there’s no such thing as risk-free, unless you’re staying at home and not interacting at all with the outside world.

1. Keep up the same COVID-19 safety protocols as you would outside the gym

When going to the gym, both experts recommend keeping up the protocols that have become a part of all of our daily routines now: practice physical distancing of at least two metres, limit what you touch and wash your hands. Although wearing a mask is difficult during a high-intensity workout, Oughton views mask-wearing during your workout as a question of comfort; if you can wear one easily during a lower intensity workout without it causing physical limitations, consider wearing a mask. Otherwise, wear one when you can throughout your gym visit. “There are activities when you can easily wear your mask, like when you’re arriving and departing the gym, or stopping at the juice bar,” he adds.

2. If you can, hit the gym during less busy times

If possible, even though gyms will limit the number of people working out, aim to go during less busy times, suggests Chakrabarti. Consider, too, the type of workout and size of space, says Chakrabarti, when you’re deciding on your exercise class. Doing a high-impact workout in a smaller enclosed space where everyone is breathing heavily? Although he’s a pragmatic guy, he admits that the idea of this currently makes him a bit nervous.

3. Don’t stress about washing your gym clothes the second you get home

But you don’t have to worry about stripping off your gym clothes and washing them as soon as you get home. “Outside of the hospital setting, the chance of catching COVID off your clothing is essentially zero,” says Chakrabarti. Bottom line? Don’t share your sweaty gym clothes and towels (which you normally wouldn’t anyhow, right?) and just wash them as you normally would, he says.

With Body Barre expected to reopen shortly, Mucilli plans on easing back slowly with two classes a week while maintaining her regimen at home through their virtual classes. “I’ll get back in gradually; no one really knows how this is going to work but with smaller classes of four to six people, this is comfortable to me right now.”

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