In the days before coronavirus, sweat-inducing classes were a vital part of many people’s routines. But after prime minister Boris Johnson ordered all gyms to close as part of the nationwide lockdown on 23 March, people were forced to find other ways to get their fitness fix.
Last month, the general consensus was that the date for the grand reopening of gyms would be 4 July, alongside other personal care establishments such as hairdressers.
In the government’s “Our Plan to Rebuild” document, gyms and fitness studios were highlighted as part of step three, which it stated would come into action no earlier than 4 July, though the Mr Johnson made it clear this would be subject to the government’s five objectives being met.
However, on 23 June the fitness industry was served a blow when Mr Johnson said indoor gyms would have to remain closed until further notice.
Then on Friday 3 July, Mr Johnson told LBC radio that gyms would be able to reopen in a “couple of weeks”. He said: “We are going to reopen gyms as soon as we can do it in a Covid-secure way and I think that the date for reopening gyms at the moment, if we can do it, is in just a couple of weeks’ time.”
On Thursday 9 July Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed the date for reopening would be 25 July, saying that “normal life is slowly returning.” But gyms will not look the same as pre-pandemic; there will be new rules and ways of operating to keep everyone safe. "We will be giving gyms the certainty, clarity and time that they need to open safely," he said.
When will gyms reopen?
Gyms and leisure centres in England are permitted to reopen from 25 July. But this does not mean that all gyms will open on that date.
Mr Dowden had previously said gyms could reopen if leisure facilities were deemed Covid-19 safe.
Getting facilities to this standard in time for reopening will be the obstacle for many locations, ensuring they can 100 per cent adhere to Covid-security guidelines before opening to the public.
So ensure that you check your individual facility's website or social media for updates on when they might be expecting to open their doors.
Why is it important for gyms to reopen?
The fitness industry reacted with frustration at Mr Johnson’s decision to give the green light to many sectors of the economy, but not gyms.
PureGym, one of the UK's largest operators with more than one million members, said in a statement: “We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms.
“Our facilities are, on average, the size of five or six doubles tennis courts and are exceptionally well ventilated, enabling people to work and exercise safely and securely.”
Chief executive of David Lloyd Clubs, Glenn Earlam, agreed, adding that the plans were a “completely illogical” move.
Speaking to The Independent, Jonathan Sattin, founder of triyoga said the company’s greatest concern is the impact prolonged closures could have on people’s health. “There are many reasons why it is important for yoga studios and gyms to re-open.
"Yoga has so many benefits for people physically, mentally, and emotionally – and there is a direct correlation between these and keeping well. It is important that people have a place that they can relax and unwind and for many, that is in a yoga studio or fitness centre.”
What changes will happen to ensure staff and customer safety?
Although the government has yet to release official guidance for reopening gyms - this normally happens shortly after the reopening annoucement - industry body UKactive has drawn up a series of ideas on how gyms could reopen.
The document covers cleaning regimes, social distancing and new safety measures.
- Booking. Running through the gym door minutes into a class will no longer be allowed post-lockdown, with many gyms requesting earlier arrival times and pre-booking. “We ask that new members arrive 15 minutes before the class start time, and regular customers arrive a couple of minutes before,” said Geoff Bamber CEO and co-founder of Digme. “We ideally want to allow class participants to fully exit the studio before the next class begins, so there may be some amends in the timetable to allow this."
- You'll need to arrive in your kit. As is the case with many clothing shops, some gyms are keeping their changing facilities closed to reduce the amount of time people spend in the facility. Lockers are likely to also be out of bounds to allow for distancing.
- No more showering. Some gyms will also close their showers, while others will reduce the number that are open to allow for social distancing. Where possible, customers will instead be encouraged to wash at home after a workout session.
- Prepare to have your temperature checked. Many gyms may require clients to have their temperature taken at the door. Bamber adds that people will also be asked to declare that they are feeling well before being allowed to enter the facility. David Lloyd gyms are trialling a discreet thermo-scanner, which reads your temperature the minute you walk in the door.
- Gym equipment will be spread out. Once gyms reopen the number of machines that are available to use is likely to be reduced. “We will be implementing one metre distancing between mats and planning the flow of the centres to ensure social distancing can be kept all times,” said Sattin. Similarly, PureGym has confirmed that its equipment will be spread out and user numbers will be monitored and limited to ensure safe distances are maintained.
What can you do to stay safe at the gym?
In order to keep gyms as safe and clean as possible, businesses need their customers to ensure they are doing what they can too. “When coming back to the gym, members should continue with their hygiene practices, such as increase hand washing,” said Bamber.
“Aside from respecting the safety guidelines put in place by our government, we are asking everyone to show extra kindness and patience towards our studio teams, instructors and your fellow members. We are a family and we are all working through this together.”
Nuffield Health has shared a series of guidelines for its clients to follow once gyms reopen, including:
- Stay home if you're unwell. Do not come to the gym if you feel sick or have coronavirus symptoms including a temperature, new or persistent cough, and loss of taste or sense of smell.
- Bring your own equipment. Bring a full water bottle as the water fountains are likely to not be in use. If you're doing yoga or Pilates, bring your own mat if you have one.
- Use hand sanitising stations. You are likely to find stations before you reach reception and throughout the gym. Make sure you follow proper hand washing if you use the changing rooms.
- Follow the social distancing signs. Keep to one-way systems and try to stay at least two metres from others as much as possible.
- Clean your equipment and mats. Clients are encouraged to do this before and after use with sanitising stations around the gym.
- Keep to a one-hour workout max. This is so that other members can use the gym if it is at maximum capacity.