The coronavirus has made a routine trip to the gym a health threat.
Many epidemiologists consider gyms to be one of the highest risk environments, and they were some of the last businesses to reopen in New York City in early September.
Now gyms have a long list of regulations to follow. Check-in requires health screening. Masks are mandatory even during the most strenuous training sessions. only a third of the normal occupancy is allowed; and everyone has to clean, then clean more.
At a Planet Fitness in Brooklyn, Dinara Izmagambetova, who wore a flowery black face mask and was drenched in sweat after a two-hour workout, said she was thrilled to be back at a gym. But security measures would have made it a less social experience, she said.
“I could ask someone,” Ms. Izmagambetova said about how to use a machine before the breakout. “Now I google a lot.”
Despite all of the safety guidelines, some fitness enthusiasts are reluctant to return and many have adapted to virtual workouts and exercises outdoors. Sales of fitness equipment like kettlebells and peloton bikes have skyrocketed as people brought their workouts home.
Christopher Carbone plans to terminate his membership at a Planet Fitness facility near his home on Staten Island because of concerns that people “touch the same equipment often and excessive sweat and breathing within the reach of others.”
Instead of going to the gym, Mr. Carbone will continue to exercise at home with a small set of hand weights.
In normal times, gyms were often used as places of solace where fitness fans and casual trainers could sweat out the stress of the day.
Many past guests are eager to get back to their routines and gym owners desperately need their business.
But even if the gyms have reopened, their future remains unclear. Some of them had to be closed again after Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently expelled parts of the coronavirus hotspots in Brooklyn and Queens.
A retro fitness location in Rego Park, Queens, formerly located in one of Mr. Cuomo’s “red zones”, expressed regret over the closure of its Facebook page.
“We have done our best to stay open to serve you as long as possible,” the article reads Coronavirus Spread. “
The gym was recently allowed to reopen as some restrictions were relaxed.
Despite the concerns of scientists, clusters of infections associated with gyms in the United States have been relatively rare to date, although they have been reported in Hawaii and California.
“We don’t see outbreaks as strongly associated with gyms as a bar or school,” said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist with George Mason University.
Still, some of New York State’s 2,000 or so gyms and fitness centers across the country face a battle for life. At least a quarter of the more than 40,000 gyms in the US could close by the end of the year, according to industry group International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. A study by Yelp said more than 2,600 had it already.
Many of the closed companies are smaller, independent companies with fewer resources than large national chains like Planet Fitness, LA Fitness, and Equinox.
Marco Guanilo, who owns Momentum Fitness on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, said he had struggled during the long months of its closure, but about 50 percent of his business has returned since it reopened.
Even so, he had $ 300,000 in debt, much of it from rent back that he couldn’t pay. Mr. Guanilo said that he thought his business would last as long as it could stay open. The recent government-imposed closings have made him fearful.
“I’m afraid of another shutdown,” said Mr. Guanilo, “because that will get us down.”
While large chains can have deeper pockets, many are in dire straits too. Gold’s Gym, 24-Hour Fitness and Town Sports International – the parent company of New York Sports Clubs – have filed for bankruptcy.
Planet Fitness, with more than 2,000 locations worldwide and 40 in New York City, also faced major challenges. According to the company’s earnings report for the second quarter, revenue declined nearly 80 percent from the same period last year
Despite the dire numbers, Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau said the company managed to weather the pandemic.
“The dropouts are certainly a little higher,” Rondeau said, but he added, “People are joining the clip they had around this time last year.”
Planet Fitness put most of its employees on leave during the pandemic, but approximately 85 percent of them have returned to work and no locations are closed, Rondeau said.
Across the country, states have different regulations to keep gyms reopening safely. Most require occupancy restrictions and at least six feet of social distancing, although some states require as much as 14 feet. The requirements for face coverings vary.
The regulations are even different in the neighboring states of New York: In New Jersey, gyms can only operate at a capacity of 25 percent, while in Connecticut the double capacity is allowed.
Before gyms in New York can reopen, they must undergo a video check with an official from the city’s Department of Health, which shows they have posted safety plans, have separated machines, and are using a state-of-the-art air filtration system.
Meeting requirements and stocking up on cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment can cost more than $ 10,000, which can be a significant drain after months of inactivity.
By early October, the city had inspected more than 1,000 gyms and only 11 were down. Faulty gyms can be reopened once they have resolved the issues for which they were cited. Personal inspections could begin in the near future, officials said.
Dr. Popescu said she believes that “the virtual approach” to inspections “is honestly better than nothing many have done”.
Regardless of the risk factor, gyms are certainly different these days.
One weekend at a large Planet Fitness Brooklyn facility, a masked greeter asked customers if they had any coronavirus symptoms and then gathered their contact information.
Reminders flashed on television screens to disinfect workout stations, and every other treadmill and elliptical machine was blocked off with yellow and purple signs that said, “We practice social fitness. This machine is not available. “Even so, few people worked.
One of them was Dana Fagan, an accountant, 41, who said she was pleased with the precautionary measures taken.
“I clean more – the whole thing is wet and I agree,” she said of the disinfection of the equipment. “One can never have enough.”
Mr. Guanilo’s boutique gym usually offers group classes, physical therapy, and one-on-one sessions with trainers. The controlled atmosphere at his gym, where guests hold individual sessions when they’re not in a group class, appeals to people worried about infection, like Joshua Rubin, a 38-year-old director of an accounting firm.
“There are no people wandering around with different machines,” said Rubin. “It’s only two or three of us at a time.”
Nearby, 46-year-old Jesse Damon held out his arms while a trainer verbally guided him and held him a few feet away.
“You are very safe here, this is a private gym,” he said, adding that he went to a Wyoming gym during a visit in June. “There were a lot of 20-year-olds who weren’t wearing masks.”
Fitness classes usually make up almost half of Mr. Guanilo’s income, but the city still doesn’t allow them indoors because officials say they are too risky.
While it was closed, Mr. Guanilo was able to recover part of his lost business through virtual sessions and group fitness classes in Central Park that carried hundreds of pounds of equipment on a handcart.
Mr. Guanilo’s clients want him to succeed, but some are uncomfortable when they return. Richard Stanger, a 70-year-old management consultant, said he won’t be returning to Momentum Fitness until there is a reliable treatment for the virus.
“We all want life to go back to normal and it would be normal for me to work with Marco,” said Stanger. “And I hope we get there, but I’m not optimistic that we can get there before the first of the year.”