With gyms reopening after nearly 3 months of worldwide government shutdowns and bans, we thought it would be smart to offer gym owners, coaches, clients, and fitness enthusiasts an inside look at what it is like training in a gym in the COVID-19 era.
In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss what to expect when working out in gyms during the reopening phases of COVID-19. We will discuss three different types of gym experiences:
Large Chain Gyms
Private Training Facilities
Functional Fitness / Crossfit Gyms
Within these types of gyms we’ll detail what precautions are being taken to minimize risks, and what you as a coach and/or lifter can do to aid in those efforts.
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Researching The Post-COVID Gym Experience
In putting together this article, I visited several gyms and worked out in those facilities. I also spoke with the people who run these gyms to get a sense of the rules and protocols that they are implementing moving forward.
As well, I own a private training facility where we facilitate small group sessions and one-on-one personal training. So, I’m also speaking from personal experience in how I’ve decided to re-open for my staff and members in a safe and effective manner.
Disclaimer – My experiences and insight are exactly as it is detailed below. All have followed the governmental and state policies and are under constant supervision to adhere to these rules. It is important to also note that I am not a disease prevention specialist or medical professional, so my recommendations are Op-Ed based, and should not be taken as the exact procedures audiences should take during this time.
Working Out At Large Gym Chains
Large gym chains offer hundreds, if not thousands of fitness goers the opportunity to train and get fit at an affordable price at every location, per day.
In order to reopen and adhere to the government and health department, many of the gyms must take daily precautionary measures to maintain sanitary conditions, screen members at the door, and continually communicate with their community to clean machines and weights.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS ARE BEING TAKEN?
Below is a list of precautionary measures that are taken at one popular gym chain I attended.
Please note that these are based on my personal experiences and are not a reflection of what all large chain gyms are currently doing.
TEMPERATURE CHECKS AT DOOR
Upon arrival at the front desk, I scanned my keycard and had my temperature checked via a handheld digital thermometer. This is a screening step that is taken for every single individual who enters the gym to check for increased body temperature (a symptom of COVID-19).
MINIMAL HUMAN CONTACT AT CHECK-IN
At the check-in station, there are spaces on the floor that designate where to stand as we wait to be temperature checked and scanned. Additionally, the front desk has a plastic plexiglass that provides a barrier for the workers from the members checking in.
ALL EMPLOYEES WEARING MASKS
All employees, trainers, and membership staff wear a face mask at all times. This is optional for members, however, at the gym I went to there were roughly 25% of people wearing masks while working out.
DEDICATED CLEANING CREWS
Throughout the entire time I was at the gym (90 minutes) there were 2-3 employees circulating the training area, wiping down machines, picking up weights, and restocking cleaning spray bottles and disposable paper towels and disinfectant wipes.
Prior to COVID-19, the gym had 8-10 paper towel dispensers and cleaning spray stations throughout the main floor.
However, post-COVID-19, in addition to those stations there was a large table in the middle of the gym that had roughly 8-10 more spray bottles and a large tub of disinfectant wipes.
I would say that many people were aware of the increased availability of cleaning supplies, and many people took it upon themselves to clean their equipment both before and after use.
SMALLER CLASS SIZES
Limited class sizes and scheduling opportunities were set into place to maintain social distancing guidelines and minimize over-crowded group training classes.
LIMITED EQUIPMENT (CARDIO)
In total, the large gym chain I attend has roughly 70 or so pieces of cardiovascular equipment (treadmills, bikes, rowers, ellipticals, stair climbers, etc).
Typically, people will be side by side, however, due to social distancing restrictions, only half of the machines were operable.
This meant that every other machine was available so that two people could not workout next to one another without an empty machine between them.
NO WATER FOUNTAINS
All water fountains were covered and rendered inoperable. The water bottle filling station was operable, however I chose to not use it and instead brought my own water bottle I filled at home.
EXPECTATIONS FOR CLIENTS/MEMBERS
While there is an inherent risk when attending any large gym, there are also certain expectations and responsibilities that you should be aware of when attending a gym facility. If you plan to exercise your right to go to a gym and workout, plan to also be socially responsible and clean up after yourself.
LIMITED HOURS OF OPERATION
Be aware that some gyms have limited hours of operation compared to what they normally might offer.
The gym that I attended was 24 hours, however during this time they are limiting hours of operation to be open 6am to 10pm most days.
This is most likely because closing allows the cleaning staff to completely sanitize the gym every evening while also not having to pay staff to operate a gym during slow hours (and also carry unnecessary liability and expenses during slow hours).
WIPE DOWN YOUR EQUIPMENT
Signage was posted everywhere around the gym, along with widely available spray bottles and disinfectant wipes. Employees made suggestions to clients, however it was up to members to take it upon themselves and stay vigilant wiping things down.
Working Out At Private Training Facilities
Private training facilities, such as my own gym (J2FIT Strength and Conditioning) have reopened.
In my training facility, we do not offer open gym memberships, but rather clients and members must work with a coach or be part of a program that we offer to have access to the facility.
In turn, this allows us to limit overall foot traffic, keep track closely of who attends sessions and is inside the gym, and often allows coaches to see first hand the physical health of a client.
Please note that these are based on my personal experiences and are not a reflection of what all private training facilities are doing.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS ARE BEING TAKEN?
Below are precautions that are being taken in my private training facility.
On a daily basis, the gym is cleaned. We start by cleaning the floors and mats with disinfectant, as well as the turf with cleaning spray.
Additionally, coaches and members are asked to always wipe down after they use something.
We also have coaches or interns on a cleaning schedule when times are slow to wipe down racks, dumbbells, benches, door handles, etc.
LIMITED SCHEDULING OPTIONS
Coaches are limiting their availability in the first month or two of the reopening phase.
We are staggering training times for coaches to minimize the likelihood of having “prime time” hours jam-packed with coaches and clients.
To do this, all coaches had to discuss with clients and come up with a schedule that worked.
Many of our clients were responsive to this as it also helped limit their exposure while we worked through things.
With our semi-private and class options, we are limiting the total number of clients who can attend a session or class at one time more than we have in the past. This, paired with limited scheduling options and staggering coaching hours has helped limit traffic.
While this may impact some clients’ schedules in the first few weeks, many clients are understanding and realize this is likely just a short-term arrangement.
We also have found that as we reopened, not all clients came back in the same capacity and frequency, so that also helped minimize and objections to the short-term limited group size solution.
CLEANING SPRAY AND TOWELS AT EVERY STATION
We offer a few areas where members and coaches can quickly grab a disinfectant spray and towel to wipe down equipment and benches.
First, there is a large table near the training areas where we have spray bottles, disposable disinfectant wipes, and towels.
Next, we have spray bottles near the squat racks, spaced out so that people in the racks can have a bottle close to them at all times to minimize traffic back and forth towards the main table.
This helps to keep the gym clean and the plethora of cleaning supplies reinforces that coaches and clients/members need to clean up after themselves.
Upon reopening the training facility, we made the decision to close our showers until we feel comfortable with the reopening plan.
Our thought process on this was to limit the overall time spent in the gym outside of working out, but also limit the overall foot traffic and personal belongings people are bringing into the gym with them.
NO WATER FOUNTAINS
While we do offer water stations, where people can fill their water bottles, we do not offer drinking fountains to minimize germs and direct contact with the mouth and face.
This is a standard procedure not only in the gym, but in public settings, airports, etc.
We strongly encourage our clients, members, and coaches to bring reusable bottles or to fill their water bottles at home and further minimize exposure risks at the “watering hole”.
EXPECTATIONS FOR CLIENTS/MEMBERS
Below are the expectations we have of our clients, members, and coaches. We have expressed this to them via emails, signage in gym, as well as verbal conversations
CANCEL IF YOU FEEL ILL (OR KNOW YOU MAY HAVE BEEN EXPOSED)
Cancellations are often held to a strict 24-hour policy with clients who train with a coach in a personal 1-on-1 or semi-private capacity.
During this time, however, we are being more lenient with this policy, as we understand that the onset of illness can be abrupt and we do not want someone to come in if they think they are sick yet are fearful to lose their session credit.
We are also offering this option to coaches as well, who in the event of feeling ill are asked to give us heads up, and other coaches are making themselves more available to cover if needed.
CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF (THE COACHES SHOULDN’T HAVE TO)
With or without COVID-19 risks, if you are in a gym the proper gym etiquette is to put your own plates and bars away and wipe down your equipment. However, we now have more signage and cleaning supplies around the gym to encourage this behavior.
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SCHEDULE IN ADVANCED
While we typically operate on an appointment basis, sometimes we would allow people to roll in unannounced and work out.
During this time, we are strictly enforcing our scheduling procedure to help track who comes in and out, as well as make sure we are able to plan according to accommodate more people who may be training at one time. Additionally, this also allows us to help coaches project their income as well as schedules better going forward.
Working Out At Functional Fitness / CrossFit Gyms
These training facilities often serve many clients at once in a large class workout format, with some gyms having members share barbells and weights, often breathing and sweating heavily within close proximity.
Below are some steps functional fitness/Crossfit gyms have taken to minimize overall contact between members and coaches.
WHAT PRECAUTIONS ARE BEING TAKEN?
Below is a list of precautionary measures commonly taken by owners and coaches of these gyms.
Please note that these are based on my personal experiences and are not a reflection of what all fitness/Crossfit gyms are currently doing.
LIMITED CLASS SIZES
Limited class sizes are one way to minimize overcrowded class times and workouts.
Many gyms are capping the total amount of members per class and are doing so on a first come first serve basis.
Be sure to check with your local gym and ask about class capacity limitations, how to sign up in advance, wait lists, and what they are offering if you cannot get into a class (virtual class), etc.
INCREASE SANITATION DEMANDS
While many gyms do a great job of having members wipe down barbells, benches, wall balls, and other pieces of equipment, an increased emphasis on coaches, staff, and members taking ownership of their facilities cleanliness is key.
Many of these small gyms serve a devout client base, which means that many members are more than willing to do their part to keep things clean for the sake of keeping fellow members and coaches sage and the gym open.
NO CHALK BUCKETS
Chalk is a common training aid for sweaty bars during Olympic weightlifting movements, barbell strength lifts, kettlebells, WODs, and gymnastics.
Many gyms are not allowing communal chalk buckets to minimize the collection of germs, sweat, and close contact during workouts.
Some Crossfit gyms have said that they are providing liquid chalk in order to avoid the chalk bucket. But this is not the case everywhere.
Some facilities allow members to train shirtless, however many gyms are enforcing a shirt policy to cut down on sweat and cleanliness being transferred to the floors, equipment, etc.
I personally sweat a good amount during workouts, so I started bringing two shirts so that I can change into a dry one after I saturate my first.
DEFINED LIFTING AREAS
Some gyms are making 6×6’ lifting areas that are designed to keep a member inside the space at all times, which helps to keep physical distance in check.
This is a novel idea, and also helps coaches track attendance and limit class sizes.
Expectations for Clients/Members
Below are the expectations gyms have of their gym community of members and coaches.
It can be frustrating trying to sign up for a class WOD and not being allowed to due to class size limitations. Please, however, remember that this is for the short term and is a necessary part of the plan. If you have the ability to attend other times that are not as crowded (especially if your gym is offering more classes due to limited class sizes), do so.
BE CONSIDERATE OF OTHERS
If you are someone who trains 5 days a week at the same time, just realize you are taking a spot away from someone who might be trying to train and cannot because you are hogging all the slots.
Some gyms are limiting the overall number of classes a member can take in a week to combat this, to make sure that all members have the ability to sign up for classes at least a few times a week.
If you are someone who trains every day, try to train in the gym half the time and the other times from home.
Fitbod has several at-home workout options.
STAY IN YOUR AREA
If your gym is having you lift in pre-designated areas, stay in it.
Most gyms will have each 6×6’ square set up with all of the equipment you will need for the class. If you need another piece of equipment, such as a specific weight in a dumbbell or kettlebell, the members will take turns walking across the gym to pick it up while maintaining distance.
The designated areas are there for a reason, and your coaches and other members will appreciate you following the rules. If everyone can adhere to the rules, the classes run smoother, more efficiently, and ultimately help the coaches and facility do their jobs more effectively.
CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF
This goes without saying, but here we go again… wipe down everything.
Clean up your area, and follow whatever cleanliness instructors are set in place from coaches and the facility.
What I’ve seen some CrossFit gyms do is assign each 6×6’ lifting area their own bucket of cleaning supplies, including paper towels or clothes, general cleaning spray and special spray for the barbells. Classes will then finish 10 minutes early to allow for enough time for each member to thoroughly clean their lifting area and equipment.
Your cooperation goes a long way in not only keeping the coaches healthy (and happy, because they now don’t have to pick up after you), but also help keep classes moving smoothly and more efficiently.
WHEN YOU ARE DONE, LEAVE
While these gyms do an amazing job of creating a community and culture that has members wanting to stay after class to talk, hang out, or even take ANOTHER class, many gyms are asking members to quickly clean up and leave the facility when they are done.
This not only helps clear the area out faster so that it can be cleaned for the next group, but it minimizes conversing with other members in close proximity.
3 Tips to Ease Back Into Going to the Gym
Below are three tips for easing back into training at a gym to minimize risks and help keep the environment clean and safe as best as possible.
If we can do our part in maintaining cleanliness, clearing up after ourselves, and being vigilant about our health and not risking others, we may be able to get fit and stay fit through all of this!
Please note, that by no means am I a qualified expert or physician with experience working with COVID-19 and infectious disease prevention. Please refer to state and governmental guidelines.
50% OF SESSIONS AT GYM, THE REST FROM HOME
One way I am slowly easing my way back, and suggesting to some of my clients is that they introduce training in a gym for 50% of their sessions for the first month.
This can help slowly introduce exposure and help lessen the initial surge of people flooding the gym. In doing so, my thought process is that we can help gyms slowly work out the kinks in their reopen plan, and minimize overall traffic and exposure.
This will also ensure that people do not train too hard in the beginning phases of the “reopening” program, as some people will be eager to return to lift weights at a gym, go too hard, and end up hurting themselves.
This way, they can train 1-3 times in a gym with really tough workouts, and then continue to do lighter (less weight) and potentially easier training days at home to help ease back into the vigours of hard training.
Tracking your recovery with Fitbod will help you figure out what your next workout should be.
MONITOR HOW YOU FEEL
While soreness, fatigue, and feeling “off” are not definitive signs of having COVID-19, it is smart to monitor how you are feeling and to be honest with yourself.
If you at all feel ill, or feel like you have been exposed to someone who has, it is socially responsible of you to stay out of large public areas.
Putting yourself or others at exposed risk so you can go back squat once a week is not only selfish, but it can derail the recovery and reopening process for everyone.
HANDS AWAY FROM FACE
Gyms and other public places can be germ havens.
While you do not need to wear a hazmat suit every workout session, I do suggest you minimize contact with your face, eyes, or other areas with your hands.
This isn’t really a special tip for COVID-19 prevention, but rather a general cleanliness and hygiene habit that can help minimize the spread of common bacteria and viruses.
Throughout this article, I offered you my first-hand experiences attending training facilities and gyms to help gym-goers and coaches navigate this new era we live in.
During my time training in these facilities, I personally felt that adequate steps were taken, however I was weary of larger gyms with some members who were not wiping their bars down. I took it upon myself to be extra weary, and for that I felt fine and was able to train regularly.
It is important to refer to your governmental guidelines and standards for reopening and adhere to those guidelines. At no point should you take my Op-Ed based article as the law or regulatory standards, but rather just one fellow gym-goer to the next discussing what to expect as you make your way back into the gym.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.