Is Your Gym Healthy?

Post-lockdown, and just because it makes sense as a paying customer, do an inventory of the confined spaces where you exchange moisture droplets with strangers.

One of the great head slapping moments of the Great Pandemic has been reading social media posts from gym owners decrying how they don’t get to open but bars do because, health.

One of the great head slapping moments of the Great Pandemic has been reading social media posts from gym owners decrying how they don’t get to open but bars do because, health.

No one should take medical advice from some who isn’t a medical professional or assume that the guy who just got you to deadlift your bodyweight is a health expert.

Let’s clear that up. For most gyms, it has always been about looking good naked first, and everything else second. Let’s not pretend that getting people into gyms is an act of salvation for society because it just sounds self-serving.

All those gym owners can rectify the situation going forward by figuring out how to make their gyms safe for use in a Pandemic world, and how they can be a part of the solution against chronic disease for the long term, as opposed to making a marketing pitch. It’s not going to happen but it’s nice to think that things might change for the better.

Does that sound cynical? Well, maybe, but it’s the truth and it isn’t actually the gym owners’ fault that they find themselves in the situation they are in.

They would probably love to have hundreds of members paying them to help them go for a walk or be more active, and not have to pick up their weights after them or clean their space.

Because, yeah, most healthy activity and reduction of chronic disease can be achieved without a $150 a month membership or a $20 a session group class.

But, that’s not why you’re there and you’re part of the problem and a definite part of the solution, if you only agree to be. You want that membership, and you want it in a box gym because it holds a different meaning for you.

Your gym is about 2,500 square foot, maybe more, maybe less, but it’s not a giant cavernous space. You have some bars and rings, barbells and squat racks, kettlbells, dumbells, ropes and stuff that looks good piled against the wall. It’s a dark, moody prison yard but you love it.

You’re going to be the kind of person who spends a good hour or more in that little gym, sweating profusely, breathing hard for most of that hour, and doing it with little time for the niceties of gym etiquette.

You drop weights, you run around, you drip sweat, you spray sweat, you are in it with your community of fellow moisture freaks to the bitter end when the final bell rings.

Yes, you are probably healthier than most people. Although, you know, you probably would be doing the same thing whether it was healthy or not. In fact, you don’t do it because of your regular physical, that bit is nice, but you do it because of the achievement, the need to lift more, to develop a new skill or, even to compete. You go to that box gym of yours even when you are injured because it is your rite of passage.

And, right there, is the dilemma facing box gyms opening up. They are not like the globo gyms where treadmills and equipment take up every usable square foot and where about 80% of the members don’t ever show up.

They reduce their cholestrol by having that $20 a month payment on their accounts. It reduces the stress of thinking about the actual work of working out.

Box gym goers are more likely than any other gym goer to spend the most time in their gyms (there’s a New Your Time article that makes this clear). They are the one percent of the gym going public. That’s 600,000 people roughly, divided between 5,000 gyms (roughly 120 people per gym, on average) in the US alone.

Box gyms, post-lockdown, are under pressure to be safe places in a way that they were never really designed to be. That’s a fact, it is not insurmountable, but it can’t be done by the gym owner alone.

It requires you, the member, to be engaged enough to want to make the environment safe for everyone. The big question is whether you are up to the task.

The Health and Safety Problem for Gyms

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) has an extensive amount of information that it provides its members, the owners of health clubs, with respect to best practices in creating a safe environment.

Granted, there is no way to enforce any of these recommendations, as there is no way of policing their implementation. It doesn’t matter who says it, what they say, and how they plan for it, ultimately, the gym you go to lives in its own deterministic universe where the ownership and the most active members have pre-ordained the end results.

The biggest problem that I see is the fact that typical box gym is a one-stop shop of group and individual classes. There is no real distinction in organization between what is a set of people randomly doing their own workouts and a group following the on-the-hour whiteboard routine that’s been put up that day.

That in itself produces a series of logistical issues, and let’s be frank, it’s going to take patience, diligence, and teamwork, between members and staff, to enable the implementation of effective protocols in a COVID-19 world.

So, you have to ask two questions:

  1. Does your gym have a set of written guidelines and protocols for cleaning, and maintaining social distancing? If not, why not?
  2. Does your gym offer alternatives for members that are either not comfortable, or at greater risk? It could be remote training, online training or even personalized sessions in a clean environment? If not, why not?

The if not, why not follow up is pretty key. I can understand how difficult it is going to be for box gyms to manage in a COVID-19 world. But attitude matters. You are still going to be inside a closed environment for a significant amount of time with many other people, and the likelihood of a lot of shared air.

If bars have been responsible for the surge in recent cases then, how different a set up is that to a gym? Lots of people close together having a great time.

So, it isn’t the greatest situation from a purely logical standpoint, but mitigate the risk and you have lessened the chance of a breakout if someone is exposed to the virus. If mitigation isn’t even a consideration that should be of great concern.

Like I said, it is not up to the individual business owner to determine the fate of his or her members. It is up to you, as a paying customer, to manage your own risk. Make your choices wisely and if nothing happens, that’s success.

Can you work really hard to make nothing happen? It goes against the grain of your mentality but that’s what it is going to take. Time will tell how successful box gyms will be at managing in a COVID-19 world.

We hope that community really does mean something more than just having a bunch of people clap for you every time you get a PR.

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