Whether they’re longtime “gym rats” or someone who was finally honoring a long-ignored New Year’s resolution to get more active, or instructors who lead all of them to better fitness — they have struggled to keep fit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One gym owner who has worked hard to keep her customers working out for first few months of the health crisis is Gina Hall, who with her husband Tony Hall owns Energy Gym in West Fenwick Island.
“We call it a nightmare,” she said, not mincing words when it comes to describing how the pandemic has impacted her staff and her customers alike.
Hall joins many local businesses preparing to reopen in a limited capacity on June 1, and she talked with the Coastal Point recently about what she’s been doing to get her gym ready to safely welcome members back into her 12,000-square-foot facility.
Changes she has made include installation of a high-tech air purification system that uses ultraviolet light to kill things like mold, bacteria, allergens, and viruses. “Since (COVID-19) is an airborne disease, that’s pretty important,” Hall said.
She has also installed an electrostatic sprayer that sanitizes surfaces, to further help keep the gym germ-free. This will not take the place of regular cleaning of the facility, Hall said, but will supplement it. “We’ve always had good cleaning practices,” she said.
Although returning customers might not notice those changes because they’re not visible, they will undoubtedly notice new routines at the gym. For starters, there will be temperature checks upon entering, by way of “no-touch” thermometers that measure infrared energy coming off the body.
Once customers pass that screening, they will be instructed to use hand sanitizer. Then they may enter the gym or the group fitness area. Each client will be given their own, numbered, bottle of hand sanitizer as well as antibacterial wipes.
There will be specific paths gym patrons will have to use, to lessen the chance of contamination and to allow patrons to maintain physical distancing guidelines. Hall said care has been taken to avoid some of the pitfalls of systems she has seen in other businesses, where customers have to “backtrack” on their way out of the store.
“It’s been like reinventing the wheel on a daily basis,” she said of the process she has been working through in preparation for reopening. But, she said, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “We’ve gone above and beyond the (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines, she said. “We didn’t want to reopen without having some kind of game plan.”
Hall said she held a meeting with 90 gym members through the Zoom online meeting platform to talk about how the gym is proceeding through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the gym was forced to shut its doors to customers in mid-March, Energy Gym has moved to online classes, Hall said. “We communicated with our instructor and our members from the first week in” she said, and classes were able to be held with instructors teaching from their homes, and members participating from their homes.
“Group fitness is our glue,” Hall said of the “family” feel that she has worked to build since opening in 1989. The move to online classes helped hold that family together, she said “but it’s killing some of my instructors” not to be in the same room with their classes.
Although the classes have been helpful for those who were taking them before the pandemic, those for whom weightlifting and other gym-centric workouts were the norm have struggled a bit more to recreate their regimens. “We did a Facebook Live using milk jugs and backpacks,” she said.
While there will surely be a psychological adjustment to the “new normal” of temperature checks, socially distanced classes and ever-present hand sanitizer, there will be physical adjustments as well as bodies get used to what used to be routine exercise regimens.
“There’ll be a lot of sore bodies,” Hall said with a bit of a chuckle. She promised however, that “muscle memory” will kick in. She said she’s been telling gym members that “it won’t take as long as they’ve been off” to get back up to speed.