Prepare for a germ reckoning at the gym.
As the coronavirus lockdown restrictions begin to ease, gyms and fitness studios have started to roll out reopening plans.
But health experts warn that your regular sweat seshes are about to look very different. Some worry about a repeat of what happened in South Korea, where more than 100 coronavirus cases were linked to a group of dance instructors.
“The gym is a perfect storm for transmitting respiratory disease,” says Dr. Purvi Parikh, a member of Physicians for Patient Protection and an immunologist at NYU Langone who points to “crowds, heavy breathing and touching,” as possible COVID-spreading culprits.
She warns that not all workouts are equally contagious, but says all gyms will have to take “drastic measures” to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for social distancing.
Gym owners such as Kelvin Gary, who runs Body Space Fitness in Union Square, have already begun to make serious changes. Gary has sunk about $12,000 into remodeling efforts to make his space more sanitary.
“We’re setting it where essentially each client has their own mini gym,” Gary tells The Post.
At Equinox, expect shorter hours, temperature checks and prescheduled workout slots. The luxe chain announced these among other changes earlier this month, while its sister brand, SoulCycle, says they’ll require gloves for staff, close their showers and cap the number of available bikes per class to ensure a socially distant sweat.
Big box gyms such as Retro Fitness have pledged to scrub down “[using] hospital grade cleaner to clean the entire gym,” according to a press release. Plus, they promise to enact touch-free check-ins and preorders for smoothies to limit hand-to-hand contact.
But will it be enough?
Here, the experts share what the gym of the future might look like.
Expect machines to be more spread out at your local gym. “The way you see airlines blocking seats, we might see that, where gyms are blocking treadmills or bikes,” says Parikh. In Hong Kong, some gyms have installed Plexiglass barriers to keep exercisers’ sweat and germs from mingling. But Parikh is skeptical this will make a real difference.
“Plexiglass is great, but only if it’s being cleaned after each use or else the germs stay enclosed,” she says.
You might be asked to wear a mask, or be required to, depending on where your gym is located. This can make working out tougher, or downright dangerous — a man in Wuhan, China recently passed out while running with a mask. In two other incidents involving physical activity, two Chinese boys dropped dead within a week of one another recently while wearing masks during gym class.
Your best bet is to wear a mask when you can, but when it comes to workouts that require a lot of oxygen, such as running or heavy weightlifting, you might be forgiven for removing your mask, Parikh says.
“Realistically I don’t think many people will be able to work out [that heavily] with a mask,” Parikh says.
Depending on the material of the dumbbells at your gym, these might be your best bet.
“The virus tends to last the longest on plastic,” says Parikh. “Steel and aluminum surfaces are after that.”
And, maybe skip using an exercise bench: “If you press one button on a treadmill, that’s less to worry about than an entire bench, where more onus is on the gymgoer to clean the entire thing,” says Parikh.
Gym floor mats
Russian twists, planks and yoga moves that take place on communal mats will require the most prep.
“Your whole body is being exposed at this point, rather than one area [using a weight, or machine],” says Parikh, who points out that gym cleaning policies will matter most in these high-traffic areas.
Expect more disinfecting products in this area of the gym. Gary, the Union Square gym owner, plans on providing liquid sanitizer that can be used on both hands and equipment, and virus-killing UV light wands for each training station, too.
Classes may be the last thing to return at your local fitness center.
“Classes used to be a lot of people in one room breathing heavily with their heart rate up,” says Parikh. “If everybody is dancing and gasping, you’re probably not 6 feet apart, and you may be touching your face because you’re sweating. You’re basically doing all the things we’ve been telling people not to do since January.”
New-age classes will likely mean less people, and markers on the ground for everyone to keep a safe space from each other. Gary says looking forward, he plans on keeping his gym’s group classes online, but venturing out to meet his clients. “We’re looking at potentially doing some group classes outside,” he says.
Be careful not to get too comfortable in the locker room. “Towels everywhere, close quarters and high turnover all concern me in terms of cleanliness,” says Parikh, who adds that saunas and steam rooms are a no-go. Sweaty, enclosed rooms are where the virus thrives, and “social distancing becomes a problem immediately,” she says, adding that it might be a better idea to hit the showers at home.
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