From daily cleaning intermissions to temperature checks, your next trip to the gym (whenever that may be) is simply going to be different in the post-lockdown world.

By Korin Miller
Updated October 02, 2020
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Peet Sapsin leads a class at Inspire South Bay Fitness with students behind plastic sheets in their workout pods while observing social distancing on June 15, 2020 in Redondo Beach, California, as the gym reopens today under California's coronavirus Phase 3 reopening guidelines
Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Life is slowly going back to normal — or, at least, a new version of normal — and businesses that have closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are starting to reopen. Gyms and fitness studios are beginning to do the same — even in New York, which was once considered the center of the COVID-19 outbreak.

After being closed for more than five months, gyms in New York will soon be allowed to open again, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday.

"As New York maintains daily positive test rates below 1 percent, the State has determined that local elected officials can allow gyms and fitness centers to reopen at 33 percent capacity while following rigorous safety protocols, including wearing masks at all times," said Governor Cuomo.

In addition to following reduced capacity guidelines, social distancing, and mask mandates, gyms will need to update their HVAC systems to meet certain standards for improved air ventilation, as well as undergo inspections by local health authorities to ensure they're fulfilling all of these new requirements, according to Governor Cuomo's announcement. Gym-goers will be able to use water bottle refill stations, but not shared water fountains. Individual showers and stalls can also remain open (as long as they're cleaned in between use), but communal showers are closed as of now, according to the state's new guidelines.

Indoor fitness classes are also a hard maybe in New York right now. Local health departments will be responsible for determining whether indoor classes can safely resume from location to location, but many officials are anticipating gyms will reopen before individual classes, according to Governor Cuomo's announcement.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that there's no guaranteed method of making a gym (or anywhere else) COVID-proof. Like many things in this new pandemic world, going to the gym isn't a risk-free decision. "Any time we go out, there is a risk," says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "What we are all trying to do is lower the risk." (Related: Can I Run Outside During the Coronavirus Pandemic?)

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued general framework guidance for all reopening businesses across America (including fitness facilities), the approach thus far has been different from location to location, largely because of varying state and local guidelines. Some gyms and fitness studios are requiring protective measures such as temperature checks and face masks, while others are leaning more heavily on hand hygiene and encouraging members to police themselves. Nearly every fitness facility that's beginning to reopen has enacted enhanced cleaning practices (more on those soon) and announced plans to keep close tabs on crowd capacity to ensure members can safely practice social distancing. (FYI: Most major franchise gyms or studios explicitly list their COVID-19 safety updates online, so check them out before you go. And, if your gym doesn't have that info online, you can always call for more details.)

What do experts think of gyms' new COVID-19 safety protocols?

TBH, it's a mixed bag. Some experts think reopening gyms and studios are doing the best they can, while others think it's still not a good idea to be anywhere near a community fitness space right now.

Reminder: COVID-19 can be spread by people who don't even realize they're infected, and that's a sticking point for Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. "It is far safer to work out at home in order to social distance and avoid people infected with COVID-19 who might not have any symptoms," he says. (For instance, you could always check out these trainers and studios that are offering free online workout classes amid the pandemic.)

As businesses, in general, begin to reopen, gyms should be way down on your list of places to go, adds Henry F. Raymond, Dr.PH, M.P.H., associate director for public health at the Rutgers School of Public Health. "You're in an enclosed space, panting and sweating. There are lots of opportunities for you to exhale virus particles if you happen to be infected but not symptomatic," he explains. People also tend to touch their faces more when they work out and, if your hands happen to touch an infected surface before you do this, you risk getting sick, he says.

The fact that most gyms are indoors is especially concerning to Raymond. "If you could put all of the equipment in a parking lot, everyone was spaced out, and fresh air was blowing, that would be a better situation," he explains. (Related: Should You Wear a Face Mask for Outdoor Runs During the Coronavirus Pandemic?)

On the other hand, Dr. Schaffner acknowledges that people want to live their lives — which, for many, includes going to the gym or a workout studio. He's not exactly encouraging people to rush to these places, but he says certain protocols are more helpful than others. For instance, temperature checks are a "modest contribution to actual prevention against COVID-19," he notes. They're no doubt helpful, but of course, not everyone who has COVID-19 will necessarily develop a fever. "It's a very imperfect intervention, but it is something," says Dr. Schaffner.

Reduced capacity in exercise classes is also "perfectly reasonable," adds Dr. Schaffner. Some gyms are not only limiting capacity but also creating new ways for members to practice social distancing. After gyms began reopening in California, Peet Sapsin, owner of Inspire South Bay Fitness in Redondo Beach, introduced an especially innovative idea: individual plastic workout pods.

Peet Sapsin leads a class at Inspire South Bay Fitness with students behind plastic sheets in their workout pods while observing social distancing on June 15, 2020 in Redondo Beach, California, as the gym reopens today under California's coronavirus Phase 3 reopening guidelines
Credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

While Sapsin's gym doesn't currently offer open gym space, the pods are used during workout classes, according to Business Insider. Made from shower curtains and PVC pipes, each pod is enclosed on three sides (with an open back and top) and contains a workout bench, dumbbells, and other equipment gym-goers need for the class.

Pods or no pods, Dr. Watkins urges people to rethink doing in-person classes of any kind at this point. "I strongly recommend against being in a room with other people for an extended time," he says.

As for signs and floor markers that remind gym-goers to practice social distancing, Dr. Schaffner says they tend to work really well. "People find those markers to be a useful guide and really adhere to them," he explains.

Gold's Gym social distancing coronavirus safety
Credit: Gold's Gym

Outside the gym, other small businesses are doing their part to help people stay safe during their workouts. KleenWraps, for instance, are waterproof grips you can wrap around or slide onto surfaces (think: dumbbells, pull-up bars, even grocery shopping cart handles) to create an antimicrobial barrier against germs.

For now, KleenWraps are only available online, but the company says the wraps "will be available at select gyms and retail stores in the future."

Ultimately, it's up to you (and your access to a reopened location) whether you want to return to the gym or workout studio. It's understandable if you're antsy for your fitness routine to get back to normal — and the good news is, plenty of facilities are following public health and safety guidelines. Just know that you can get an effective workout at home if you don't feel comfortable going to the gym yet.

But if you're determined to get back to your local studio as soon as those doors open, experts stress the importance of understanding that this simply isn't a risk-free activity. Even if you practice all of the recommended coronavirus safety measures, you're not necessarily guaranteed to avoid becoming infected — or, possibly, infecting someone else.

"You have to think about your own level of risk you're willing to accept," says Raymond. "And don't forget that what you do influences whoever you come into contact with. Do you feel OK going to a gym with other people who are exhaling strenuously and then going home to your grandmother? Think about that."

Curious as to what this "new normal" will really be like IRL? Here's a clearer picture of what your next trip to the gym or workout studio might look like, so you're not totally shocked when it's time to return.

Gold's Gym

Gold's Gym social distancing coronavirus safety
Credit: Gold's Gym

Like many fitness facilities, Gold's Gym remained closed for months to comply with public health guidelines. Unfortunately, some of these locations will be permanently shuttered, as the company announced in May that it filed for bankruptcy. However, for the locations that are still open, the fitness chain's new protocols are shaped by not only recommendations from public health officials, but also federal, state, and local guidelines, says Adam Zeitsiff, president and CEO of Gold's Gym. "We have been collaborating with other brands across the fitness industry to inform protocols you will see gyms adopting nationwide," he adds. The fitness chain also surveyed its members to see what would make them feel safe when they work out in public spaces again and did its best to accommodate those requests, explains Zeitsiff.

As some Gold's Gym locations have reopened, each facility has been doing so in phases, says Zeitsiff. Timelines are murky and ever-changing, but overall, the first phase of reopening includes access to cardio machines, free weights, strength machines, and stretching areas. Group exercise classes, kids' areas, pools, saunas, and steam rooms, however, won't be available until later phases, explains Zeitsiff.

Gold's gym social distancing coronavirus safety
Credit: Gold's Gym

The company is also asking members to sign a new code of conduct that requires them to respect Gold's Gym's updated policies, including social distancing, avoiding equipment that's marked out-of-use, and staying home when sick, says Zeitsiff. (Related: A Fitness Instructor Is Leading "Socially Distant Dancing" On Her Street Every Day)

Here's what else you can expect when your nearest Gold's Gym reopens:

  • All staff will wear masks and gloves (members are recommended, but not required, to do the same).
  • Each gym will have a daily "intermission" from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., during which staff will restock all cleaning supplies and conduct a full gym cleaning. Members inside the gym during that time will be able to finish their workouts, but no other members may check-in during the intermission.
  • Touchless scan will allow for no-contact check-in.
  • Safety signs and reminders on COVID-19 prevention measures will be placed throughout the gym.
  • Staggered cardio and strength machines will be spread out by at least six feet.
  • Floor markers will promote social distancing.

Equinox

When Equinox began to reopen locations in late spring, the luxury fitness chain rolled out new protocols requiring improved cleaning and disinfection procedures, health checks (including temperature checks for both staff and members), limited gym capacity, contactless features (such as scan-less check-in), and, depending on local guidelines, mandated mask-wearing for anyone inside an Equinox club.

In the fall, Equinox started taking some of its signature sweat sessions outside. The company launched Equinox+ In the Wild, its first-ever outdoor club experience exclusive to Equinox members.

The new club space — available to Equinox members in Los Angeles and New York City, so far — offers members the full Equinox experience, including the gym's signature strength tile and rolled rubber flooring and surround-sound speaker systems. The outdoor club space also features a tented group fitness area where members can pay for Equinox classes such as The Cut, Master of One, Best Abs Ever, and Yoga. There will also be tented cardio and strength floors with workout equipment and weights. Personal training and a turfed playground area will also be available to Equinox members.

SoulCycle

The cult-favorite cycling studio started getting the OK to reopen from local and state government officials in early May, with studios in Dallas, Houston, and Vancouver among the first to safely reopen.

SoulCycle has an extensive list of updated safety protocols, but here's an idea of what to expect at your next ride:

  • Staff will disinfect all common areas before and after check-ins, with extra attention on bikes, weights, and other high-touch surfaces after every class.
  • Riders can check-in digitally via the SoulCycle app.
  • Shoes will be disinfected and rotated so they're never worn two classes in a row.
  • Staff will be required to wear gloves and undergo temperature checks.
  • Both staff and class participants will be strongly encouraged to wear masks (unless required by local health officials).
  • When required by local law, temperature checks will also be mandatory for riders.
  • Riders will sign a health declaration stating that they agree to the local government's health and safety measures (you'll be able to sign in your app).
  • Classes will have fewer riders, and some bikes will be marked out-of-use to promote social distancing.
  • Studios will no longer stock gum, razors, Q-tips, or offer complimentary phone charging. Hair ties and individually-wrapped earplugs will be behind the desk, available upon request.
  • Floor markers will encourage social distancing in the lobby, locker rooms, and bathrooms.
  • There will be no shower access.

SoulCycle has also branched out to offer outdoor classes. In September, the company launched SoulOutside, an outdoor setup of 45-minute ride sessions with bikes placed at least 6 feet apart from one another. Classes feature a silent disco audio experience wherein riders wear headphones to hear both the music and the instructor (SoulCycle provides sanitized headsets, but you can also bring your own headphones if you prefer, as long as they're compatible with the class's audio system.) Depending on the location (and local health guidelines), you might be required to wear a mask during your outdoor ride.

So far, SoulOutside classes have only been offered in a limited number of locations, including Hoboken, Short Hills, Hudson Yards, Montauk, Boston, Union Market, and Santa Monica, among others. As of now, it's unclear how long these outdoor classes will continue running, especially as some parts of the country head into colder months.

Crunch

As everyone begins to navigate more new normals at the gym, Keith Worts, CEO of Crunch Signature, says the company is encouraging members to "be kind, be considerate, and be mindful" of behaviors such as wiping down machines, maintaining distance from other members, and using hand sanitizer.

Among several other new safety protocols, reopening Crunch gyms are doing the following:

  • Members will have access to contactless check-in via the Crunch app.
  • Staff will wear masks and gloves. Members can choose whether or not to wear masks or gloves (unless required by local health officials).
  • High-traffic areas, including floors and mats, will be cleaned at least daily.
  • Staff will clean equipment and machines regularly throughout the day.
  • Some machines will be off-limits to promote social distancing.
  • Classes will have limited capacity.

CorePower Yoga

On the yoga front, here's what CorePower Yoga is doing as some of its studios reopen:

  • Floor markers in the lobby and mat markers in class will encourage social distancing.
  • Studio and class capacity will be limited.
  • Members must reserve classes (no walk-ins).
  • Showers are closed.
  • Members are strongly encouraged to bring their own mat, towel, and water.
  • Instructors will avoid physical assists in class.
  • Staff and class participants will be required to wear face masks.
  • All weights and studio surfaces will be regularly disinfected.
  • Temperature and self-health checks will be mandatory for staff.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.