Fitness Clubs Poised to Embrace New Routines

Gyms and fitness clubs are preparing to welcome back customers with new protocols to guard against coronavirus when they are allowed to reopen in Massachusetts, which could happen as soon as next week.

“Vigilant,” the third phase of Governor Charlie Baker’s re-opening plan, involves loosening restrictions for gyms, outdoor camps, museums and all other business activities “except for nightclubs and large venues.”

Gym owners told WGBH News Monday they have begun rearranging machines and equipment, purchasing disinfectants and preparing to enforce good pandemic gym etiquette.

Olga Gomes, owner of Luna Fitness boutique gym in Dorchester, said the difficult part will likely be enforcing social distancing among members and the reduced staff she plans to bring back.

“It’s a small gym. Everybody knows each other,” said Gomes, explaining how guests frequently greet one another during workouts. “Now my job is going to be [telling them] ‘Hey! Keep your social distance.’ I think that’s going to be hard.”

Gomes, who took out about $20,000 in federal and private loans to cover costs during the closure, said she froze her 250 members’ accounts while the business was shuttered. In the interim, she posted workouts on YouTube and led bootcamps at Malibu Beach. None of those alternatives have made up the income lost from gym membership fees. She plans to re-open as soon as allowed in order to begin financially recouping.

“If I had a choice [given] what’s going on, I would wait, but unfortunately, I can’t,” she said. “Hopefully members are ready to get back.”

A May WGBH-Boston Globe poll showed about a third of Massachusetts residents indicated they would be comfortable going to the gym when allowed. The figure shot up to 77 percent when asked about going if there were a vaccine for COVID-19.

Susan Young, owner of Vanderbilt Club in Norwood, said she has had ample time to prepare safety precautions since shutting her business back in March.

“Now that it’s time to start the reopening, we’re doing everything in our power to make it right,” Young said in a phone interview. “We’ve had the place fogged and sanitizing stations set up all through the gym.”

Young established her club nearly two decades ago and, until the pandemic period, membership had grown to about 1,500 people. Since the extended closure began, about 300 people have dropped their memberships, but she is hopeful they will return.

Larger gyms are also embracing new protocols. In a statement to WGBH News Monday, McCall Gosselin, senior vice president of communications for Planet Fitness, said the fitness club franchise looks forward to welcoming back members to its 74 Massachusetts locations “safely and responsibly” when Baker gives the greenlight.

“In doing so, we are taking a number of steps to protect the health and well-being of our team members and members, which include enhanced cleanliness and sanitization policies and procedures, physical distancing measures, reducing physical touch points in the club,” Gosselin said.

A spokesperson confirmed that masks will be required for Planet Fitness employees. The company is awaiting state guidelines on requirements for guests.

Others gym owers like Francis Huynh of Dorchester’s Warrior Fitness kickboxing studio, have allowed guests to exercise bare-faced after completing a temperature-check upon entry.

“Guests are not required to wear masks so they can properly breath during high-intensity workouts,” said Huynh, who opened his gym just two months before the pandemic sent everything into lockdown. The workout space has been open since last Monday for personal training sessions, which are allowed under the current re-opening phase.

“We teach up to two people,” he said, explaining that customers follow the instructions of an instructor who directs exercises over a speaker system while safely distanced.

Huynh told WGBH News he blew through his savings paying for rent and other expenses during the extended closure. He said he has been in touch with several customers who are eager to return once they feel safe.

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