How One Twin Cities Gym is Clearing the Air

Going back to the gym has been ranked as one of the more dangerous activities on the COVID-19 risk spectrum, created by the Texas Medical Association. Sweat flying, open mouth breathing, and grunting in enclosed spaces with shared mats, weights, and other equipment for up to an hour. The few things riskier than an in-person sweat sesh include visiting movie theaters, amusement parks, and large concerts and sporting events—and top of the chart: going to the bar. Yet, here we are, heading in for our weekly yoga, spin, or barre class.

HIIT-ing up the gym may not be the safest activity in our changing times but Defining You Pilates & Fitness in St. Paul has a new air filtration system that’s designed to keep patrons safer by cleaning the air. (Yup, cleaning the air—the only surface we haven’t bleached.)

When she opened the studio in 2012, Levi installed HEPA filtration units throughout to capture air particles, dust, and pollen, and reduce overall odors.

“I’ve always been a stickler for making sure the indoor air at Defining You is as clean as possible,” says owner Suzy Levi, who also served on the state’s COVID-19 taskforce to establish reopening guidelines and protocols. “When the Iso-Aire team reached out to local businesses in the area, we raised our hand.”

Iso-Aire was developed in response to COVID-19 for medical-grade use by St. Paul’s Ducts and Cleats in collaboration with Mayo Clinic, and has now been installed in schools and other small businesses throughout the state. Defining You became the first fitness studio to test drive the tech in late June.

The Iso-Aire system works to clean air using the highest available quality indoor air filtration components to capture and destroy 99.97 to 99.99 percent of airborne contaminants (think viruses, bacteria, mold, pollen—all the nasty stuff we unknowingly inhale).

With air cleaning tech under their belts, the St. Paul team behind Iso-Aire is now developing measurements to collect real-time data on the unit’s performance in improving air quality. But it’s not a foolproof solution, Levi says. “Unfortunately, because COVID-19 and many viruses and bacteria are so tiny, the unit cannot record how many particles it’s capturing and destroying but [it] will be able to measure the number of particles in the air. So, fewer particles means a lower chance of harmful contaminants floating about.”

With the first hints of the coronavirus in the state, Defining You temporarily closed its doors along with many other fitness studios and shifted to virtual offerings. Come June 1, the Defining You team began offering outdoor classes at community centers, then resumed personal training sessions in-studio on June 10 (with limited capacity, of course). Pilates apparatus classes were added back onto the schedule on June 22, hosting only four peeps at a time with ample time for sanitation between classes.

Following the late June installation of the Iso-Aire system at Defining You, the studio added a handful of hybrid classes with limited in-person attendees and a live stream for online participants. Those hybrid classes are expanding this week, while the studio also continues solely virtual offerings for workout-from-home folks.

“It offers peace of mind to both clients and our team of instructors,” Levi says of Iso-Aire. Despite squeaky clean air, Defining You instructors are still required to wear masks at all times, and class attendees are required to wear masks until they get to their spot in class but not during the workout.

With the new air filters, Levi says her clients have noticed a positive change. “On humid days, the air is easier to breathe. Clients have told me they experience ‘crisper and lighter’ air,” she says. “While it’s only been a couple weeks, the response has been so positive. I’ve had a dozen clients thank us for making this investment in the health of our community.”

Levi doesn’t see indoor air quality—or COVID-19—concerns evaporating anytime soon. “I feel that indoor air quality standards will become a requirement in closed spaces, and I want to be ready and have our facility be ahead of the curve when that happens.”

Defining You Pilates & Fitness, 550 Vandalia St., Ste. 310, St. Paul,

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