On Friday, 20 March, as part of the government’s effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of all gyms and fitness studios across the UK. We’ve heard little to no information regarding when they will reopen since, despite the release of the government’s strategy for tackling the next phase of the pandemic and the roadmap for lifting England’s lockdown, announced in mid-May.
As the 50-page guidance document titled “Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy” states: “. . . while reopening outdoor spaces and activities (subject to continued social distancing) comes earlier in the roadmap because the risk of transmission outdoors is significantly lower, it is likely that reopening indoor public spaces and leisure facilities (such as gyms and cinemas), premises whose core purpose is social interaction (such as nightclubs), venues that attract large crowds (like sports stadia), and personal care establishments where close contact is inherent (like beauty salons) may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections.”
Ultimately, at this stage, we can only speculate on a reopening date, however, many fitness insiders believe we’ll see a phased reopening like we have with other industries from July. Robert Rowland, cofounder of Boom Cycle, predicts larger gyms will be permitted to open first, followed by smaller boutiques and studios in the following weeks or months. Hollie Grant, award-winning Pilates instructor and founder of Pilates PT, agreed, telling POPSUGAR we can also expect a “huge adaptation to how gyms and fitness classes were previously run,” starting with the implementation of social-distancing measures.
Social Distancing Means Gyms Will Have Less Capacity
According to UK Active — the not-for-profit body of members and partners across the UK’s physical activity and fitness sector — that’s put together a framework for the reopening of gyms, leisure centres, and the wider fitness industry, gyms are expected to operate with a maximum capacity of three square metres of space per person when they reopen.
The same queue system that is in place at most major supermarkets will be enforced upon entry to gyms, and distance between all equipment will likely be two metres. “Responsible operators will follow all available best practice in terms of effectively separating customers physically — this may include removing every other piece of equipment or marking ‘individual activity zones’ on the floor with tape,” said Marco Coppola, national head of health and fitness at Better. “It will be paramount to gain the trust of returning customers.”
Strict Cleaning Measures Will Be Enforced
When it comes to gym equipment and facilities, cleaning measures will be vigorous. “All gym equipment will be cleaned between uses, and the time needed for this will be factored into opening schedules and programming,” Coppola said. The same goes for shared touch points (for example, surfaces and lockers), and you can forget about using shared towels. Hand sanitiser will be distributed throughout each studio, and members will be expected to spray and wipe every single piece of equipment they come into contact with, from dumbbells to treadmills.
“There is also a possibility that changing rooms may be closed to reduce the amount of time clients spend in the facility,” Grant said. “Gyms would require dedicated cleaners, or [need to] assign staff to this role, to clean down shared equipment between clients and ensure a strict cleaning schedule is adhered to and recorded.”
Classes May Not Return For a While
“I just think a lot of classes won’t happen for a little while,” Rowland said. “The equipment can be spaced out, but group exercise classes rely on just that, groups. The collective power of a shared experience. The key will be getting the timing right; it’ll all go back to where it was, but we and other studios will just need to time it right.”
When the time is right, it’s unlikely that classes will be like we remember. “If we look to what other countries are doing when they reopen their gyms and fitness spaces, we can expect much lower client numbers, smaller class sizes, longer gaps between classes on schedules, and strict regulations on cleaning,” Grant told POPSUGAR. But the changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. “It may reduce class atmosphere marginally, but on the other hand, each individual will receive more attention from the trainer in class,” said Chatty Dobson, owner of FLEX Chelsea.
Membership Offerings Are Likely to Change
According to Grant, “coronavirus has changed how consumers now train, and this will, in turn, affect how fitness businesses operate.” Referring to the popularity of Pilates PT’s online fitness classes during the pandemic, she elaborated: “Online training is cost effective, requires no travel time, [is] easy to fit in around children, and opens up consumers to instructors across the globe. I think that gyms and fitness studios will need to adapt to include this option into their offerings.” Dobson agreed, noting, “Virtual classes are here to stay.”