Coronavirus: Everything you need to know about returning to the gym

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·7-min read

Restrictions on NSW gyms, dance and yoga studios are set to be lifted on June 13, but it could be a while before the gym looks normal again – or before people feel comfortable enough to get back to sweating with others.

Forty-one percent of Australian gym-goers have already cancelled, or are considering cancelling their gym memberships amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey by American company runrepeat.com.

The poll also revealed that 52 per cent of women and 45 per cent of men who’ve cancelled gym memberships say they won’t go back to the gym at all.

“The fitness industry is definitely going to have some challenges,” co-owner and director of Hunter Street Vision Personal Training Adam Lewinski said.

“We need to be adaptable, and show people that it is possible to exercise safely in a gym environment.”

For those who are planning to get back to a gym class or studio, here’s what you need to know:

Is it safe to go back to the gym?

Yes – as long as you are careful, says expert in cardiorespiratory medicine at Swinburne University of Technology, Professor Bruce Thompson.

“The COVID-19 virus is airborne, so if people exercise in an enclosed space, there is more chance of the virus spreading,” he said.

“However, we have to remember that in Australia there are around 400 cases of COVID-19 in a population of 25 million – so the risk factor is very low.”

Two women walk on a treadmill in a gym.
Gyms are starting to reopen across the country. Source: Getty

If you’re pounding the treadmill hard, you’re likely to be breathing heavily over a period of time, “so you’re essentially acting as a sprinkler [for the virus]”, Prof Thompson said.

“This is why social distancing is really important. With some other illnesses we know that when people cough, they can transmit droplets for up to three metres, so always make sure you cough into your elbow to stop the potential spread of anything.”

The main issue with people returning to the gym is the possibility that people are potentially asymptomatic, says Prof Thompson.

“If, as we’ve seen on some cruise ships, nearly 50 per cent of the population are asymptomatic, then it remains to be seen what sort of effect being in gyms has,” he said.

“But as long as people are sensible, and don’t go if they are unwell, then we do believe it’s safe to return to the gym.”

Can air-conditioning spread the virus?

“To get rid of airborne coronavirus particles, you need to flush air out of enclosed spaces,” Prof Thompson said.

“Re-circulating air for other people to breathe in isn’t great. However, there is some evidence that HEPA filters on air-conditioners might actually filter out some of the particles – although this isn’t really clear yet.”

Opening doors and windows to ventilate enclosed spaces is a good idea.

Staff using wet wipe and a blue sanitizer from the bottle to clean treadmill in gym.
There will be strict cleaning procedures at gyms. Source: Getty

What safety precautions will gyms take?

“We are separating equipment so there’s a minimum of 1.5 metres between each piece,” Mr Lewinski said.

“Hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes are available throughout the studio for both clients and trainers to access. Trainers sanitise their hands before and after every session.”

Equipment is cleaned between each client using it, and each trainer has their own equipment to do this.

There will be signage in each studio, reminding clients of COVID-safe practises, and detailed cleaning schedules implemented in all Vision studios.

Group of young sporty people practising yoga lesson.
There will be limits on how many people can attend a gym class. Source: Getty

“Depending on the location, shower facilities may be temporarily unavailable. We are asking any client who is unwell or who has been in contact not to come in,” he said.

“There will be no boxing or assisted stretching in group training sessions either, to adhere to social distancing regulations.”

Other precautions being taken by different gyms also include contactless entry, perspex partitions at reception, and asking clients to bring their own yoga mats.

How many people are allowed in the gym?

Gyms open in NSW on June 13, when there will be 10 people allowed in a class, and a maximum of 100 in one venue.

Indoor swimming pools and saunas will also be able to reopen, with social distancing in place. Gyms have been open in the ACT since the end of May. Queensland announced on June 4 it was also reopening.

They are allowed 20 people in a gym, but large gyms are able to use partitions to allow more people to use a “room” at once.

Diverse equipment and machines at the gym room
There will likely be a limit on how long people can work out. Source: Getty

People are only allowed to train for one hour at a time in a venue. In WA, gyms are open and allow 20 people, plus trainers and staff.

Classes are also allowed as long as there is no shared equipment, and there is four square metres of room per person.

Gyms are expected to open in South Australia on June 8, in Tasmania on June 15, and in Victoria on June 22, all with 20 people allowed in a venue.

Do I have to book?

Yes, you need to book for classes, although larger gyms won’t all require a booking if you just want to turn up and do a workout.

If you don’t book, many venues will ask you to leave your name and contact details when you enter – as many restaurants are doing – in case authorities need to contact trace in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

A young woman flexing muscles in fitness gym centre.
Gyms may choose to stay open longer with restrictions on how many people are allowed inside. Source: Getty

What times will gyms be open?

There are no restrictions on what time gyms open – it’s up to the individual venue.

While some gyms will maintain normal opening hours, others may end up opening for longer hours in order to accommodate as many clients as they can.

“We will schedule people in to ensure we have a safe amount of people in the studio at all times,” Mr Lewinski said.

Barbell, dumbbells lie on the floor against the background of the gym.
People are urged to take their own yoga mats while boxing will be cancelled. Source: Getty

Will gyms keep doing online training as well?

Fifty-two per cent of industry body Fitness Australia’s members started training clients online during lockdown – which has helped keep businesses afloat.

As restrictions ease, many gyms will continue to offer online training and classes, as well as opening their doors to clients.

“Training people online has meant we can offer flexible options for those who need it,” Mr Lewinski said.

“It will 100 per cent remain part of our business model for the foreseeable future.”

Cropped shot of an sportwoman tying her shoelaces in a gym.
Restrictions in NSW are set to be lifted on June 13. Source: Getty

Will gyms have childcare available?

Although there’s no official word on this not being allowed, most gyms and yoga studios are saying they won’t re-open on-site creches or childcare just yet.

Will gyms offer special rates?

A reluctance from some people to return to the gym paired with Australia’s first recession in 29 years means gyms are having to fight hard to get people back through the doors.

Many are offering special deals to get customers back to the gym.

Vision is offering free two week experience passes, F45 is offering reduced membership costs, and Fitstop gyms are offering reduced rates and free weeks.

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