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Working out the details: Jerry Long Family YMCA shifts to outdoor exercise classes while awaiting reopening during coronavirus pandemic

K.C. Rankin pumps iron along with other participants in the Body Pump class. Photo by Jim Buice, for the Clemmons Courier.

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

The early morning sun was shining down on the parking lot of the Jerry Long Family YMCA, and K.C. Rankin was pumped about starting his workout.

“I can get a tan and get my workout in. I’m going to hate to go back inside,” Rankin said with a chuckle as he prepared to start last Friday morning’s Body Pump class. “This is a great thing.”

Yes, the doors may be closed for the time being, but the Y on Peace Haven Road in Clemmons has worked out a way to keep some of its members active during the coronavirus pandemic by taking it out to the parking lot for outdoor group exercise classes.

The results have been very positive, according to Debbie Combs, who teaches the Body Pump and cycling classes.

“They have been very appreciative and thankful to have something to come back to,” Combs said of the participants. “They say it’s been good for their physical health and mental health — and to be able to see their friends again and get a workout. They’ve loved it so much that many of them have expressed an interest in continuing it even when the doors eventually do open.”

That remains an unknown. The Y, like all businesses that weren’t considered essential, had to close in the middle of March with the strict government-mandated “stay-at-home” home orders. However, as part of Phase 2 of the state’s three-part reopening plan in late May, the Y and other indoor fitness centers were able to offer outdoor group exercise classes, swimming and summer camps, all with proper social distancing, while the actual indoor facility remained closed.

Phase 3, which includes gyms and fitness centers, playgrounds, bars, nightclubs, movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo parlors and museums, was projected to kick in last Friday, but Gov. Roy Cooper chose to delay the reopening until at least July 17 because of concerns with data points associated with COVID-19 climbing in the wrong direction.

Therefore, the Y will have to continue to wait to open, except for the outdoors classes and swimming.

The local Y, which is part of the YMCA of Northwest N.C., responded with the following statement:

“While we’re disappointed not to be resuming indoor wellness activities, that is only part of what the Y means to a community. The Y will continue to provide outdoor and online exercise classes, swimming, summer day camp and overnight camp options so our community can continue to take care of their spirit, mind and body. We know that health is an important part of preventing COVID-19 and want to thank the Clemmons community for their support and allowing us to be your wellness partner.”

In the meantime, the outdoor group sessions provide a mix of 10 different classes throughout the week from Monday through Saturday.

“The members have really enjoyed the classes outside,” said Adam Cardwell, who is senior engagement director — retention and wellness operations. “It’s great for them to be able to get in a workout and socialize at a distance.”

Combs, who serves as the local Y’s group exercise coordinator, said that Body Pump and the cycle classes are the most popular of the offerings. Members must reserve their spots in advance.

“There are 40 spots for Body Pump, and I don’t think there have been any openings since we started,” Combs said.

While most of the classes offered are for members only, the Y offers GRIT cardio, a high-intensity interval training workout, for free on Saturday mornings. It was a paid small group training program that ran for eight weeks inside before the pandemic.

“It was kind of cool that we offered a unique opportunity with the world turned upside down that they can take GRIT free of charge during this COVID time,” Combs said.

Although some older members have been a part of some of outdoor exercise classes, the popular SeniorSneakers program hasn’t been a part of the mix.

“We are doing our best to take care of them within the safety guidelines,” Combs said. “They are considered to be at a higher risk, and we have been creating some workouts for them virtually. When deemed safe and responsible to offer those classes inside, we will do that.”

Combs added that the SilverSneakers Yoga classes inside were capped at 70 individuals for safety reasons to have ample space in the designated workout area before the shutdown.

“That now would be frowned upon because we can’t have that many people that close together in this day and age of COVID, so I’m not sure what this is going to look like,” she said, “but we will get those up and running in some capacity as soon we can do so safely because I know they are missing it, but they understand.”

Meanwhile, the swimming pools (lap and program pools) also opened with the implementation of Phase 2.

Amber Wooten, the aquatics director, said that swimmers have been excited to get back into the facility, which expanded last year with the addition of a L-shaped zero entry up to 7 foot in depth pool with four lanes and two slides for the kids.

A reservation system is in place for those eager to get back into the water and those who need the pool for therapy.

With orange cones blocking the main entrance, the new entrance to the indoor pool area is on the far left side of the building.

To the right of the front doors is the the parking lot area that has become the home of the outdoor exercise area.

“There’s something unique and special about working out outdoors in the fresh air, but not in a forced way like this,” Combs said. “Of course, we have the elements to deal with. If it gets above 90 degrees, we feel like we need to cancel class. And then there’s the rain, there are days when the weather can change on a dime. It’s interesting in those respects. But there’s the benefit of looking up at the blue sky when they’re laying down to stretch out.”

And perhaps, getting a tan, too.