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Gyms are reopening. Here’s what to look for at yours.

Navigating COVID: Back to life

By Page Leggett
Novant Health

At the top of the list of things COVID-19 made us realize we took for granted: gyms.

People miss their workout routine. People miss routine, period.

After months of being closed, gyms will be allowed to open at 30% capacity beginning Sept. 4, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper has announced. Playgrounds also will open.

The loosening of restrictions isn’t the state’s final Phase 3 plan to reopen everything. The governor called it ‘Safer At Home Phase 2.5.’

Now that gyms will be operating, should you rush back? Here’s advice from Dr. Ashley Perrott, a family physician at Novant Health.

What new precautions should I consider with gyms reopening?

You should take into consideration your personal health, your family’s health and the risk of potentially picking up the virus. Determine how much are you putting yourself in harm’s way. And if you do return to the gym, don’t go if you’re sick and put other people in danger.

What questions should you ask gym management?  

First, you should know that gyms are going to look different when they open back up. The number of people allowed in at any one time will be limited. You may need to reserve a time slot.

Before you go back, you should find out what it means for your gym to reopen. Are they offering group classes? How often are they cleaning? What products are they using? Are there stations with hand sanitizer? How many? Have they moved the equipment to allow people to be more than 6 feet apart from each other or roped off every other piece of equipment?

Gyms should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance on cleaning and disinfecting, and their members ought to verify they are. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association offers solid guidance for gyms in the age of COVID.

What precautions should you take?

Be responsible: Avoid the gym if you’re not feeling well. Follow social distancing rules.

Take your own water bottle. Gyms may even have gotten rid of water fountains. Bring your own towel and hand sanitizer. We shouldn’t be touching our faces anyway, but definitely not when you’re hot and sweaty.

People in high-risk groups for COVID-19, such as those 65 and older and those with compromised immune systems, should avoid the gym for now.

Be smart about your choices, and be patient. Eventually we’ll get to a point where gyms will have more people in them, even if it doesn’t look exactly like it did before.

6 feet apart for group classes, right?

Definitely. But the first question is: Should you even be taking group classes now?

Studies have shown that respiratory droplets can travel even farther when we’re breathing heavily, as we do during and after a workout. Some researchers recommend that we double the 6 feet rule at gyms and maintain 12 feet between you and the next person.

What types of exercise can I do at home if I don’t want to return to my gym and I don’t own fancy equipment?

For cardiovascular training, walking and running are always good choices. Calisthenics and yoga are great options to increase your strength and flexibility. You may be able to swim, or play non-contact sports.

What about team sports where multiple people are handling equipment — basketball, for instance?

The CDC advises against that kind of exercise now. When there’s equipment traveling between people, such as in basketball or volleyball, it’s risky.

What about yoga?

If you choose to do yoga in a public space, bring your own mat and water bottle. But there are so many virtual options; yoga studios really led the way in pivoting from an in-person to a virtual experience. Virtual live classes are a great way to practice yoga while keeping yourself safe.

Should you wear a mask at the gym?

If you can tolerate it, yes. But most people can’t. You might be able to wear a mask for something like weight lifting, but probably not for aerobics or spin class.

What do you need to add to your gym bag when you return?

Clorox wipes if you have them.

But remember you’re going to have to put your gym bag down somewhere. Your gym should have a specific place where gym bags go, and that place should be sanitized frequently. And then, your bag will have to come home with you, and that poses a risk. You may decide not to pack one at all.

What about showering? 

Skip the gym shower for now, and shower at home.

Will you personally feel safe going to a gym once they reopen?

I’m pretty conservative. I’m going to wait until we see that the spread of the virus is slowing, and we haven’t seen that yet.

I love exercise and I recommend it for everyone. It’s a great stress reliever and helps support a healthy immune system, which is very important now. We’ll find a time in the “new normal” to return to our gyms. For me, that time isn’t here yet.