For most of us, the gym is our sanctuary; our happy place. Our daily training session is sacrosanct and is usually not missed for any reason.
However, the times we currently live in are anything but usual. As the COVID-19 infection rate continues to rise across the globe, with local transmission now a reality, the government has implemented steps to contain the spread through social distancing, self isolation, medical quarantines and limiting gatherings of 100 people or more.
Weighing COVID-19 transmission risk
Given these developments, you’re probably already considering that trip to the shopping mall, or perhaps you’re even working from home to avoid the crowded office environment. But what about the gym?
There are few places where people are more tightly packed together than during peak hours at your local gym. The gym environment also compounds risk factors because they create ideal conditions for the transmission of a virus like COVID-19.
- There are lots of people working out in close proximity in a confined space without adequate ventilation.
- Everyone shares workout equipment, often without cleaning their hands before or during workouts.
- The humid environment means a virus can often remain active on surfaces for extended periods of time.
Big gym chains bolster hygiene efforts
Given the risks, South Africa’s two biggest gym chains have committed to improving hygiene practices in an attempt to help contain the spread of the virus, but at this stage both companies plan to remain open for business and are fully operational.
The country’s biggest gym chain, Virgin Active has affirmed that the company is committed to bolstering their hygiene controls, and have implemented stringent measures. These include:
- Making hand sanitiser available to all its members on entry.
- Card self-scanning for members on entry to avoid person-to-person contact.
- Providing disinfectant spray and paper towels for wiping down equipment before and after use.
- Stringent cleaning protocols that include the use of hospital-grade cleaning products.
- Water fountains have been closed so members must fill their water bottle at home or the office.
Virgin Active uses an outsourced cleaning company called Oryx, which is also contracted to numerous hospitals, and use hospital-grade cleaning products that have highly effective anti-viral properties. These products last up to 8 hours on a surface. Through Oryx, Virgin Active has increased the size of their cleaning teams and cleaning frequency, focusing particularly on high-touch areas.
Virgin Active has also subsequently announced plans to halve the size of group exercise classes to encourage social distancing, and will soon offer online workouts. All group exercise spaces will need to be pre-booked online or via the club’s app.
With hygiene top of mind, the gym chain has also reformatted classes like Grid Training, H.E.A.T and Boxing so that members won’t have to share cardio equipment or kit.
Gyms have also removed boxing pads, gloves, Yoga belts, Suspension Yoga hammocks, and resistance bands. Suspension Yoga and Active Band classes have also been temporarily suspended for hygiene reasons.
Class times may be reduced to allow specialist cleaning teams to clean studios and the equipment before the next class starts.
However, the gym’s Club V kids facility will be closed from Thursday, with all memberships automatically frozen in line with the government-mandated school closures.
Planet Fitness has also implemented measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 at training facilities around the country. While the club confirmed that it already follows stringent hygiene measures in all its clubs to protect its members, it is has stepped up efforts, such as:
- Having more staff on the floor to sanitise equipment throughout the day, particularly after use.
- Providing 60% alcohol-based hand sanitiser and disinfectant products.
- Opening earlier and closing for a period at midday to sanitise and deep-clean equipment.
Members must do their part to contain COVID-19
Should you decide to stick with your weekly gym sessions, be sensible and implement personal hygiene practices to protect yourself and, potentially, other members from infection.
The non-negotiables for a visit to the gym in the time of coronavirus include:
- Do NOT go to gym if you feel sick or present with flu-like symptoms.
- Wash your hands on arrival and after your workout. Wash them again when you get home.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Do not touch your face during your workout.
- Avoid direct contact with other gym members – no hand shakes or high-fives.
- Use the disinfectant spray and paper towels to wipe down equipment before and after use.
- Use two towels – one to wipe sweat from your face and the other to wipe down equipment before and after use (ideally after spraying with disinfectant).
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.