In March of this year, the fitness world, along with every other industry on the planet, was struck with a seismic blow the likes of which it had never before encountered. As the world went into hibernation, gyms and fitness centers closed their doors. Millions of gym members were forced to train at home as commercial squat racks and ellipticals sat gathering dust.
But now, two months down the track, there are signs that the hibernation is ending – at least in some states in the US and countries around the world. In the United States, each governor has the authority to time the re-opening of businesses in his or her state. A number of them are gearing up to do just that.
As a gym manager, you need to be fully prepared for the greenlight. In this article, we provide you with the essential knowledge to get your facility ready for the general public in the Covid-19 environment.
Table of Contents
- 1. When can you reopen your gym?
- 2. Will Members Return?
- 3. Preparing to Reopen
- 4. Precautionary Measures During Reopening
- 5. Gold’s Gym Case Study
- 6. Bonus Tips
- 7. Conclusion
1. When can you reopen your gym?
In America, with fifty different states working of different timelines, the answer to the question of when your gym can re-open depends what or where you are located.
Some states, such as Tennessee, have allowed gyms to be open as of May 1st. Of course, the landscape is changing daily, so keep a close eye on announcements emanating from the office of the Governor of your state. You can also get an overview of the opening up status of each state on the New York Times website.
For up-to-date information regarding the gym opening and closing situation around the world, check out this guide from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).
2. Will Members Return?
Secondary to the question of when your gym can re-open is whether your members will feel safe about coming back. An expected consequence of the gym shutdown has been a huge increase in the purchasing of home fitness equipment. Of course, all of this purchasing has been taking place online, with the result that the vast majority of online home fitness retailers are now out of stock. This raises the question as to whether people will decide to stay with their new at home fitness habit rather than returning to the gym. That is just one of the many unanswerable questions in this new pandemic environment.
Of course, gyms aren’t the only businesses that have been forced to close down. So have commercial gym equipment manufacturers. That means that commercial equipment is also in short supply.
As a gym owner, you need to make it as inviting as possible for your members to come back. If you decide that part of your inducement to get members back to your gym should include providing new fitness equipment and accessories, be sure to order early to ensure that you are not disappointed. Make sure, too, that you are ordering from a reputable commercial gym equipment manufacturer.
Despite the massive uptake in the purchase of home fitness equipment, all the indications are that the vast majority of fitness center are chomping at the bit to get back on the gym floor. Recently, Gold’s Gym conducted a member survey on intentions to come back as soon as the gym opened its doors. Nearly 90% of them said they would be back straight away.
That’s hardly surprising. Going to the gym has become habitual for millions of people. It is part of their established routine. Not doing it makes them feel incomplete, unfulfilled and unhealthy. That’s all great news for gym owners.
However, the fact that you are legally allowed to open your gym, doesn’t automatically mean that you should do so immediately. Of course, it’s only natural that you want to get operational as quickly as you can. But, if you rush to open without fully preparing for the Covid-19 environment, you may do yourself more harm than good. Many of your members are going to be extremely wary about returning to a public environment. Unless you can provide them with absolute confidence that they are safe when they visit your establishment, you are likely to lose them for good!
3. Preparing to Reopen
The key to being able to move as quickly as possible to get your doors open when you get the green light is to be proactive in preparing for that time. Here are 6 key steps you can take right now:
3.1 Hand Sanitizer
Over the last couple of months, we have all become accustomed to using hand sanitizer whenever we enter a commercial premise. As a fitness center manager, it is vital that you ensure a plentiful supply for both your staff and your members. Running out would be a disaster for your image. Members will expect to have hand sanitizer on entry and exit. If they don’t find it because you are temporarily out of stock, they will probably turn around and leave.
Our analysis of Amazon’s sales, price, quality and capacity leads us to recommend the following brands (note: we are not an affiliate on these sales – these are genuinely the best hand sanitizers we could find online!):
Natural Concepts Hand Sanitizer
Art Naturals Alcohol Sanitizer
Lubrication Specialties Hand Sanitizer
Whether or not your members are required to wear a mask when working out will be determined by the regulations imposed in the country or state where you live. Even if there is not a requirement to do so, however, many of your members will prefer wear one. As the gym owner, you also have the right to stipulate whether member must wear a mask. There is currently an ongoing debate as to the benefits and drawbacks of mask wearing.
Even if you decide not to stipulate that members must wear a mask, you should still have a supply of masks on hand for members who request one.
3.3 Disinfectant to Clean Equipment
In the pre-COVID world, gyms would rely on members to clean equipment after use. That is not going to cut it anymore. Your best strategy will be to have a dedicated staff member to vigorously clean all equipment on a regular schedule. In fact, your team member should give each piece of cardio equipment a through clean after every use. Resistance training equipment can be cleaned on an hourly basis by a staff member. In addition, members should also be required to clean equipment after use with disinfectant and wipes that are liberally distributed around the gym. Have plenty of disinfectant and wipe stations around the gym so that members don’t have to queue up.
Be sure to purchase a disinfectant product that is able to kill the coronavirus. You can find a list of available proven products on the EPA website.
Do not use reusable towels to clean any areas of the gym!
What About UV Light?
A number of gym owners have experimented with UV lights to kill COVID-19 germs. For more information on the pros and cons of UV light in this regard, check out this Los Angeles Time article. If you do choose to use UV light be aware that they should only be used when there are no humans in the vicinity and the facility may be well ventilated after use.
3.4 Exemption Agreement
The pandemic environment has presented risks to all of us. As a business owner, you need to mitigate the risk to your business as much as possible. An important way to do that is to have your members sign an exemption agreement.
Anyone who enters your facility should sign an exemption agreement acknowledging the inherent risks of using the equipment. This agreement needs to remind your members that you cannot guarantee their absolute safety.
You will already have an exemption agreement that members signed upon joining your gym. However, that will not be sufficient for the current environment. That is why you should consult your lawyer to get the agreement updated. At the same time, have him or her check over your membership terms or contract to see whether they, too, need to be updated.
Check out this sample exemption agreement:
Assumption of the Risk and Waiver of Liability Relating to Coronavirus/COVID-19
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has been declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization. COVID-19 is extremely contagious and is believed to spread mainly from person-to-person contact. As a result, federal, state, and local governments and federal and state health agencies recommend social distancing and have, in many locations, prohibited the congregation of groups of people.
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco (“the Club”) has put in place preventative measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19; however, the Club cannot guarantee that you or your child(ren) will not become infected with COVID-19. Further, attending the Club could increase your risk and your child(ren)’s risk of contracting COVID-19.
By signing this agreement, I acknowledge the contagious nature of COVID-19 and voluntarily assume the risk that my child(ren) and I may be exposed to or infected by COVID-19 by attending the Club and that such exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability, and death. I understand that the risk of becoming exposed to or infected by COVID-19 at the Club may result from the actions, omissions, or negligence of myself and others, including, but not limited to, Club employees, volunteers, and program participants and their families.
I voluntarily agree to assume all of the foregoing risks and accept sole responsibility for any injury to my child(ren) or myself (including, but not limited to, personal injury, disability, and death), illness, damage, loss, claim, liability, or expense, of any kind, that I or my child(ren) may experience or incur in connection with my child(ren)’s attendance at the Club or participation in Club programming (“Claims”). On my behalf, and on behalf of my children, I hereby release, covenant not to sue, discharge, and hold harmless the Club, its employees, agents, and representatives, of and from the Claims, including all liabilities, claims, actions, damages, costs or expenses of any kind arising out of or relating thereto. I understand and agree that this release includes any Claims based on the actions, omissions, or negligence of the Club, its employees, agents, and representatives, whether a COVID-19 infection occurs before, during, or after participation in any Club program.
I HAVE READ THE FOREGOING WAIVER AND RELEASE OF LIABILITY AND VOLUNTARILY EXECUTED THIS DOCUMENT WITH FULL KNOWLEDGE OF ITS CONTENT.
Print Name: _____________________________
3.5 Staff Training
Your first consideration needs to be around staff numbers. You will need to balance the fact that there will be fewer members on the gym floor at any one time with the increased need to be cleaning. The closure will have dramatically affected your bottom line, but the last thing you should do is to skimp on staff numbers. Your members need to feel, not only that they are being looked after, but that they are being pampered and over protected. That is how you will help them to feel comfortable about coming back.
Your staff members will also need to be trained in accordance with the new working environment. This may include:
- All staff members wearing masks at all times. This will deliver a huge message to your members that you are taking the pandemic situation seriously. Give your staff members plenty of time to get used to wearing a mask before you reopen.
- Practicing keeping an appropriate social distance with members and with each other.
- Providing training on how to identify the symptoms of COVID-19.
- Providing training on proper hand washing procedures.
Ideally you should arrange for all staff members to have a COVID-19 test before returning to work. At a minimum you should require any staff members with even the slightest sniffle to stay at home. They should definitely be required to have a COVID-19 test and show you a clearance certificate before returning to work.
3.6 Crisis Plan for Possible COVID-19 Case
You need to have a COVID-19 case management plan. If a person enters the facility who has the virus, you will need to close the facility and undertake thorough cleaning that is in accord with the Center for Disease Control stipulations.
4. Precautionary Measures During Reopening
Having completed your basic pre-opening prep, you need to plan for the challenges that you’ll be faced with once the members start rolling back in.
4.1 Temperature Checks
Whether or not you require members to undergo a temperature check before entering your gym is probably going to be at your discretion. We recommend doing so as it is a quick screening measure which can quickly identify people who are at risk. A temperature of 37.3 ° C and above is considered a dangerous value.
Undertaking temperature checks is yet another measure that will instill confidence in your members that you are doing everything practicable to keep them safe.
If you do decide to check member temperatures, you should have one staff member situated at the front desk who is designated to do the job.
4.2 Facility Capacity & Social Distance
- Facility Capacity
Social distancing will require that you limit the number of members on the gym floor. You will want to maintain a six-foot distance between members. That will require you to keep the number of people in each part of the gym to about 50% of maximum capacity.
Rather than having to turn members away, you need to think about how you will manage the flow of members. Some gyms have required members to book in their workouts and to limit them to an hour maximum. If you choose to go down this route you will want to look into an app that will streamline the process.
You should also rearrange your equipment to ensure that your members are not directly facing one another when they are working out. All machines should be kept six feet apart. This will reduce the possibility of the spread of infection through droplets. You should also ensure that there is constant ventilation flowing through your establishment.
In this new environment, you should not permit casuals or walk-ins to use your facilities.
- Distance Between People
The social distancing guidelines are that people stay six feet away from others at all times. This is challenging in the gym, especially in the free weights area. We suggest that you tape out six-foot squares on the free weights gym floor to provide each member with a designated training space.
When it comes to the locker rooms, you should have a limit as to the number of members who can use these facilities at any one time. Make sure that you have a system to regulate compliance.
4.3 Group Class & Personal Training
- Group Training
Group classes are traditionally the most cramped part of any gym’s operation. Modifying them for a contactless environment is a real challenge. You will want to reduce class sizes by at least 50%. Reducing the number of classes and even planning for outdoor classes will be beneficial. Mark off six-foot areas for class participants to stay within. It is also a good idea to modify classes so that members are using less equipment and doing more plyometric exercises. This will have the dual effect of reducing cleaning needs and making the session as contactless as possible.
- Personal Training
Personal training requires close contact, which is a major challenge in this environment. As a result, many gyms have closed down their personal training services. It is possible to carry out personal training workouts while complying with the six-foot social distancing requirements. We suggest that, if you are considering this option, you survey your members to see whether they are happy with this option. If you do choose to go ahead with personal training, both the trainer and the trainee should wear a mask.
Purchasing your disinfectant and other sanitation equipment are just the start of implementing an effective COVID-19 plan. In order to devise a comprehensive plan, you need to consider the following questions:
- What are local council waste removal protocols?
- Will disposable or permanent Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) be used by staff members?
- Do I need to purchase any additional cleaning materials (buckets, sponges, mops, etc.)?
- Where are the high traffic hot spots in the gym? What plan do I have to clean them more regularly than other areas?
- Do I have dedicated cleaning staff for each area? What is the frequency of the cleaning schedule?
- Do I need to set up additional disinfectant / wipe stations around the gym?
- What is the cleaning protocol for group classes? Have I made changes to reduce the use of equipment in these classes?
- How much time has been dedicated to the actual cleaning process?
- Have you got a method to report your cleaning times to members (white boards in key areas)?
- Will you be employing the services of professional cleaners?
- What protocols will you put in place to ensure member compliance?
- Have you identified the hard to clean areas of the gym that are potential high traffic areas? Are you going to shut off access to such communal areas as saunas, spa pools and steam-rooms?
#1 If you have been operating a 24-hour establishment, you should change to allow at least six hours closure per day for thorough cleaning when members are not present.
#2 Ensure that management has a daily cleaning checklist that includes every piece of equipment and that it is checked off regularly.
#3 Space out group classes to allow plenty of time for cleaning between sessions.
#4 Disinfect all high traffic areas every night. Use a 75% alcohol disinfectant. As this is a flammable liquid, ensure that the power is switched off before the disinfectant process begins.
5. Gold’s Gym Case Study
Gold’s Gym is the most iconic fitness facility in the world. It has more than 700 gym franchises worldwide. Their COVID-19 management plan provides an example of a re-opening strategy that works for them.
Gold’s follow a 3-Stage reopening strategy:
- Reopening of strength training and cardio areas.
- Capacity strictly limited.
- Use of machines is alternated so that one can be cleaned while the other is being used.
- Social distancing stations are marked out.
- Group classes are added.
- Classes are capped at 50% of their maximum capacity.
- Kid’s Clubs are opened with appropriate social distancing
- Full operations resume.
Here are the tangible steps that Gold’s have implemented to make their reopening strategy work.
- Gold’s promote a loyalty pledge to their members. Here’s how it reads . . .“Our focus is and always will be on our members around the world, and we look forward to welcoming them back as soon as it is safe for our members, team members and communities. Gold’s Gym has been the world’s trusted fitness authority for more than 50 years, and we’re absolutely not going anywhere.”
- Gold’s gyms worldwide have frozen memberships so that members are not paying when the gym is inoperable. Members are also able to easily transfer membership between locations.
- Gold’s are committed to delivering for their employees in terms of wages, healthcare and other benefits. They will strive to bring back any staff who have been on unpaid leave as the gyms return to full functionality.
- Gold’s have adjusted their opening hours as follows: 5am-10pm Monday-Friday, 7am-7pm Saturday and Sunday; The gyms close daily between 1pm and 2pm for thorough cleaning.
- The member code of conduct has been updated to incorporate social distancing guidelines and cleaning standards for members.
- Strength and cardio machine usage are staggered.
- All Gold’s staff must wear gloves and masks at all times.
- Gold’s continue to offer a wide range of online training options for their members.
- Gold’s recommends but does not require members to wear face masks.
- Six-foot social distancing is required by both members and staff.
- Any equipment that is not able to be adjusted to accommodate for social distancing must be cordoned off.
- Members must use hand sanitizer on entry and exit.
- Members are required to sanitize equipment after use.
- All members are screened by way of a questionnaire on entry.
- No causal entry is permitted until further notice.
6. Bonus Tips
6.1 Send Your Members an Email (Template Attached)
Check below email template and edit your own one to welcome your members back:
WOHOOOO!!!! We are back in action!!
We are super excited to announce that our doors will be re-opening on Thursday 14th May!
There will be some changes to our new ‘normal’ to ensure that everyone is kept safe and healthy, as well as some operational changes to our opening hours.
These measures include extra hygiene and safety precautions including compulsory hand sanitising stations at the gym entrance, extra cleaning of surfaces and equipment, deep cleaning AM and PM and social distancing. We also ask that you all please wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face and stay home if you are sick. You MUST bring a towel with you and swipe in upon entry, as well as sanitise EVERY piece of equipment that you use, this includes DBs, KBs, Matts, foam rollers, etc – these measures will be strict, but it is to keep everyone safe and well.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to provide you with a water refill station due to the risk of cross-contamination – we recommend that you bring your own water bottle. We will also have water available for purchase.
There will also be some changes to our staffed hours. Our new staffed hours will be;
- Monday – Thursday: 9am – 12pm / 2pm – 7pm
- Friday: 9am – 12pm / 2pm – 6pm
- Saturday: 9am – 12pm
All members will continue to have 24-hour access, but please note we WILL be monitoring this to ensure that everyone follows these new rules – please follow the rules!!! So that we can continue to operate 24 hours and keep our members safe.
All members who were active before the lockdown began will have their access cards re-activated on Thursday 14th May and gym membership payments will also begin again on this date.
If you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact us!
We are SO EXCITED to see you all again and help you get back to your health and fitness goals, it’s been far too long! And we want to thank you for your continued support during these times. Every message of support that we have received has meant so much, and helped us to keep staying positive!
See you soon!!!!!
6.2 Prepare Appropriate Signage
It is important to provide clear, prominent signage for your members. You should display signs at the front desk as well as in the locker rooms. You should also liberally display signs throughout the gym with reminders for members about cleaning and social distancing.
Here are 10 signs that we suggest you have displayed around your facility:
6.3 Front Desk
6.4 Public Areas
6.5 Hand Washing Area
6.6 Staff Room
The guidelines that we have covered off in this article will provide you with a path forward as you phase in the reopening of your gym. As time passes and your members become more comfortable with their renewed routine, you will be able to gradually normalize your operation. Within time, your gym will be back to its old pre-COVID self.
Still got questions about your reopening strategy?
Comment below and we will come back to you soon!
- Coronavirus & Gyms: An Urgent Case-study of World Top 10 Gyms
- Ultimate Guide to Disinfecting Your Fitness Center Against COVID-19