Gyms and fitness studios are opening up around the country, but some remain closed indefinitely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The ones that are open are required to follow strict guidelines put into place by health and local authorities, like limiting capacity, doing temperature checks at the door and enforcing social distancing rules to curb COVID-19 spread. Even then, some people still worry about safety in gyms and fitness studios in the wake of a pandemic.
In New York City, gyms were recently given the green-light to reopen, but fitness studios were not. For many people, and studio owners, this raised the question: are fitness studios any less safe than gyms, even if they can uphold the same safety measures and safety precautions?
“With the information we have been given so far, and after seeing what gyms and studios have been able to do in other parts of the country, I feel confident in our ability to stay on top of best practices to protect everyone,” Katia Pryce, founder and CEO of DanceBody, a fitness studio based in New York City says.
Pryce closed the doors of her three NYC fitness studios in March, and as a result of COVID-19, the Brooklyn studio closed permanently. Pryce is part of the Boutique Fitness Alliance, which is a group of fitness studios in NYC who are suing NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio for not allowing studios to open while gyms can. The alliance argues that studios can follow the same precautions and safety guidelines as gyms, so they should be able to open too. De Blasio argues that group fitness classes pose a higher risk than gyms, and the CDC does recommend limiting indoor group activities.
To shed more light on the confusing, and personal decision to work out at a gym or fitness studio, I talked to Atrium Health infectious disease expert Dr. Katie Passaretti, to share her insight and advice below.
Are fitness studios and group classes riskier than going to a gym?
This is not a simple question to answer because safety varies based on many factors, and it’s especially specific to the COVID-19 rates in any given city or community. Going to a gym or studio is inherently riskier in a community where rates are high versus one where the transmission rates are lower.
Dr. Passaretti is most concerned about indoor group exercise classes that are cardio-based or intense and warrant heavy breathing. “There’s more potential for respiratory droplets out in the environment. In those spaces [it’s helpful to] make sure the class occupancy is low enough that you can keep with that distancing,” Dr. Passaretti says.
Another thing to keep in mind about group classes at fitness studios is the size of the studio and class. Most studios are smaller than traditional gym spaces, which means that the classes will need to be much smaller to allow for proper social distancing.
When it comes to equipment, Dr. Passeratti stresses the importance of gyms and studios to stay on top of cleanings, and provide plenty of opportunities for people to use cleaning supplies, wipe down their equipment, and use hand sanitizer.
Pryce brought up the point that one advantage studios have is that many are able to operate classes without equipment. “Many studios have fewer touch points than gyms. In theory, you could walk in, work out and leave without touching a thing,” she says.
Safety in a gym or a studio relies on several different factors, and one of the main factors is how widespread the virus is or how many positive cases there are per capita in your community during the time you work out. Beyond that, it’s important to evaluate how seriously any gym or studio is taking the virus before you go to a class. This means limiting capacity, doing temperature checks, enforcing masks, social distancing and even redesigning the workout space itself and adding in more air filtration systems.
How to stay safe at the gym or studio
For both group or indoor gym workouts, Dr. Passeratti recommends wearing a mask. “I know it’s not super comfortable to mask, especially during cardio. But if you do choose to work out inside, I feel that it’s really important to wear a mask at this point in time. It’s important to find a mask that you can tolerate during activity that works best for you,” Dr. Passaretti says.
Besides maintaining social distance and practicing good hand hygiene, you should also check in with your studio or gym to ensure that they are taking safety precautions seriously and doing what they can to keep clients safe. Here are some things to look for and questions to ask staff before your visit.
- Is the gym or studio limiting capacity? By how much?
- Is social distancing enforced and how so?
- Is there a policy regarding clients wearing masks?
- How is the studio handling sanitation and increased cleaning?
- Do staff and clients get their temperatures checked before entering?
- Is there a health questionnaire to fill out?
- Are they enforcing sign-ins and checkouts to track people?
- Can you bring your own equipment with you to work out?
- Has the gym or studio installed air filtration systems or put in other measures to improve air flow? Does the air feel stagnant?
All of these questions can give you a better sense of how seriously the gym or studio is considering the safety of clients. Some places will list these measures on their social media or website, but if you can’t find the information, it’s a good idea to ask first so you will feel more comfortable with your decision.
It’s important to understand that going to a gym, fitness studio or participating in any activity that puts you in proximity to others inherently comes with risk. “We’re in a suboptimal situation no matter which way you decide. It’s really a personal decision to figure out what is best for your health. I don’t want to encourage group gatherings, but I do think there’s a balance and a downside to not being able to exercise regularly, both mentally and physically,” Dr. Passaretti says.
If you don’t feel safe at a studio or gym, she encourages you to find other ways to exercise like by taking advantage of online workouts or purchasing equipment for your home. If you do go to a gym or studio, keep in mind that your actions affect others and ultimately the trajectory of if and for how long gyms and fitness studios will be allowed to operate for the foreseeable future.
“It’s really important that people that choose to [work out at gyms] adhere to the safety protocols in place. If it’s not a group effort, it’s going to fall apart quickly,” Dr. Passaretti says.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.