In the days since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of Texas Health fitness centers and other gyms, a lot of people may have had mixed feelings about working out at home. But when gyms and fitness clubs opened again, many may have also had mixed feelings about returning to the gym as well.
As far as home workouts go, positives include being able to exercise whenever the mood strikes. You can pause workout videos whenever you’d like and resume them. Also, when you workout at home, any outfit can be a workout outfit (we’re looking at you pajamas).
But there are also strong positives about being in the gym. You’re around people, for one thing, which is pretty welcoming during these months of staying home. You have all sorts of equipment to utilize. And just putting your old workout clothes on again may feel exhilarating — like life is somewhat back to normal again.
Plus, if you have any questions on your form or are seeking advice about what type of workout or weight-lifting would be best for you, experts are on hand to help.
On the other hand, these uncertain times do put a damper on the desire to return to a fitness studio — putting most of us, at any given moment, on a teeter-totter of emotions.
“I have a small gym set up in my house,” says Adam O’Brien, director of personal training for FX Well, the managing entity of Texas Health fitness centers. “But I miss being able to use equipment at the gym that I’m accustomed to using. I also miss the environment of working and working out with coworkers and interacting with gym members, which is hard.”
Long before the legal reopening of gyms, Texas Health had been making preparations for how they planned to open doors of the Texas Health fitness centers — and most importantly, how to open them safely.
“I think everybody is definitely a little cautious about going back into a gym,” O’Brien says, “what with all that sweating and breathing heavily around each other in an enclosed environment.”
Texas Health understands why people feel that way. And thus, O’Brien says, they’re doing all they can “to go above and beyond safety recommendations.”
That means deep cleaning each facility — floors, bathrooms, showers, workout areas — using an EPA-approved sanitizing cleaning solution. Additionally, equipment is sanitized as well as what O’Brien calls “major high-touch” points: handrails on treadmills and rowers; dumbbells; water fountain buttons, locker room doors and lockers, doorknobs.
“We have a big initiative to educate members on how often we’re cleaning and what we’re doing,” O’Brien says.
The fitness centers are also limiting capacity to 50 percent to ensure safe distancing. To aid in that effort, many cardio and weight machines have been moved to allow sufficient space between them, but others — like treadmills and ellipticals, which can weigh close to 1,000 pounds — will remain where they are. The difference, though, is that some machines are blocked off so members won’t be close to each other as they work out.
As far as hours of operation and classes go, O’Brien says all locations are open with limited hours specific to that location and will also have a limited class schedule and size.
Additionally, staff must be trained on new hygiene protocols and all employees will be extensively screened prior to starting their workday.
To further ensure safety, when members come in the door, they’ll be required to undergo a wellness screening and temperature check along with being asked to wear a mask at all times.
O’Brien offers these further safety precautions for members:
Bring your own towel. Towel service is currently unavailable.
Bring a mask. Masks must be worn at all times.
Wear long sleeves, long pants and even a hat. The less skin exposed, the better, he says. “It’s an extra layer of protection.”
Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.
Disinfect. Use a new disinfectant wipe to clean the equipment surface before and after use.
Avoid lifting gloves. Or other personal items that cannot be washed in hot water after each use.
Bring your own water bottle. All water fountains are closed, but bottled water is available for purchase.
Plan to shower at home. Locker rooms and showers are currently closed.
Observe extra hygiene in the restrooms. After washing your hands, use a paper towel to turn off the water, then to dry your hands and to open the door.
Lift smart. Avoid lifting weights requiring a “spotter”
Even after all these precautions, O’Brien says, some members — for a variety of reasons — still may not be ready to return to a brick-and-mortar facility. For them, Texas Health offers virtual memberships which include educational webinars, live group fitness classes, health and wellness blogs, and educational videos.
For those who do come back, O’Brien says, Texas Health understands that nothing is totally foolproof.
“If someone in one of our facilities were to test positive,” he says, “we’d do contact tracing in the gym to see when that person was there and in what area of the gym. We’d definitely shut it down and clean it again. We’d be in contact with the health department.
“We have to be transparent,” he says, “to be honest and have integrity.”
By the same token, members and employees are being asked to be as proactive as possible. “If you don’t feel well or you don’t feel safe, stay home,” he says. “People have personal responsibility.”
If you still have mixed feelings about heading to the gym any time soon, the Texas Health fitness centers will still be offering free access to plans and videos via the FX Well app for all current gym members, plus many of the centers are regularly posting workout videos and tips on their social media feeds. You can also follow our series of at-home workout posts to get you through this time.