All it used to take to go to the gym before COVID-19 was a pair of tennis shoes and a pinch of motivation. After gyms reopened Monday, gymgoers find themselves facing new limitations.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order to reopen the state economy allows gyms and fitness centers to welcome back members, but these facilities are required to limit their capacity to 50 percent and ensure social distancing.
The Florida Department of Business and Regulation’s list of mandatory safety measures also requires gyms to offer Environmental Protection Agency approved disinfectants and encourages staff and gym members to clean throughout the day. If any member of the staff shows symptoms, they are required to be sent home.
The order follows the U.S. government’s “Opening Up America Again” plan, which is a three-phased approach to stimulate the economy.
Gainesville Health & Fitness
After a monthlong closure, Gainesville Health & Fitness locations welcomed members back Monday, owner Joe Cirulli said.
“We started preparing for this before we ever closed down,” Cirulli said. He said and his team began to investigate how other industries, such as hospitals and airlines, sanitized their businesses.
Through his research, Cirulli said he incorporated new technologies into his three gyms to ensure maximum safety. Inspired by hospitals, he placed NanoSeptic door handles, which use light and microscopic crystals to oxidize contaminants 24 hours a day, on all doors. He installed ultraviolet lights on fans and air conditioning vents because some scientists say they have the capability to hinder the reproduction of airborne pathogens, such as COVID-19.
Cirulli also told The Alligator he purchased four 55-gallon drums of electrostatic cleaning solution to clean workout machines. While the solution is meant to kill germs for up to 28 days, Cirulli said his team sprays the machines every 10 days for extra precaution.
The main gym, located on 4820 W. Newberry Road, is usually open 24 hours a day, but will only operate from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends during the first two weeks of reopening, according to its website.
The Gainesville Health & Fitness Women’s Center, located on 2441 NW 43rd St., reserved 9 a.m. to noon for older members. However, normal operations resume from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.
Staff members wear masks, but gymgoers aren’t required to, he said. According to Alachua County’s emergency order, masks aren’t required in gyms as long social distancing is enforced.
Cirulli said social distancing is required, and all machines are placed at least 6 feet apart. In group fitness classes, participants stand 8 to 10 feet apart.
“I have great members,” he said. “They thank us all the time because we didn’t delay at all and opened as soon as we got the word. Like I said, we've been preparing for it forever.”
Madison Johnstone, a 20-year-old UF biology and health sciences junior and workout enthusiast, restarted her typical workout routine at Gainesville Health & Fitness Monday.
Johnstone said she felt safe in the gym and noticed an increase in hand sanitizing and gym wipe stations. She told The Alligator that staff members were all wearing masks and cleaning throughout her workout.
For Johnstone, returning to the gym was a step, or a jog on the treadmill, toward normality.
“I feel like I have more of a routine again and continue the healthy lifestyle that I love,” she said. “It has also made me feel less socially isolated, as I have been able to see my gym friends even though we are respecting each other’s distance.”
Peak Strength and Fitness
Keith Carodine, owner of Peak Strength and Fitness, located on 1947 N. Main St., had kept his gym’s doors closed since March and moved all training and group sessions to Zoom.
The gym began offering one-on-one, by-appointment-only training sessions Monday, Carodine said. He also mentioned that every piece of equipment was thoroughly cleaned and both gymgoers and trainers are expected to sanitize.
“When people walk in, we have them wash their hands, and we don't allow them to put any equipment back until it is washed and sanitized,” he said.
Staff members wear masks and gloves, and some clients have also done the same, Carodine said.
Peak doesn’t plan to host indoor group training sessions until June, and classes will be limited to less than 50 percent capacity. Carodine said his classes are usually small, so only five to eight clients will be present in the limited sessions.
“We're going to have a very strict enrollment cap in order to maintain the social distance, and we will be counting people,” Carodine said. “And we've already got the building marked off where people will be when they come in for a group session.”
However, he said this reopening will not be permanent if social distancing isn’t strictly followed.
“If people are not going to follow directions, we're going to go, ‘Hey folks, we're back to strictly online,’ period,” he said.
Amy Spence, a 31-year-old Gainesville resident and a member of Peak since February, has taken the online circuit training classes three times a week during the times she would usually attend in person. She said the classes have helped with her mental health in uncertain times.
“Being stuck inside with no end in sight is tough to cope with, but having regular exercise where you can interact with familiar people and get those great endorphins helps a lot,” Spence said. “Having a scheduled event helps keep track of the days.”
Spence said that she misses the interaction with others at the gym and the energy and acceptance the Peak community brings to every workout.
“They care not just about giving you a great workout, but about adjusting it to your level without making you feel singled out,” she said. “What I miss most is the human interaction, the energy of people putting in a hard workout and the ability to really challenge myself.”
Happy Kiss Pole Fitness
Like other fitness centers, Happy Kiss Pole Fitness closed in March. However, it hasn’t reopened its doors, owner Johanna Monserratte said.
Happy Kiss has offered at least one online class a day from Monday through Saturday, Monserratte said. While some members may not have equipment to perform pole routines from home, dance and flexibility classes that require little to no equipment have also been offered.
Anne Saville, a former member and newly hired instructor at Happy Kiss, has been teaching an online strength-building class every Saturday. She had never taught fitness classes over Zoom before, but was pleased by members’ reactions.
“The online class helps to keep everyone active and motivated to keep moving and dancing,” she said. “It provides really supportive and positive interactions with the really wonderful humans who are part of the Happy Kiss community.”
While online classes have fostered positive interactions throughout the closure, Saville said she looks toward the future and reopening with excitement.
“Happy Kiss is a place to let go of the outside world and feel empowered, and we could all use that type of energy right now,” she said. “When we return to the studio, it will definitely be a beacon of light for our members.”
Monserratte hopes to reopen in June with limited hours. Before closing, Happy Kiss typically offered three to four back-to-back classes a day. She now plans to schedule a class a day to provide her staff time to clean.
She added that cleaning procedures would include disinfecting commonly touched items, such as doorknobs and keypads sign-in computers, every time they’re used.
Decisions about mask requirements have yet to be made, Monserratte said. She said the gym is considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, as well as state and local laws.
While Monserratte is confident social distancing will be possible in her fitness center, she foresees emotional challenges.
“Once you are back in the studio, I think it'll help you feel connected,” she said. “My studio is very much about community, but it might also be a little bittersweet to be able to see each other but not really touch each other.”