We knew this time would come, eventually. We’ve reached a point where the sentiment is turning towards opening up instead of closing down. It seems like that point is coming, but are we ready?
Financially, we’re all desperate to reopen. Functionally, there are five important issues that every facility needs to address over the next few weeks to be prepared to welcome people safely back through fitness facility doors.
Five Points to Reopen Fitness Facilities:
1- Disinfecting and Cleaning Our Fitness Facilities
The biggest concern for fitness centers right now is cleanliness. We need to make the environment as safe and clean as possible to ensure our patrons safety and make the COVID-19 virus as non-transmissive as possible. The CDC has released a complete set of general guidelines, containing most of what the news has been reporting over the past several weeks. Frequent hand washing is vital, as is disinfecting gym equipment and surfaces. Wearing protective masks and gloves, along with many other tips are widely discussed, though no one method has been proven to be 100% effective in stopping the corona virus in fitness facilities.
Professional cleaning services are starting to advertise packages to facilities so they can be disinfected and sanitized before reopening, though most haven’t taken advantage of these offers because exact opening dates are unknown. For facilities that don’t have in-house staff to handle the cleaning, professional services might be the best option. However, they can be pricey and untested. It’s best to use a trusted referral from an industry expert. Beware of promises from cleaning companies that make long-term anti-virus protection promises. With so many COVID questions unanswered, there is no one solution that’s proven effective against this virus. Some services are promoting anti-virus surface treatments or paint with antimicrobial additives as a miracle solution for long term virus resistance, but none of these methods are currently proven to be effective against COVID-19.
A reliable, reputable sanitizing service should include moving all the cardio equipment to clean under, behind, and around the equipment that is most touched (and sweated on), with great attention to disinfecting the floor. The floor is the one place that every single person in the facility “touches”, so that should be a large focus when disinfecting. Free weights, bands, balls, bars, and especially mats and accessories must be thoroughly sanitized, along with all entry point doors and frequently used surfaces.
For cleaning products, the CDC has something they call “List N”. It is a 15-page long document of chemicals approved as effective against COVID-19. This list includes various unpronounceable ingredients like “dedecylbenzenesulfonic acid”, “quarternary ammonium”, and thousands of others. Most are dilutable solvents, which are not for everyday use, but can be good when used by trained hands for deep cleaning. When planning to sanitize your fitness facility, keep in mind that many cleaners can do permanent and serious harm to fitness equipment if used improperly.
The most transmissive pieces of equipment are things made of porous materials (i.e. foam, fabric, etc.). Viral droplets and germs can easily find a home in these pieces. Some facilities are considering air spray systems to dispense disinfectant, but you’ll want to be very careful of how the chemicals could impact skin-contact for employees and patrons, or damage equipment.
2- Ongoing Sanitation Practices
Once you’ve deep cleaned your facility, how do you keep it safe for the long run? There’s no single right answer but experts seem to agree that behavior and social distancing is the largest factor in beating COVID19. Personal hygiene practices like hand washing and equipment disinfecting routines need to be mandatory. The days of using a communal cleaning spray bottle and towels to wipe down treadmills and ellipticals after a workout are gone.
As COVID-19 pervades every community, there’s massive demand for anti-bacterial wipes and companies are feeling the pinch. Most of them have taken steps to ration products so that they maintain inventory.
The supply chain bottleneck has been an issue across the board, as the materials to manufacture high-quality antibacterial fitness wipes come from the same region in China that also makes PPE. We assume that manufacturers will start looking to regionalize the supply chain in future, but that’s not going to happen soon.
As facilities start to put sanitation wipe stations in more areas and signage to encourage personal sanitation, there are still many unanswered questions on how to keep people safe and facilities open. Facility managers and owners are actively looking for ways to reassure their customers that it’s safe. Some are looking for covers for consoles, electronics and screens, planning to offer disposable gloves at the door, increasing sanitation areas and other options to combat COVID19 in fitness facilities. Fitness facilities are also learning how to safely use and handle the sanitizing products that are necessary to keep facilities healthy day-to-day.
3- Gym Layouts for Social Distancing
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve all learned that failing to follow social distancing guidelines is dangerous, potentially to a life-threatening degree. Whether you believe that social distancing helps or not, it’s what the experts are recommending. Helping your guests to feel safe in any facility requires extra space for them. Practicing social distancing will likely mean changes to the layout of your fitness facility, as the standard spacing for equipment needs to be expanded. Full group exercise classes may be a thing of the past as numbers of participants will likely need to be reduced. Machines like treadmills and ellipticals may need some extra room to keep exercisers at a safe distance from each other.
In the short term, that might mean taping off, unplugging or locking alternating pieces of equipment to ensure that guests can’t access them. In the long term, it may mean a redesign of the entire space. Some may consider creating a second space so that they can keep all of their existing equipment, but have more room for people to maintain social distance while they work out. Some are looking at creating space for more individual fitness experiences. Products like The Mirror and Echelon bikes are seeing a surge of interest from commercial facilities, as they are considering how to create smaller-space experiences to keep their guests safe.
One of the primary efforts in the commercial fitness industry has always been to encourage a sense of community among guests, yet classes of all kinds may need to be reduced, with limits on number of attendees and marked-off spaces for safe distancing. A limit may also be needed for the number of people that can use a free-weight area at the same time. There are many questions to consider as we navigate this new way of exercising while social distancing. How will weightlifting distances be enforced? How will personal training sessions work? There are countless unknowns.
4- Outdoor Options for Fitness Facilities
With more safety concerns while sharing indoor space, some facilities are taking a serious look at outdoor options. From rec fields to tennis courts, unused parking lots and more, fitness professionals are being creative with areas that can be quickly transformed to accommodate activities.
It is thought that the open air of the outdoors makes viral transmission less likely. Equipment that’s designed to be outdoors and exposed to the elements is typically less vulnerable to contagions and easier to clean and disinfect. With outdoor equipment there aren’t electronics that may be sensitive to cleaning chemicals. High-touch areas require less attention, simply because there are less of them! You can simply put tape/paint lines on the grass or dirt to transform a space into an outdoor fitness area. Outdoor fitness equipment options might become staples in the fitness facilities of the future.
5- Fitness Equipment Repair and Replacement
Similar to getting the lawn mower out after winter, it’s important to maintain equipment that hasn’t been recently used before bringing it up to full speed. Life Fitness and other fitness equipment manufacturers are recommending tasks that should be completed before public access is allowed, including:
- Wipe down all the equipment before powering on
- Test each unit individually for functionality
- Check for new software releases before guests return
- Find and address damage caused by moving or storage
- Replace batteries that may no longer hold a charge
There are several other issues to think about. Equipment with porous surfaces should be carefully considered to see if replacement with safer, or individual use, options might be required. You may need to limit things like fitness or yoga mats, foam rollers, or other pieces that are difficult to disinfect after each use.
By far, the biggest concern for germ transmission in any fitness facility is the flooring. Some industrial carpets are known for being notorious breeding grounds for germs, bacteria, and fungi. With the rise of functional fitness, and certainly becoming even more popular with the individual nature of functional workouts, having an anti-microbial floor that is and easy to clean (which means it can be cleaned often) can be a huge advantage. Fortunately, there are great options available for flooring and anti-microbial carpet tile (if carpet is necessary). Safety, cleanliness and anti-bacterial options are a must for many guests to feel comfortable returning to their fitness routines.
6- Budgeting for Post-Pandemic Fitness Facilities
We’re all asking similar questions... What do people need to feel and be safe when returning to fitness facilities? What programs do we need to change or remove and what new fitness experiences should be offered? What will these changes and adaptations cost?
If costly deep cleaning and disinfecting programs need to be more frequent, it can be daunting to think about maintaining them over time. However, if it becomes a necessity, it must be included in budgets. If we must add space to create more individual fitness experiences inside the fitness facility, there may be a sacrifice in the number of exercisers. Overall, we wonder whether people are missing their social groups so much that they’ll still seek out group participation classes, or whether fear and new-found habits will make some avoid group fitness facilities and stay home instead. Whatever the outcome, many facilities are preparing for smaller numbers of participants, which means drastic changes in group programing, participant levels, and again, the budgetary numbers that underlie it all.
Trust the Commercial Fitness Equipment Experts
To prepare for reopening in any capacity, especially those listed here, the G&G Fitness Equipment team is always here to help. With strong expertise in designing, maintaining, and equipping fitness facilities, we will happily help you reconfigure and rethink your fitness environment so that it works best for your community and its needs well into the future. G&G Fitness Equipment has vendor connections to get you the supplies you need in the shortest time possible, while making safety and health our first priority in all that we do.
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