Is it safe to return to the gym?

THIS MONTH, BETTER BODY GROUP OWNER CHRIS WHARTON, GIVES US HIS TAKE ON WHEN TO RETURN TO THE GYM AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN RETURNING.

With life resuming to some kind of normality, and the gyms re-opening this month, lots of us are planning on shifting some body fat gained during lockdown. Equally lots of people have adopted digital platforms and home workouts and are loving them! So should we return to the gym?

Since late March it’s likely that you’ve gone one of three ways; either adopted the digital home training boom, embraced the great outdoors, or thought ‘I’ll start again when things get back to normal’. Personally I ended up doing a combination of all three during the rollercoaster of lockdown and my weight fluctuated accordingly!

With life returning to some degree of ‘normal’ and fitness facilities now open again, it’s a great opportunity to set some new goals and get back to a structured routine to help you shift any excess body fat and, improve your body composition, or just get out of the house!

Before we dig into this, if you haven’t been looking after yourself during lockdown, now is the time to start. We have an abundance of evidence now proving that being overweight is the largest risk factor for Covid-19 morbidity second only to age. We clearly can’t do anything to improve our age but we most certainly can improve our body composition. This virus is going nowhere fast so the absolute number one thing you can do to protect yourself against serious symptoms is to reduce your body fat and increase your fitness. If you need help knowing where to start please don’t hesitate to get in touch on enquiries@betterbodygroup.co.uk and we will get you started.

So Is it safe to return to a gym?
The answer to this depends entirely on the gym, how it’s operated and the density of members. Our governing body UK Active (alongside UK Gov) have published a set of guidelines for gym owners/operators to follow in order to ensure the safety of their patrons. Along with the obvious (increased sanitation, PPE, deep cleaning equipment etc) the most important factor is space.

Gym size
Big facilities are far better positioned to provide a safe service. Gyms are required to provide a minimum of 100sq ft per person in the facility (pictured below). In a small gym setting, they are less likely to be able to keep to these rules, especially during peak times. If you’re heading to a gym be mindful of how busy it is. Gyms are required by law to cap their numbers according to space. Ultimately if there’s no one near you, you are far less likely to encounter any problems. All professional outfits will require you to pre book your sessions, even if it’s just to use the gym.

Ceiling height and air flow should also be considered. The more spacious the facility the better the air flow. Watch out for air conditioning units that recycle air (most new units will draw in fresh air), instead opting for spaces with large open doors, fans and high ceilings.

Clean Equipment
Equipment is also an important consideration. Ideally you will have your own dedicated kit during your sessions and at the very least all kit should have its own disinfectant sprays/wipes etc nearby. If you are doing classes or PT sessions this is an absolute must. Your trainer should have cleaned every piece of kit before and after each use.

Showers/changing rooms
I would avoid these for now. Arrive at the gym ready to rock. Most facilities will have these closed for now.

Track record of the business
It’s been a tough four months for everyone in the fitness industry and with these new restrictions on capacity and spacing be careful about paying up front for large blocks of sessions with businesses that have recently formed, in particular smaller facilities that rely on cramming clients into a small space.

With the new 100sq ft spacing guidelines there will be lots of facilities struggling to get enough people in. I suspect lots of gyms will go out of business if they can’t fit in enough clients, leaving your money at risk if you’ve paid in advance.

Have they gone above and beyond?
I’ve heard horror stories of gyms continuing to take membership fees during lockdown! Complete madness. If you weren’t able to use the gym you most certainly shouldn’t have been paying for a membership.

The professional outfits provided online PT sessions via zoom or skype, kept in touch with their clients and kept tabs on their nutrition and wellbeing.

The good ones even helped keep their clients on the straight and narrow by providing free live Instagram/Facebook workouts. The trainers/businesses that stood by you during the hard times are undoubtedly those with your best interest at heart.

Some facilities have even gone as far as adding plastic dividers between kit, temperature tracking on arrival, providing a wider variety of kit, creating one way systems etc. These little extra steps are a good show of diligence and preparedness.

Staying digital?
If you’ve been enjoying training online or outdoors should you carry on?
Online workouts have proven to be really effective as well as convenient and getting outside adds another element to your fitness by improving your brain chemistry and general mood.

The only caveat to this is that it tends to be more difficult to progressively improve. Without increasing resistance, rep range, overall volume you are likely to start to plateau and notice a slowing of progress.

To counter this either start adding a couple of in person Personal Training sessions/classes into the mix (where a wider range of kit is available) or jump online and purchase some heavier weights or more variety of equipment.

Whether you decide to get back to the gym or continue at home be sure to structure your training towards your goals. What are you trying to achieve?

If you’re looking to drop body fat, no amount of training (at home or at the gym) is going to help you if you’re not monitoring your calorie intake and staying active outside of the gym.

Likewise, if you’re looking to get stronger, no amount of cycling or running is going to help. Always make sure your training is goal specific or you’re fighting a losing battle.

In summary, all evidence suggests that it’s safe to return to the gym as long as you are symptom free and they are sticking to the rules. My advice would be to use the next three months to get strong, fit and lean, ready for whatever the winter may bring. One thing’s for sure, If we do see a second wave, you want to be in the best shape possible.

• Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need any help with your health and fitness goals, whether it’s at the gym, at home or online, we’ve got you covered. Email us at enquiries@betterbodygroup.co.uk or call us on 01732 451979 for more information.