Area gym operators say following
safety protocols was a challenge
Fit For the King, Planet Fitness
see business pick up now
(June 2021) – Like many businesses, gyms have suffered the loss of customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the peak of the pandemic, nearly all health and fitness clubs were closed in the United States. But many local fitness centers have bounced back with minimal impact to their business.
From a national perspective, the importance of at-home fitness has been greatly stressed during the pandemic. Mike Foy, general manager of Fit For The King in Madison, Ind., said he hoped that people at least “realize they need to keep themselves healthy. It’s one way to battle the disease.”
According to data from the International Health, Racquet & Sports Club Association, fitness is a $34 billion industry. An estimated 20 percent of Americans have a membership to some type of fitness club.
Foy’s fitness gym clientele has been membership-based since opening in October 1994. He had to shut down for two months earlier this year due to COVID-19 restrictions but was able to open his doors again during Phase 3 of Indiana’s five-part re-opening plan, “Back on Track,” set forth by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.
Mike Foy says safety measures he took to protect his members paid off in getting through the darkest days of COVID-19 last year.
Foy said he complied with the extra cleaning rules set forth by the CDC and closed every other cardio machine for social distancing. He was able to “push through” and pay and keep his staff.
Normally (before COVID-19) many people struggled to make time for their heath by working out, especially when considering things such as work commute and professional, family or social obligations. But it’s a well established fact that in addition to overall physical health benefits, exercise is also good for stress management and cognitive function.
Foy said the pandemic as a whole “created mass fear.” Many come to a gym to work out their stresses, and when the gyms were closed, this created complications for many gym-goers.
While he said a “certain demographic will never come back into the gym due to fear, people have to realize we are here to help people. A lot of the population is unhealthy. We have to help prevent this in the first place.”
His main objective is to help people get fit, pandemic or no pandemic. “I hope people understand how this can affect everyone. It’s especially deadly to those who are already unhealthy.”
Foy took advantage of his Facebook page during the pandemic to keep in touch with members, who normally have 24-hour access to the facility. Through the use of exercise motivational video clips he posed on his social media page, he was able to reach out to his clientele, even when they could not actually enter the facility.
Many join a gym because of the support system it provides. Members receive the expert knowledge of certified trainers and class instructors and support from those working out alongside them.
But of course during the COVID-19 pandemic, any location that brought people together indoors increased the risk of contacting the virus through airborne particles. Foy said clients can feel safe in his gym because of the extra attention he gives to disinfecting the equipment.
Tyler Logsdon, general manager of Planet Fitness in La Grange, Ky., said he was forced to close from April through June due to state mandated closure policies for gyms, theaters, hair salons and bowling alleys. The closures were implemented by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. Following certain restrictions, he was able to open his doors again during Phase 2 of Kentucky’s re-opening plan.
After re-opening and adhering strictly to cleaning and safety protocol, things “have not been too bad.” He has been able to maintain the same staff and hours of operation.
“We implemented the mask policy, which members only take off while they are actively working out,” said Logsdon. “Every 15 minutes, every piece of equipment is cleaned,” in addition to fogging all the equipment overnight.
When it re-opened, Planet Fitness posted on its website that masks were required in accordance with local restrictions “in all Planet Fitness locations worldwide, effective Aug. 1, 2020.”
The Planet Fitness corporation also posted that it would switch to a touchless check-in system, instead of checking in with employees, and use fewer cardio machines in order to properly distance the equipment.
While Logsdon agrees that the pandemic has raised an awareness of the health benefits of working out, he said he has not seen much change at his gym. The membership-based Planet Fitness has been located in La Grange since 2015. It has another location in Madison, Ind.
Logsdon said he did not post any social media virtual classes, but he said that as a corporation, Planet Fitness used Facebook live to post “online workout programs every day.”
At the beginning of the shutdown, Emmitt Tyler, owner of Anytime Fitness in Crestwood, Ky., said he tried having virtual offerings, but “after a while it proved difficult to get people engaged virtually.”
Anytime Fitness has been open in Crestwood for more than a year. Like others, Tyler has made the obvious changes – social distancing, masking and additional cleaning of equipment. “The main thing has been upping the COVID protocol,” he said.
For the most part, Tyler has been able to keep most of his staff, though “I’ve lost a couple of staff members who had to make other decisions” about their job, he said. Equipment at Anytime Fitness that can be moved is spaced six feet apart for social distancing. For equipment that is not easy to move, customers seem to be making sure they keep a social distance, and some members clean the equipment themselves after using it, in addition to his staff’s cleaning procedures.
He said he believes that for some people, the pandemic has changed how they exercise. “I’ve found that a lot of our regulars have kept the same regimen. But with seniors, who are in the higher risk category, I’ve seen a little more caution; some feel reluctant to come back.”
Tyler said he has around 400 members for his 24-hour gym. “Probably 50 percent are really actively using the gym on a weekly basis.” This was about the same before the pandemic. “We have a slightly lower daily usage now.”
Class size is also limited now and spaced for social distancing, he said. During the pandemic, “people were working out at home.” Anytime Fitness has an app that provides exercise plans for members. Tyler said he would like to hope that the pandemic has raised an awareness of the benefits of working out.
“We feel there is a proven benefit of remaining active and healthy. I feel gyms are pretty safe,” he said. “There is a misconception people have about gyms being dirty and germ filled, but that’s not true. They pose no more risk than going to Lowe’s or the grocery store.”
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