The ‘new normal’ at gyms and fitness centres under the lockdown



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It’s been 146 days since I last stepped into a gym. But the day has finally come for me to get back into a routine and begin my journey to get back in shape.

I arrived bright and early at one of Planet Fitness’s most popular branches in Johannesburg, the Sandton signature branch, on their first day of opening.

While I’m excited to get going with my first workout the nervousness starts creeping in as I pull up into the parking lot. Gyms still remain on the list of places of high risk of transmission during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am in two minds. After a few minutes in the parking lot, arguing with myself, I decide to head inside.

There are new rules. Masks are required to be worn at all times and no gym towels are allowed during your workout – only wipes and paper towels. My temperature was taken, and I’m asked several Covid-19 related questions.

Then co-manager and Covid-19 official Sean Maskell talks me through the protocols and safety regulations that Planet Fitness has put in place to ensure members and staff are safe.

It seems like a lengthy procedure to go through just for a workout, but this is the law now. “My responsibility is to ensure that every single person who comes through these doors are safe. “We have a zero-tolerance policy. “We are sticking to all the rules.”

Planet Fitness has ensured that all of their equipment is spaced correctly to ensure social distancing in every section with sanitiser next to beside the machines

I begin my workout with a light run on the treadmill. Though challenging, I am required to keep on my mask at all times. When I am done, a staff member hurriedly sanitises the entire machine and gets it ready for the next member to use.

Heinrich Erasmus, a staff member at the gym, says he’s thrilled to be back at work. “My job is a little harder these days, but it isn’t too bad. “It doesn’t affect us greatly,” says, Erasmus as he wipes away. “If anything, learning these safety protocols has increased my awareness and now even when I am at home I am way more cautious.”



Planet Fitness staff member Heinrich Erasmus sanitises equipment.


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Planet Fitness staff member Heinrich Erasmus sanitises equipment.

For nearly five months, Erasmus has been at home with no work. “I’m so happy that the gyms are now open, it was my only source of income. “It was really tough. “I did do a few online courses just in case things went south.”

Now, on to weight training for me. There are special markings in place to ensure that members keep their distance from each other.

“Our staff are in your face all the time,” says Maskell. “We have had one or two members say they don’t quite like it but we are doing what we need to do.”

Currently, only 50 members are allowed in at a time at any gym and with plenty of space and machines freely available, I am thoroughly enjoying my workout.

While getting some water I meet Julie Kerwan, who is just as enthused as I am now that the gyms are open. “I cannot even explain to you just how excited I am,” says Kerwan. “It’s a lifestyle. “I am really happy to be back.”

While Kerwan made every effort to train at home, just like I did, nothing can replace a good gym workout, she says. “I tried to keep in shape every day but training at home is not the same.

Unlike me, however, Kerwan says she hasn’t been nervous about coming back to the gym. “They are really taking all the steps necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy so I feel pretty comfortable. “It’s also your personal responsibility to make sure you keep safe.”

I head off to the gym’s stretching area before my next exercise. Maskell says Planet Fitness worked hard to ensure that its gyms would be ready when they were given the green light from the government to open.

“The head office staff and the general manager have been working throughout the Covid time period to ensure every branch follows strict Covid-19 protocols. “The staff have also been trained.”

Various classes, like spinning are also available but the numbers have been cut to ensure social distancing. The bathroom facilities have also been upgraded to follow the new protocols.

Maskell says the past five months have been extremely gruelling for those in the fitness industry. “Emotionally and physically it’s been very tough. “It’s our livelihoods and our passions, so to have that taken away has been terrible.”

But now that gyms have been reopened things couldn’t be better for Maskell and his team. “We are super positive. “The first day has been phenomenal.

“Seeing the regulars coming back is so nice. You would think that after five months they would forget your name, but they haven’t. “Staff arrived early this morning and were all excited. It’s a brand new start for us as well as our members and we couldn’t be happier.”

Maskell expects the numbers to pick up in a few weeks, as many gym members are still hesitant to return. “Once people get the reassurance that it’s safe, they will come back. Gyms have gotten a lot of negative publicity. They say we have the most contagious environment. But our safety protocols are better than some of the hospitals.”

After a good workout, I head over to the juice and coffee bar for a well-deserved smoothie. It’s been a fun, healthy day and I have squashed all my fears. I feel safe.

The Saturday Star

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