Machines and gym equipment have been spaced out, sanitisation machines have been installed, and fitness sessions have been moved to the open air terrace.
Gyms and fitness centres on Tuesday geared up to open their doors after almost five months with managements busy fine-tuning operational details such as hourly sanitisation, spacing out equipment to ensure social distancing and minimising staff in accordance with government guidelines. Thousands of small gyms and bigger chains will welcome customers to fitness in the COVID era’ on Wednesday though outlets in states where lockdown rules have not been relaxed will continue to be closed.
After the crippling losses and layoffs, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ July 30 notice allowing gymnasiums and yoga institutes to reopen from August 5 was a huge relief, said gym owners. On Monday evening, the Health Ministry issued its guidelines and establishments are quickly making sure that everything is in place before they reopen for business.
Aseem Rao, who owns Hype, a franchise of nearly 40 fitness centres across Delhi-NCR, said his outlets will follow all government-instructed protocols, including availability of sanitisers and oximeters, spaced out equipment and thermal screening of both staff and members.
Most of my outlets are 6,000 square feet in area. To ensure social distancing during group classes, we have decided the space that was earlier occupied by as many as 60 people at a time will now house not more than 25 people, he said. Rao will be reopening 19 of his centres across Haryana and Ghaziabad, while the Delhi outlets will remain shut.
Several states and cities, including Delhi and Maharashtra, will continue to keep gyms shut. Maharashtra has reported 15,842 COVID-19 deaths and Delhi 4,004, according to Union Health Ministry figures on Monday.
Pravesh Gaur, who owns the Fast Fit chain of gyms, is also getting ready to open his outlets in Faridabad.
We will be adhering to all the government directions thermal temperature check before entering the centre, sanitisation of all equipment on an hourly basis and before every use, as well as monitoring the staff for any symptoms on a regular basis, Gaur told PTI. The staff capacity will be at 50 per cent, he added.
The ministry’s ‘Guidelines on Preventive Measures to Contain Spread of COVID-19 in Yoga Institutes & Gymnasiums’ also suggests staggered visits by members and instructs that equipment, including cardio and strength machines, be placed six feet apart wherever possible. It also says visors should be used as far as possible while exercising.
Before exercising, people have to get their oxygen saturation checked. If below 95 per cent, they should not be allowed to exercise, the notification says. The fitness industry was among the first to take a hit with gyms across states shutting down rapidly even before the nationwide lockdown began on March 25, leaving thousands of trainers and support staff unemployed.
According to Gympik, a health and fitness aggregator, there are approximately 20,000 gyms across the country, including neighbourhood workout centres as well as nationwide chains like Gold Gym and Cultfit that have multiple centres in a single city alone.
These centres offer facilities like strength, weight and cardio training, alongside yoga and Zumba classes, and cater to over 10 million gym goers, it estimates. Gaur, who owns four centres across Delhi and Faridabad and is ensuring that he complies with all the orders, has incurred an approximate loss of Rs 20-30 lakh per branch. He said he was also compelled to either let go off, or send some of his employees on temporary unpaid leave. Some of his trainers conducted online classes, but that did not really work.
Using equipment that specifically targets each muscle group, along with the personal guidance of a trainer to correct forms and techniques cannot be replicated in online classes. We hardly generated four to five per cent of our revenue through these sessions, he added.
Rao agreed. Over the last five months, he said, the losses had been massive, with no income but rents and staff salaries that had to be paid. Although we were doing online classes, even our existing members did not seem very interested in those sessions and there were no new registrations during that time, he said.
Shalini Bhargava, director at Mumbai’s JG’s Fitness Centre is not looking at opening her facility immediately with the Maharashtra government extending the lockdown till August 31, but is prepping for it. Most of our existing clients have been calling to get an idea of the time slots, rules and safety measures that will be followed. All the government guidelines were expected, so we are completely prepared, Bhargava said.
Machines and gym equipment have been spaced out, sanitisation machines have been installed, and fitness sessions have been moved to the open air terrace. She added that she is also planning to install a UV tower which will keep disinfecting the gym every one hour. Fitness enthusiasts have been missing their workout sessions at the gyms but are wary of stepping into one.
Gurgaon-based Chetna Beniwal, for instance, would visit the gym five days a week before the lockdown. Given the continuing spread of the disease, she said she has decided to continue to work out at home. My major concern is using the same equipment and machines that other people have been using. Besides, I have been working out at home using a mat and a few weights, and it feels like a better alternative to gyms.
Working out at home is more convenient and easy. I can exercise anytime I want, be it day or late at night, the 28-year-old customs inspector said. Unlike her, Mumbai-based Ankit Doshi said he can’t wait for the gyms to reopen in his state.
I used to work out a minimum of five days a week before the lockdown started. Thanks to the online classes and workout apps, I have been able to maintain my fitness schedule. I also did a yoga training course for 21 days with The Yoga Institute.
But it has been difficult to manage weight training. Also, at gyms, you maintain a certain discipline, which you tend to lose at times while working out at home, said the 34-year-old CEO of a Mumbai-based enterprise. The fitness business might be taking tentative steps to normalcy but drastic changes are in store, said Amaresh Ojha, founder and CEO of Gympik.
Agreeing with Gaur and Rao that online alone is not a viable business model for gyms, Ojha said the industry is likely to now function on the hybrid business model a combination of limited on-premise and online classes. The fitness business will no longer be a volume game. Most estimates show that the footfall will probably reduce significantly to allow only 33-50 per cent member attendance, depending on the availability of space.
The hybrid model will allow the gyms to up their game and offer the best of both the online and offline worlds to their members by giving them more freedom and flexibility to workout anytime, anywhere, he said.