Should You Reopen Your Bricks-and-Mortar Gym?

Some governments have just announced that gyms can reopen on April 24.

Restrictions are in place, yes—but owners in these regions can see their members again! They can touch their barbells and celebrate fitness together.

But should they?

And should you when your region lifts coronavirus restrictions?

Gym Owners: Two Sides to the Covid Crisis

Within the span of 10 minutes yesterday, I got these two emails.

The first:

“Coop, I can’t WAIT! I feel like I’m dying with this online coaching, and my coaches are getting burned out, and I’m worried my clients will leave! I (feel) like yelling, ‘Hallelujah, I’m saved!”

And the second:

“To be completely honest, I’m nervous. Incredibly nervous. I have to bring my kid to the gym and don’t want to expose her to the virus. I don’t want to expose my clients to the virus! Some of my clients said they’re too scared to come back right away, and I agree with them! What do I do?”

Over the next few weeks, some gyms are going to reopen. Some aren’t. But we’ll all have to choose. And it won’t come down to the governments or the lawyers or the other gyms in town. As always, it will all come down to you.

For some, the fiscal reality will outweigh the health risks. For others it will be different. Some have the ability to choose; some don’t. We are all trying to do the best thing here. We are all trying to serve. No one is evil. No one is hurting anyone. If you reopen this week or next week or next month (or never!), that’s up to you.

Either way, here’s how to proceed.

1. “I Can’t Wait to Reopen My Gym!”

You’re excited, and I definitely get it. But you won’t go from 0 to 100 overnight. First, read “How to Reopen Your Gym.”

Then:

  • Plan to reopen with either personal training or limited-size classes. Some governments have given a headcount limit, some have banned “group gatherings,” and some have given a capacity limit based on square footage. The bottom line is that you won’t be opening with 20 people in a class, and you probably won’t be able to train every client every day.
  • Add at least 30 minutes between classes to minimize cross-contamination and give you time for cleaning and setup.
  • Close your bathrooms and showers.
  • You might also be required to take client and coach temperature before classes. Order a no-touch thermometer like this one.
  • You will have to clean every piece of equipment after every use, and clients can’t share equipment.
  • Order extra lacrosse balls and extra mobility bands.
  • One good idea from a gym owner: “I’m getting get small containers and everyone will have a TheraBand and lacrosse ball for their own use. With their name on their container. Because we will now have to pre-register for class, I will be able to set these out ahead of time for everyone.”
  • Stock up on bleach cleaner, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
    Send out a detailed email about your cleaning protocol and what you expect from members upon returning.
  • Sample email from Ric Thompson at CrossFit PTC: Click here.
  • Take away the communal chalk bucket.
  • Mark out spaces for clients to use in advance. Place equipment in each space before they arrive to avoid crowding at racks.
  • Limit movements where it’s hard to distance people. If you have a longer rig, mark out spaces on your pull-up bars to adhere to government requirements. If you don’t, cut out hanging movements.
  • Make a huge show of cleaning before, during and after classes.
  • Reach out to every member to see what they’re comfortable with and how they plan to continue training to best suit their needs.

After learning they could reopen on April 24, some of the leading gym owners in Atlanta, Georgia, surveyed their members on April 20. Here are some of the early results:

Gym owners commented:

“26 responses in and we are 50/50 for Friday.”

“I’ve received about 150 responses with the same results (51% not ready to come back and happy with remote and Zoom). I’m not opening next week.”

“We are 50/50 as well.”

One owner offered a key piece of advice after almost making an error:

“Please advise folks to stop and ask their coaches what they are comfortable with.”

  • Not every coach will want to return to work, so you must survey your staff to find out who is willing to do what when you reopen.
  • With this data in mind, plan a limited class or training schedule around the clients who respond that they want to come in to train.
  • Offer the rest of them the opportunity to keep training online. As these simple surveys clearly show, not everyone wants to come back to the gym yet.
  • Finally, avoid the temptation to make a political statement with your gym. That can’t possibly help you and will almost certainly hurt you.

Do You Need a New Waiver?

Some gym owners brought up an important question:

“Do I need a new waiver to protect me from clients who might get infected?”

I called Vaughn Vernon at AGuard. He provided a best practices platform using CDC and OSHA guidelines.

Vaughn said, “The feedback I have gotten from all my carriers is not to do any changes on the waiver. Should things change, we’ll notify our clients right away.”

Vaughn also said that a pandemic is a standard exclusion from insurance policies because it would be very hard to pinpoint a fitness facility as being the lynchpin to covid or any pandemic.

“The CDC is putting out a clause where if you document cleaning to their standard, you should be buffered, but this is an uninsurable risk with or without a waiver,” he said.

Basically, don’t change your waiver. But document your cleaning. If you don’t want a job as a full-time cleaner, don’t reopen. And was eager as you are, talk to every member in person.

2. “I’m Not Ready to Reopen My Gym!”

I’m glad I don’t have to decide. While I really hate waiting for others to make decisions for me, in this case I’m happy to wait awhile longer.

But some gym owners are feeling pressure as other gyms open around them.

First, revisit your hierarchy of priorities. As a review, they are:

– Your family.

– Your clients.

– Your staff.

– Your audience.

It’s OK to not open. Your gym family trusts you. If you say “I want to make absolutely sure you’re safe, so we’re going to wait,” that’s fine.

The key is to communicate your care. This is the worst time to be silent. Tell your staff and your members:

1. Why you want to wait (you care about them and don’t want to take risks).

2. Your plan to reopen with options.

3. That you love them and appreciate their patience.

Your business exists to serve you. Sometimes the sacrifices you make are determined by other people. This is one you can control.

Open on your terms.

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