IHRSA Tells Consumers Gyms Are Clean, Safe, & Well-prepared

    IHRSA sent an article to media outlets telling the world how safe, clean, and well-prepared gyms are to welcome back their members. Here’s how you can promote this information in your community.

    To counter the misconception that gyms are germier than other consumer-facing businesses, we’ve been sharing stories from IHRSA member clubs that show how clean and well-prepared gyms are to open and welcome their members.

    To help gyms with their cleaning and safety protocols, IHRSA provided key considerations in four languages, as well as tons of articles on cleaning, sanitizing, and creative ways to social distance. Now that clubs are open—or opening—IHRSA is promoting all of the hard work that you put into...

    • revamping cleaning routines,
    • moving equipment,
    • marking safety zones,
    • retraining staff, and more.

    To promote your efforts on how clean your gyms are, IHRSA wrote and released on June 25 a major public relations campaign that “gyms are clean.” The first step in the campaign is an article that appeared in over 100 media outlets, such as Yahoo Finance, MarketWatch, and Business Insider: Markets Insider. In getting the broadest reach possible, we constrained the piece to 600 words.

    But, telling the story of the cleanliness of gyms is more profound than the 600-word constraint, so the entire 1,800-word article is below.

    We suggest you share it—or sections of it—far and wide, so the message reaches everyone. Share it (or information like it) with your communities, your local media outlets, on social media posts, etc. Let us know if—and in what manner—you use the information in this article and how impressed your returning members are with their sparkling clean and safe club.

    Without further ado, here’s the article:

    IHRSA Tells How Gym Operators Revamped Cleaning Protocols

    As the country’s 40,000-50,000 health and fitness clubs, gyms, and studios slowly but surely begin to reopen, you might be wondering what to expect. You might even be a little leery. If you’re like most gym-goers, while you’ve enjoyed your online workouts, you’re missing the variety, structure, motivation, and camaraderie that only your physical health club can provide.

    Since most U.S. clubs were mandated to close in mid-March, club staff across the country have had at least 10 weeks to ramp up their cleaning and safety protocols. And, since businesses in Asia were hit first, and reopened earlier, clubs in the U.S. have benefited from and learned from a forward-look at gyms post-quarantine.

    The global fitness industry recently received a boost in confidence in how safe facilities are with the release of a Norwegian study—held over two weeks—that showed no greater risk in contracting coronavirus after visiting a gym. And in the U.S., current contract tracing data in Arkansas, also covered over two weeks, furthers the conception that gyms are safe, revealing that only 0.3% of active cases in the state visited a gym.

    Although the U.S. president included gyms in Phase 1 opening guidelines, all 50 states (and even more localized areas) set a time frame on when—and how—fitness facilities in their area can open. In almost all regions, club staff created safety plans, which were then shared with their regional authorities to receive the go-ahead to open.

    The fitness industry fully understands the role they’re playing in keeping the public safe.

    Benjamin Whitham, vice president of Petra-1, a company specializing in providing facilities with sanitation and maintenance supplies, said, “How essential services utilize these products gave us a heads-up in terms of how to prepare to best serve the fitness industry.”

    “You can rest assured that when you’re ready to get back in the club, the staff at your club will be ready, willing, and able to provide a great exercise experience in a safe, clean, and thoughtful manner,” said Jason Reinhardt, owner of five Go M.A.D. (Make a Difference) Fitness Centers. “Those of us who chose the fitness industry as a career believe in the health benefits of exercise and want to deliver a healthy option to our communities. Therefore, the health and safety of our members, staff, and community is our top priority.”

    To aid clubs in opening safely and thoughtfully, IHRSA developed a four-pronged framework for clubs to use as a reference when planning their opening protocols and working with their local health boards. The framework is available to help clubs mitigate risk and provide a safe and supportive place for physical activity.

    So what does this look like?

    • Cleaning
    • Social Distancing
    • Employee and Member Training
    • Masks

    Upon Entry

    Checking in to the club will probably look and feel a lot different. One of the first things you might notice is that the lobby furniture is gone. Many clubs have removed furniture from the entrance and socializing areas to alleviate lingering before and post classes to comply with distancing. Several clubs have gone touchless and are encouraging members to use a mobile app to check-in. Some clubs have taken the additional step of installing plexiglass barriers, especially those that check temperatures or do any other screening procedures.

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    Assessing members and staff for visible symptoms may make checking into the club a bit slower. Many states have requirements that will restrict your entry if you have a fever. Other clubs are more strict; for instance, Basic-Fit International states that anyone, member or employee “who coughs or sneezes must stay at home.”

    Sports Academy & Racquet Club in Logan, UT, one of the first clubs in the country to reopen, posted an online memo guiding members and staff. It states, “any staff or club member with any symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, fever, chills, or sneezing with nasal discharge should not come to the club. Anyone exhibiting these symptoms will be asked to leave immediately.”

    Little Rock Athletic Club in Arkansas requires member screening every time someone enters the club. Screening consists of asking the following four questions. Answering yes to any of these would prohibit that member from entering:

    • Have you returned from out-of-state travel within the last 14 days?
    • Have you had a fever of 100.4°F or greater in the last two days?
    • Do you have a cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms typical of COVID-19?
    • Have you had contact with a person known to be infected with COVID-19 within the previous 14 days?

    Enhanced Cleaning Measures

    Though news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May revealed that the virus “does not spread easily” from touching surfaces or objects, enhanced cleaning procedures of all surface areas factor heavily into club reopening plans.

    Each reopening plan IHRSA looked at outlined how it will carry out intensive cleaning procedures. These opening plans describe new intense cleaning protocols and ensure adequate staffing and supplies to execute these enhanced efforts.

    One change you’ll notice right away: you’ll see staff frequently cleaning equipment and surfaces. In the past, most cleaning may have taken place after hours or in downtime. As part of protocols, the staff is designated an area of the club to clean. Little Rock Athletic Club’s reopening plan outlines stringent cleaning and safety measures. The club established “Health Guard” teams with their staff to manage each of the club’s zones for cleanliness and spacing.

    Some clubs in their efforts to clean more often are setting exercise time blocks. For example, after 1.5 hours of workouts, the club is emptied and ventilated before the next group of members. According to Pure International Group CEO Colin Grant, members could reserve access in 90-minute blocks when clubs in China reopened, and staff cleaned the club for an hour between these appointments.

    The companies that provide cleaning supplies to clubs have also stepped up their game since the COVID-19 pandemic. Petra-1, Sports Solution, 2XL, and Gym Valet, are just a few of the many suppliers providing facilities with proper sanitation and maintenance supplies. Some of their work includes supplying clubs with:

    • Masks,
    • Gloves,
    • Electrostatic (touch-free) dispensers,
    • 80% alcohol-based sanitizer,
    • and EPA-registered antibacterial wipes.

    You may be wondering if all these chemicals are safe for members and staff, and the answer is, yes. “If an EPA-registered disinfectant says it has bacterial, fungicidal, and virucidal activity, it should kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses,” said Linda Giammanco, expo director of 2XL. “It also means that the product does not result in unreasonable adverse effects on a person’s health or the environment when used according to label instructions.”

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    And how efficient are those simple towels and spray bottles that clubs keep handy to wipe down equipment? “Actually, the towel is the cleanest surface in the room,” said Bruce Sherman, Ph.D., founder of Gym Valet. “I did a microbiological analysis on this when I first went into business to show people that the towel is clean. It continually absorbs a high-quality disinfectant by remaining wet.”

    When clubs closed, Petra-1 began serving hospitals, grocery stores, transportation companies, and other industries that continued to operate during the strictest phase of the lockdown.

    And it looks like your choices in sanitizer options have increased as well. Not only will you find hand sanitizer stations spread out around the gym, but you might also receive a refillable hand sanitizing bottle to carry around with you.

    At the FDA’s request, Sports Solution began producing an 80% alcohol-based hand sanitizer for medical facilities and the U.S. Navy. “We're making around 1,250 to 2,500 gallons of the sanitizer every other week, so we have plenty to go around,” said Sports Solution Founder Laurie Schmidt.

    With all these cleaning options and increased staff assigned to cleaning, don’t forget that you need to do your part. From this point forward, every time you step in the club, you agree to be an extension of the housekeeping process. But don’t worry, they’re making it insanely easy for you to clean your hands and sanitize equipment before and after use.

    Social Distancing in the Club

    Now that you’re more comfortable with the cleaning protocols and products, your next concern might be around social distancing. You know, the nearly universal term for keeping people at least 6 feet or 2 meters apart (CDC) to slow the spread of COVID-19.

    To ensure members in general fitness areas are following social distancing protocols, clubs are abiding by the national and regional authorities.

    • Limiting the number of people who can be in the facility at a given time,
    • Increasing signage or floor markers to indicate one-ways or spacing,
    • Adding barriers between, rearranging, or removing equipment,
    • Restricting class sizes.

    If your club has outdoor space, a rooftop, or an extra tennis court, you might see cardio and/or strength equipment outside. (Think of the benefit—perhaps you’ll get a tan while you get your max heart rate.)

    Pure International Group, with 30-plus locations across South Asia, was one of the first club companies to close and then to reopen. In many of their clubs, they’ve constructed cardio equipment screens between each piece of machinery. Separating the machines allows a safe workout space while maximizing the number of people the area can service.

    In addition to unplugged cardio and moved weights, you might need to rethink your workout plan since your club may have removed some harder-to-clean fitness equipment, like

    • bands,
    • hand weights,
    • yoga blocks,
    • mats, and
    • certain types of foam rollers.

    Your club or studio will, unfortunately, have to restrict class sizes to ensure at least 6 feet of separation between bodies. Depending on the regional guidelines, this might be a set number, say 10 per class, or capping classes at a specific set number based on room size. Clubs will vary on whether they allow access on a first-come, first-served basis or instruct members to reserve a class spot in advance.

    Social distancing in personal or small group training sessions will change your training experience. Since your favorite group exercise instructor and trainer will be following and enforcing social distancing guidelines, gone are the high-fives, postural adjustments, or pre-session hugs. You’ll need to pay close attention to your trainer’s verbal cues or demonstrations since physical touch cues are gone. You’ll also need to set your treadmill speed and selectorized weights as well as retrieve and put away your dumbbells to avoid touching the same surfaces.

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    Many clubs are encouraging employees working in the club to use a cloth face covering or mask. Masks help protect against the spread of coronavirus, and serve as an added measure of protection in light of new cleaning supplies and protocols. The CDC now recommends “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” Cloth face coverings can add a layer of protection, given that COVID-19 can be transmitted by people who are showing mild or no symptoms and don’t know they are infected.

    Welcome back to the club. Enjoy your workout!

    Reminder, please share how you use the information in this article by tagging @ihrsa on social or send us an email. And let us and your communities know how impressed your returning members are with their sparkling clean and safe club.

    Author avatar

    Meredith Poppler

    Meredith Poppler previously served as IHRSA's Vice President of Communications and Leadership Engagement—a position dedicated to growing, promoting, and protecting the industry through media, policy, and advocacy, and raising awareness and support for important policy issues.