IT HAS been sixty-four days, give or take, since anyone last stepped foot inside a gym.
Those without home gyms have needed to use bodyweight exercises, improvised equipment, and online classes to help them keep fit during enhanced community quarantine. On the last few days of ECQ, a few sports stores were able to open up online sales for weights and other equipment. But otherwise, it’s been all about pushups on the floor, squats with water containers, and choppy, blurred livestreams with your coach.
For the beleaguered fitness industry — already suffering from financial pressures and months of little to no income — the end of ECQ brings no relief.
While other businesses have been allowed by the government to open up (either in full or limited capacity), gyms must still remain closed even inside a general community quarantine.
They must also content with the uncertainty of a ‘new normal’, where health concerns, physical distancing, and economic realities make for “a worrisome reality where working out with people in the same room will never be the same — if there’s a future for group fitness at all,” as New York-based writer Alex Abad-Santos wrote for Vox.
Gab Pangalangan, a coach as well as the marketing manager of UFC Gym Philippines (which has four branches in Manila, with 50 coaches and over 4,000 members), believes that there still is. And in a more health-conscious world, the gym will be even more important than ever.
Only it won’t look like the gyms we used to know.
SPIN Life had a wide-ranging conversation with Pangalangan to discuss why gyms can and should be opened during GCQ. (Full disclosure: Pangalangan was also a columnist for Spin.ph) Here, our lightly edited Q&A:
SPIN Life: What was your initial reaction to the announcement that gyms are still not allowed to open for business, even during GCQ?
I can see the apprehension. But it was disheartening. This is a big blow to the coaches who rely on gym operations and personal training sessions to earn a living. It’s also a big blow to people who look to gyms to improve their physical and mental health.
People have criticized the notion of opening gyms now. [They say] that gym owners are willing to risk peoples’ health just to turn a profit. But gyms owners wouldn’t re-open gyms without first ensuring safety measures are implemented.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts of people sharing their home workouts, and it’s great that they’re finding ways to stay active. However, I’ve also seen some posts where people could end up hurting themselves due to improper exercise form, faulty equipment, or improper equipment setup.
This really highlights the importance of a quality gym, where certified coaches can guide you in your workouts and where equipment is designed to allow you to exercise safely.
SPIN Life: You are lumped in industries such as theaters, amusement, cultural centers, tourist destinations, travel agencies, and personal care. These are all considered non-essential at the moment, even in GCQ areas. Why do you contest this classification?
I think I speak for majority of, if not all, fitness professionals when I say that we shouldn’t be lumped in with amusement and leisure activities. The service we provide is more essential than that.
Regular exercise is proven to improve physical and mental health and strengthen the immune system. Additionally, hypertension and obesity were [comorbid conditions with many] COVID patients — both of which can be addressed through regular exercise.
That means that the fitness industry, while currently deemed as non-essential, actually plays a huge role in our long term defense against COVID. Can the same be said about theaters, travel agencies, and the like? I don’t think so.
SPIN Life: There is an fear that allowing gyms to open will increase the risk of infections. You operate in a group setting, with shared equipment, in an environment that is often humid. What steps would you take to reassure your members and the public that gyms are safe?
Generally, the WHO recommends the use of face masks, regular hand washing, and physical distancing. And we believe we can accomplish all three inside the gym.
First and foremost, we’d require gym staff, coaches, and members to wear face masks and gloves inside the gym. Temperature checks, as well as the sanitizing of hands and the soles of their shoes, will also be done before entering the gym.
We’d provide hand sanitizers inside the gym. We’d likewise see to it that all equipment and high-touch areas are frequently sanitized throughout the day.
When it comes to distancing, we will limit the number of people allowed inside the gym at a given time. High-contact group classes will be put on hold indefinitely. People inside must maintain the recommended distance of 6 feet from other gym goers. Some equipment will also be marked as “Closed” to provide ample distance between our members.
In other words, we’d provide more safety measures than you’d see in many grocery stores and other businesses today.
SPIN Life: Is it possible to work out with a face mask?
Wearing a face mask while exercising could present some health concerns, so we would advise gym-goers not to engage in high-intensity exercises. Coaches would also help ensure that everyone is working out safely.
[They may even need] to lower the intensity of the classes to keep movements controlled and face masks in place.
SPIN Life: Some limited outdoor and sports activities are being allowed under GCQ. Will you be taking advantage of this?
This is something we’re working on but nothing is final yet. But if we can help people stay healthy while providing our coaches with opportunities to earn living, than these effort are definitely worth pursuing.
SPIN Life: What is your business plan for continuing operations even with these GCQ restrictions?
The resources of a gym include its physical space, equipment, programs, and people/ coaches. We are unable to use our space since our gyms are closed, so we’re looking for ways to maximize our three other major resources. Strengthening our digital presence for the purpose of online classes and personal training is a must.
Looking ahead, we hope that the IATF allows for the gradual re-opening of fitness gyms after MECQ, considering that we will implement a number of safety measures.
We aren’t calling for our full-blown gym operations to resume. We understand that we need to take things slow. A gradual shift into the “new normal” of going to the gym would also help us establish our risk mitigating measures with our clients.
SPIN Life: And if that doesn’t happen?
If mass testing, contact tracing, and other measures are implemented to slow the spread of the virus, then we could see a drop in new cases. And that would mean gyms will be able to bounce back more promisingly. The same can be said if a vaccine is found.
[But] delaying the re-opening of gyms until these measures are implemented seems like a death sentence for the gym industry, rendering thousands jobless.
It seems that the solution to the pandemic will not come any time in the near (or even distant) future, and we’re left with two options: Wait in vain for a solution and kill the industry in the process, or add safety measures to the industry so that we may gradually re-open to the public. These aren’t easy decisions to make. But I hope that the fitness industry is given a fighting chance to provide fitness and safety at the same time.