After fervent petitioning and many months of bodyweight home workouts, the UK’s gyms return on 25 July. It’s big news, but it’s also nebulous news: what will change about a staple of many of our days now that the way we live is irrevocably different?
We’re not here to parrot the rules of every major gym and fitness studio: everywhere will have absolutes that they make very clear to their attendees, whether that’s changes to registration, masks in common areas, ways of cleaning the equipment after a session or a change to how the showers and changing rooms work. What we were interested in were the smaller discrepancies: how do we, as gym attendees, make sure that we get through the space without anxiety about how others perceive us, and with a strong knowledge of what counts as bad Covid gym etiquette?
We spoke to some of the country’s biggest gyms – and some of the country’s top PTs – about the grey areas in coronavirus gym behaviour that you might not be told off for, but we should all do our best to avoid. Among our experts are Stephen Rowe from PureGym, the cofounder of boutique fitness company Flykick, Ben Leonard-Kane, Lucie Cowan from Third Space, and personal trainers Alex Crockford and James Middleton. If you’e worried about the nitty-gritty of keeping fit, just make sure to follow their advice.
1. Say I’ve seen something at the gym that makes me worried about whether I might run the risk of getting Covid-19. What should I do and who should I speak to?
Stephen Rowe, PureGym: We’re asking all members to stay at home if they have any concerns whatsoever that they may have contracted, or been in touch with anyone infected with, Covid-19. If you spot anyone displaying Covid-19 symptoms in one of our gyms, please let one of our team know. They’ve been trained to approach anyone with symptoms to ask if they’re fit to train.
Ben Leonard-Kane, Flykick: Our studio manager will be on hand and will be the best person to speak to if you have any questions or concerns while you’re working out or when moving through the studio.
Lucie Cowan, Third Space: This may well vary as to which gym, however, at Third Space, members are to notify the concierge at the front desk, or the duty manager directly should you know who they are.
2. Is there a best way to make clear that I’m leaving some used equipment only to get the stuff to clean it, rather than just leaving it?
Alex Crockford, personal trainer: Best practice would be to leave a piece of gym equipment you own near the equipment to show others around you that you plan to come back and continue your workout.
Lucie Cowan: When designing our workouts, we’re encouraged (in fact, this is mandatory for all personal trainers when designing programmes for clients) to adapt the exercises to create a “circuit-style” set, using equipment which is all kept close together on the gym floor to avoid spread and unnecessary moving around the gym floor. This allows us to remain in one space with our equipment. As such, cleaning equipment should be at hand nearby, near enough to verbally tell someone you’re about to grab the cleaning stuff to clean it.
Ben Leonard-Kane: As everyone will have their own individual bag and set of equipment for every class, there won’t be any worry about leaving your things to go and get the cleaning supplies provided at the end of class. Everyone will be in the same boat and our superstar cleaning team will be coming in afterwards too.
3. What happens if whatever cleaning stuff the gym provides has run out/another client has moved it?
Stephen Rowe: You will find several free-standing cleaning stations stocked with paper roll and anti-viral spray, as well as wipe-pods attached to the walls dispensing anti-viral wipes. Our team will be topping up self-cleaning stations throughout the day, so they shouldn’t run empty. In the unlikely event that the nearest self-cleaning station is empty, others will be available for use. Please do let one of our team know if a cleaning station is empty, however.
Lucie Cowan: There should be plenty to go around, and this should not be an issue, as Third Space have ensured cleaning stations and disinfectant availability are utmost priorities. Should this happen, however, notify the nearest member of staff, who will be able to contact our housekeeping team (who have doubled in size to maintain five-star hygiene standards) to bring more.
4. What should I be bringing to the gym that, in the past, I might have expected to be provided for me?
Lucie Cowan: Cycle shoes and water bottles, as disposable cups will no longer be provided. A towel will be provided. However, we are happy for members to bring their own instead.
Stephen Rowe: Nothing – we’d encourage members to bring as little as possible to the gym to avoid needing to use lockers where this isn’t necessary. We’d recommend everyone brings their phone to the gym, however, so they can use the contactless entry with their QR code within the PureGym app. One change you will notice is that, at this time, members are not allowed to bring sweat towels onto the gym floor to avoid the spread of infection from outside the gym.
Ben Leonard-Kane: At Flykick we won’t be lending out any boxing hand wraps or sweat towels, so you’ll need to bring your own or purchase some from the front desk when you arrive. We’ll be asking everyone to bring their own boxing gloves. In some cases this might not be possible, so we’ll have a limited number available to hire. These will only be used once per day and deep cleaned immediately after use.
James Middleton, personal trainer: Depending on your gym’s facilities and services, I think it will be encouraged that you bring your own towel. Although they’ll provide cleaning equipment, it’s advisable to also carry your own hand sanitiser. Other gyms might not provide showering facilities or open water fountains to limit contact, so be prepared to shower at home and bring your own water. But, if in doubt, contact your gym and ask.
5. What should I do if I experience something in the locker room or showers that concerns me on a health and safety level?
Lucie Cowan: Notify the concierge on leaving the club – all feedback will be taken very seriously.
Stephen Rowe: As always, if anything makes you feel uncomfortable in PureGym, please speak to one of our team. They’ve all been fully trained on our new cleaning and safety measures and are here to help you. Similar to the rest of the gym, the changing rooms and showers have been laid out with full social distancing measures to ensure your safety and that of our team. As mentioned, sweat towels are not currently permitted out on the gym floor. If you do choose to bring a towel with you to the gym this will need to remain in the changing room.
6. What should I be doing before attending a class or a session with my PT: should I check with specific instructors about their needs, or my own?
Ben Leonard-Kane: If you have specific questions or concerns about anything to do with your class then please send an email to our front-of-house team at the time of booking. They will then be able to determine whether your specific request can be accommodated and ensure that we make any necessary arrangements (such as informing the trainer) ahead of your arrival. In the unlikely event that we can’t accommodate your request we might suggest that you don’t attend the class and would reissue your credit.
Lucie Cowan: Definitely ensure you’ve read all the updated information on the website, and on booking the class. Third Space have a members’ app which provides detailed and updated info on booking into a class, including details such as when to arrive and what you’ll need to bring. Don’t assume rules and regs are the same – assume they’re not! – and read up before you go. At the start of each class the trainer will give clear instructions about your space, your equipment and any modifications that have been made for health and safety reasons.
James Middleton: Ahead of your class have a chat with your instructor or PT to go through any concerns you may have and discuss how the session will work with the new regulations. The more information you have about the new gym etiquette the better. It’s good to come prepared and informed.
Stephen Rowe: It’s always nice to say hello to your class instructor, and please always do let them know about any specific needs/concerns you have and they’ll do their best to accommodate. Our class studios have been clearly laid out to give everyone enough space for a great workout. Instructors will be there well in advance of your class time to welcome you into the studio and ensure you are all set up for a great and safe workout, including reminding you to clean down any kit that you will need before and after use.
7. Is there anything that’s going to change to make it less likely that people will hog a piece of equipment in the gym?
Lucie Cowan: We have limited each member to a maximum of 90 minutes in the gym per session. This should result in a more efficient approach to training.
Stephen Rowe: As part of social distancing measures we are limiting the number of people working out in the gym at any one time to ensure everyone has a safe space to work out and kit to work out on. In addition, we’re asking that members limit their workouts to one hour to ensure that everyone can access the gym to train. We expect this will mean that people spend less time on an individual piece of kit to make sure they can get their full workout in. Our members are a friendly bunch, though, so if you want to use a piece of kit someone else is using, feel free to ask.
8. Is there an ideal length of time I should be spending on a piece of equipment, or on a gym floor, to allow for everyone to get time to use everything under the new rules?
James Middleton: I would limit your gym session to 45 to 60 minutes. For an effective training session you don’t need longer than that. With cardio equipment, 20 minutes is probably going to be the longest you can use it for, so don’t go using them for the full hour. With weight equipment, being prompt with your sets and not having long rest times will help and allow others to use it too. I think you just have to be more aware now of how long you’re using things for.
Stephen Rowe: We’re asking that you stay a maximum of one hour in the gym, but within that you’re welcome to use any piece of equipment. After spacing our gyms out to ensure members can train at a safe distance, about 70 per cent of workstations will be available. There remains a full variety of equipment and, as members change habits to come at quieter times, we expect there to be plenty of kit to go round.
9. What do I do if weights haven’t been re-racked or I find equipment that has not been cleaned?
Stephen Rowe: Please feel free to let our team know – they’ll be cleaning every piece of kit and high-touch-point surfaces throughout the day (a minimum of every three hours), from dumbbells to treadmills and everything in between, so any kit out of place will soon be cleaned and put away.
Lucie Cowan: If you wish to use it and this has happened then clean it yourself thoroughly using the stations provided or report it to a member of staff who will ensure it’s attended to and rectified immediately.
10. Are there any basic duties in maintaining a fitness space that I might have once known, or assumed, staff would do that I should be prepared to do frequently?
Alex Crockford: Every gym member has a part to play in cleaning down their equipment before and after use. It’s now something that you should be doing with every piece of equipment before you move on. It’s also important to respect other people’s space in the facility and keep your distance.
Stephen Rowe: We’re asking you do your bit by sanitising your hands before entering the gym and at regular intervals during your workout to keep yourself and others safe. Self-cleaning stations are there for your peace of mind and we ask that you clean down every piece of kit that you use before and after use, ensuring all rubbish is thrown in the bins provided. As numbers in the gym are limited, please check the number of people in your gym on the PureGym app before visiting.
Lucie Cowan: Disinfect every piece of equipment after you use it. This includes group exercise equipment such as mats, dumbbells, barbells, etc.
11. What sort of responsibilities do gym staff now have that they didn’t have before and what training is being offered to them?
Stephen Rowe: Staff have been fully trained on all aspects of TrainSafe including our new cleaning and safety measures to ensure these are delivered to the highest standard.
Lucie Cowan: Cleaning of the studio, bikes, equipment, floors and doors between classes to ensure the studio is safe for the next class; enforcing social distance standards among members in class; preventing late members entering the studio once a class has commenced.
12. If I have a problem, should I speak to gym staff or to PTs, or both?
James Middleton: If you have any concerns speak to the gym staff first. If no gym staff is available and there is a PT who isn’t with a client, you can ask them and they might be able to help. However, it’s important to remember that the PT renting the space may not have the answers, so the gym staff should always be your first port of call.
Lucie Cowan: PTs are usually with clients when on the gym floor, so best to head to the concierge for communication.
13. If I’m attending a class, what concessions are being made to make sure I can still attend classes at the times that work for me if sizes are smaller?
Lucie Cowan: We have increased the number of off-peak classes, in addition to the pre-existing timetable, to ensure that we have classes running throughout the entire day, not just at peak times. This gives members more options, more flexibility and more options.
Stephen Rowe: As we reopen gyms, we will be running a reduced class timetable, which is subject to change, and we will only be offering class places on a first-come, first-served basis at first. However, we’ll be looking carefully at class attendance and member feedback to make sure we have classes at times that work for our members.
14. Will there be any changes to how no-shows or late attendance are considered?
Stephen Rowe: As class bookings have been removed, there is currently no penalty for no-show or lateness. We ask, however, that everyone wanting to join a class arrives in plenty of time to get set up in their own clearly marked-out space ready for the warm-up for their own safety.
Lucie Cowan: Late entry is not permitted. If you’re not on time you will not be able to enter the studio under any circumstances.
15. What happens if my breathing is affected by a mask on the gym floor or I become dehydrated while wearing a mask?
Lucie Cowan: Masks are optional for members.
Stephen Rowe: You are not required to wear a mask to train in our gyms. However, you are welcome to do so if you would feel more comfortable.
16. If I bring equipment or support items for my time at the gym – wrist splints or boxing gloves of my own – should I consider those as just as in need of disinfecting as, say, a bench the gym owns?
Alex Crockford: Any additional items brought to the gym that will be touching equipment will need to also be disinfected to limit the chance of contamination.
Stephen Rowe: We’re asking that members don’t bring their own sweat towels or other equipment into the gym, to limit the spread of infection from outside the gym.
17. Will it be harder to swap weights in the middle of sets in a class environment if I also need to disinfect them?
Lucie Cowan: Class participants are required to select their equipment at the start of the class and this is the equipment they keep throughout the class, to minimise changing over of equipment. Then, all members are required to disinfect all their equipment before putting it away at the end.
Stephen Rowe: Our team will be structuring our classes to make sure everyone gets a great workout while keeping equipment clean and safe. No classes will run that require the sharing or swapping of kit during the class.
Ben Leonard-Kane: At Flykick, each bench for every guest has its own full set of dumbbells (5kg up to 12.5kg), so this should not be a problem. We’d ask you to get any heavier dumbbells from the rack at the start of the class and keep them by your bench to help with social distancing during the class.
18. How can I, as a customer, make sure I help with social distancing and being the best member of the gym/fitness studio I can possibly be when simply moving through the space?
Stephen Rowe: First of all, stay at home if you have any concerns whatsoever that you may have contracted or been in touch with anyone infected with Covid-19. When in the gym, follow the simple guidelines: keep your distance, wash your hands and clean down kit before and after use with the new self-cleaning stations provided. Also, try not to talk directly to people face to face, rather to one side of each other to avoid propelling droplets further. If coughing or sneezing, do so into the inside of your elbow to catch droplets. Please avoid training less than two metres away from another person, even if that person is inside your household or bubble (for the time being, we won’t be allowing spotting inside our gyms).
Lucie Cowan: Be considerate of others, including yourself, and be extra mindful of the space you are in and who is around you. Think ahead and be organised for your session: plan your workout before you go to the gym and know exactly what your session will consist of and what equipment you’ll need, so you can go straight in and gather the things you need. Be as efficient as you can when training, using the changing facilities and moving around the gym, and minimise socialising on the gym floor! Avoid hanging around before and after classes, or hanging around and chatting to others in the changing rooms and more social areas of the club such as water fountains. Every piece of equipment you use, give it a thorough spray or wipe down, and think outside the box and pay extra attention to the things you touch, such as doors and surfaces, and remember to give those a clean too.
James Middleton: Be attentive, be alert and be considerate of others. Gyms are communities and everyone is in the same situation, so don’t be afraid to speak to a staff member.
Fitness experts on the best home workouts to keep you motivated
How to change your nutrition while working out from home
Experts on the best arm exercises to keep in shape