British Columbia

Gyms will reopen eventually, but online workouts are here to stay, studio owners say

Some Vancouver gym owners say they're in no rush to reopen fitness studios and once they do, don't expect sweaty high-fives and shared equipment.

Gym owners say COVID-19 has changed workout habits

Spin Society owner Dominik Desbois says bikes will not be spaced closely together in rows once his Vancouver studios reopen. (Spin Society/Dominik Desbois)

Some Vancouver gym owners say they're in no rush to reopen fitness studios and once they do, don't expect sweaty high-fives and shared equipment.

COVID-19 has changed the way we work out — and not necessarily for the worse, said Spin Society CEO Dominik Desbois.

His Vancouver spin studios are among many gyms and fitness centres that have switched to online classes since the pandemic started. He's planning to keep those digital classes going, even after the planned reopening of his studios on June 1. 

"Nowhere in our business plan was there ever any thought of offering an online spin class ...  but this crisis really gave us the chance to examine that," he said.

"We can really do a good job with what we have."

Spin Society rented out 124 bikes within two hours after its studios closed on March 16, Desbois said. That demand made him reconsider the future of fitness.

When in-studio classes reopen, they won't look anything like they used to, he said. 

Class size will be halved to a maximum of 25 bikes in a room to abide by social distancing guidelines, he said. There will be no back-to-back classes to allow for extra cleaning, showers will be closed, and no more than two people will be allowed in change rooms at a time.

Not exactly the pumped-up atmosphere people might be used to, but Desbois is OK with it. 

"I think people's habits are slowly changing and the adoption for online fitness is a lot higher now," he said. "There's going to be a true hesitation to go back into private, public spaces."

COVID-19 has spread through gyms, Dr. Henry says

The province never ordered fitness centres to close, although some health authorities like Fraser Health and Island Health enforced their own orders to minimize the further transmission of COVID-19.

On Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that there had been transmission of the virus in gyms in B.C.

The province is in its first phase of loosening restrictions and will soon allow gatherings of up to six people.

Henry said she doesn't see gym and fitness studios being part of the second phase of reopenings, and once they do reopen, there will have to be restrictions to ensure physical distancing.

On Friday, Finance Minister Carole James said she expects conversations between different sectors, including fitness centres and gyms and WorkSafeBC and the province, as industries clarify what requirements are needed to reopen. 

Jason Darr is also aiming for a June 1 reopening. The owner of CrossFit 604 in Vancouver has also offered online classes but said it's been tough to cover costs.

Whenever he reopens, he said it won't be hard to space people out at his 6,000 square-foot gym.

"We normally pack 28 people in there at a time, which of course is not going to be the case when we reopen," he said.

"It will be significantly reduced so people don't have to share equipment, don't have to share space."

'There's actually a great need for online digital workouts'

Tight Club Athletics owner Keighty Gallagher said she also has bills to pay having a brick-and-mortar studio, but she's unsure of when to reopen.

Zoom and Instagram live fitness classes have worked well for her business, she said, and she doesn't want to pressure other studios or clients by opening too soon.

When she does reopen, it'll be for one-on-one personal training at first, she said. When classes resume, they might be no more than six people — down from the usual 22, she said.

The online classes, though, will continue, she said. 

"We found that there's actually a great need for online digital workouts," Gallagher said. "I definitely think that live streaming is going to be here to stay."

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