Colorado gyms and recreation centers were finally allowed to reopen June 4 after months-long closures thanks to COVID-19.
Emerging from the state’s stay-at-home and safer-at-home executive orders, fitness businesses — where people usually share small spaces and equipment — must navigate a landscape starkly different from the one they left.
And while gyms in other states struggle — Planet Fitness in West Virginia fears 205 members could have been exposed to a client with COVID-19, and gyms in Arizona and Michigan have closed again — Colorado is faring pretty well.
Springs gyms report that things are slowly returning to something resembling normal, despite new state guidelines for indoor recreation centers, gyms, fitness classes, bowling alleys, pools and indoor sports facilities.
The guidelines include capacity limits of 25 percent, or 50 people, whichever is fewer, for indoor facilities and pools; pools being encouraged to limit activities to lap swim; reservation systems for monitoring capacity; symptom and temperature checks for gym employees; discouraging use of shared equipment; and other measures for social distancing and sanitation.
Jenna Press, marketing and communications director for the nonprofit YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, said local YMCA facilities closed March 15-June 15.
During those three months, the only services the Y provided were emergency child care for first responders and essential personnel, and services for seniors such as daily wellness check-ins and grocery runs. None of its facilities were open for fitness activities or sports.
Reopening five locations on June 15 — not including city-owned pools at Wilson Ranch and Monument Valley Park, which reopened June 26 — the YMCA started offering reservations for their cardio and weights fitness areas and limited group exercise classes.
They reopened their swimming pools at the Briargate and downtown facilities for lap swim only, with reservations required, and have gradually been expanding and updating their offerings.
Press said the Y recently started accepting reservations for basketball and racquetball courts, and after gauging their capacity and the number of members returning to their facilities, were able to discontinue reservations for their fitness areas.
“And we’re hoping to keep opening up a little bit more in the coming weeks as things progress,” she said.
Youth programming — which includes swim lessons and youth sports — is still on hold, and Press said the YMCA is waiting on less restrictive guidelines to reopen those services, “just so we can stay true to the essence of the sport.”
“Because it’s hard to do soccer when kiddos have to be 6 feet apart,” Press said. “It’s a hard balance trying to find a way to do the sports safely and follow the guidelines and still stay true to the intention. So I think sports is definitely an area where we’re going to have to just play it by ear and see what new guidelines come out.”
Under new protocols, the YMCA is asking members to wash their hands before and after workouts, wipe down all equipment before and after use with provided sanitation materials, and bring their own towels and water bottles (towel services are not provided and drinking fountains are closed, though bottle filling stations are available).
They’re also asking members to social distance, wear masks when they’re not exercising, and stay home if they feel sick. Members under 16 aren’t allowed in the facilities.
But Press said of all the new changes, symptom and temperature checks on members are the biggest and, for some, the most jarring.
The YMCA is also operating on reduced hours and is closing all of its facilities for about 2½ hours in the middle of each day to deep clean the facilities.
“But beyond that we’d like to think we’re almost back to normal,” Press said.
Farrell’s eXtreme Bodyshaping, a franchise fitness studio that offers group-based kickboxing, strength training classes and nutrition services, has also taken a phased approach to reopening and launched new protocols.
Co-owner Mark Vohsman said Farrell’s typically offers six classes per day, but started offering just two when they reopened in early June. The studio has expanded offerings each week, and is now offering four classes per day — three in the morning and one in the early evening.
Before reopening, the two Farrell’s locations in Colorado Springs completed a professional deep clean and established personal workout spaces and new cleaning protocols to adhere to CDC recommendations.
They’ve also limited class capacity to ensure social distancing and are using a scheduling system called Mindbody to take reservations and manage class sizes.
“Our members in the past have not had to sign up for classes,” Vohsman said.
“Based on our class schedule you could show up at any class and with our facility, we could accommodate you. So the biggest change is that members now have to sign up for a class.”
The business is also asking members to take extra cleaning measures, in addition to the extensive efforts of its staff.
“But for the most part it’s been a pretty easy transition for us,” Vohsman said. “There’s a few more steps in the process but it hasn’t been totally complicated. It would be much easier if we can get back to full capacity, but overall it’s not been a terribly hard transition.”
In the early days of the stay-at-home order, Vohsman said Farrell’s pivoted to equipment sales and virtual classes, which helped generate revenue as membership declined.
Now they’re able to return to in-person classes, Vohsman said virtual classes and equipment sales will still be part of the business model, and will be a plus for Farrell’s even beyond the current crisis.
He said the pandemic has also made people realize how important it is to maintain their health, which should have a positive impact on the fitness industry.
“We’re now at the point we’re pushing for new memberships and bringing more people in, so I think we’re going to be on a pretty good upswing through the end of the year if nothing changes,” Vohsman said.
“I think we have positioned ourselves to actually grow relatively well coming out of this.”