Safe to train?

Updated: 03 August, 2020 10:52 IST | Sonia Lulla | Mumbai

From converting terraces into open-air options, to using anti-microbial uniforms, gym owners are trying their best to reassure clients when facilities reopen; doctors, however, suggest exerting caution

At JGS fitness centre, the trainers' wardrobe is ready for an overhaul. Anti-microbial fabric is being used to create uniforms that closely resemble the attire of medical staff, if it wasn't for the bright pop of red. Sanitisers are being installed beside every piece of equipment; an alcoholic one for free-weight equipment, and a non-alcoholic version for electronic machines like treadmills and cross-trainers. The latter, owner Shalini Bhargava says, is essential to keep machines from malfunctioning. "We are also installing a UV tower that will automatically sanitise the space every 45 minutes," says Bhargava, who has been re-writing a plan of action to reopen her Santacruz facility, since it downed its shutters in March.

Given that his staff trains no more than six to seven clients at a time, Sawant says it is easy to maintain physical distance between members
Given that his staff trains no more than six to seven clients at a time, Sawant says it is easy to maintain physical distance between members

The three-storey space that could once comfortably accommodate 35 members at a time is undergoing several iterations to create a safe environment when gyms reopen. Having analysed how many members can use the space while maintaining a six-foot distance, that number, she confesses, will drop significantly. "The free-weights section that could once allow 10 members may only be able to accommodate five, and of the five treadmills in the cardio section, only three can be used at a time." Her popular group-exercise studio that too saw 30 members for each class can now admit only nine. "During the lockdown, we've been able to successfully train people virtually, and will continue to do so for those who cannot return. Senior citizens will be personally counselled and encouraged to continue training from home. They can drop by on a weekly basis to monitor and correct their posture," she adds.

A staffer and trainer at Bhargava's gym in an anti-microbial suit that will be used when gyms reopen
A staffer and trainer at Bhargava's gym in an anti-microbial suit that will be used when gyms reopen

Zoom: Boon or doom
But while virtual classes have worked in favour of several fitness professionals, Body Sculptor founder Prashant Sawant, who owns three facilities in the city, says the online medium is not suited for all. "Zoom classes are not working for everyone, and trainers are suffering. [Some have resorted] to selling vegetables to make a living. It is not tough to persuade members to return, because they are well aware of the precautionary measures that we are taking. Some may revisit later if they are affected due to lack of access to the gym."

Prashant Sawant
Prashant Sawant

The trainers at Sawant's gym have been facing the brunt of the lockdown, but those employed at Bandra's Antigravity Club, says owner Yudi Jaisingh, have benefited from their virtual sessions. "Our members are happy with our online classes being conducted by our trainers, and hence, the latter are happy, too," he says of his private-training facility.

Dr Anupa Hinduja
Dr Anupa Hinduja

Despite the fact that only five per cent of his clientele is 50 years-plus, Jaisingh is reluctant to open his club amid soaring cases. "We've seen a lot of transformations among members in four months despite training from home. That was possible because, as a private training studio, we make each session impactful, and people have also been forced to follow healthier practices. After all, they can't step out to eat or drink."

Dr Devendra Patel
Dr Devendra Patel

The new outdoors
Aware that the virus spreads in air-conditioned environments, Bhargava plans to use two terraces instead. "The weights, including dumbbells and racks, are being moved to the big terrace, where 15 people can be accommodated at one time. Personal training sessions will be held on the small terrace." Given that Sawant's gym is more like a personal training studio, he doesn't expect issues with distancing protocols. "We usually have six to seven members. There is enough scope to maintain social distancing. However, we will discourage members from chatting in groups post workouts."

Counselling is key
While the owners are doing their best, they admit that the onus to prevent infections lies in equal measure with their clients. Bhargava will provide each member with a sanitiser, and encourage him/her to clean equipment after using it. Sawant will urge members to carry their own towel, and prevent them from wearing footwear worn outside within the premises. "We will sanitise the space every two hours, monitor temperatures, and note clients' oxygen levels as they train," assures Sawant, who will also dissuade trainers from chalking out high-intensity routines for clients.

The other side
Doctors say, hold on
Dr Anupa Hinduja, clinical associate, internal medicine, at Nanavati Super Specialty Hospital is not in favour of gyms being reopened in the wake of reports of the virus being airborne. "I don't think it's wise to train in an enclosed space where windows may be shut, the space may be air-conditioned, and people will touch the same equipment. Also, it is not feasible to maintain adequate distance [between each other] in enclosed spaces. Other countries are now reporting a second wave. Just because things are opening up, we shouldn't [let our guard down]."

Conducting high-intensity training while donning a mask is not feasible for many, she points out, adding that several joggers lower their masks during training. "If this happens in a gym, there is a high possibility of transmission due to the large number of asymptomatic carriers. Thus, frequent sanitising of equipment will not suffice."

Dr Devendra Patel, an ICU Intensivist at Kandivali's Shatabdi Hospital, echoes Hinduja's opinion that it isn't the right time to reopen gyms. "Apart from issues around social-distancing norms, there is also the fear of equipment being touched by multiple users. Even if gyms sanitise it frequently, it is accessed by more than one member within five minutes," he reminds.

Dos and don'ts

. Carry an extra pair of shoes to wear in the gym, and a towel from home.

. This pandemic has shown how many 'strong' individuals may not have enough lung capacity, so focus should be on cardiovascular training

. Sanitise benches and machines after finishing each set

. The gym isn't a café to indulge in long conversations

. Skip training if unwell

Inputs by Sahil Rasheed, celebrity trainer

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First Published: 03 August, 2020 08:19 IST

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