Gym buffs and locked-down Britons with bulging stomachs can finally pump iron again today as gyms reopen after months of lockdown.
Indoor gyms and leisure centres have been among the last businesses to open their doors again to the public during the coronavirus crisis.
Fitness fanatics are expected to flock to gyms across the country today to work up a sweat, get their hearts pumping and shed some extra pounds.
And they will be able to use treadmills, cross-trainers, bikes and weights all at a socially-safe distance – and without the need for face masks.
UKactive, the industry body which represents Britain’s gyms, said it spent last week in talk with Ministers to set guidance for its 3,500 member firms.
It has made sure the fitness sector is ‘aligned’ to Government guidance in the run-up to the sector’s reopening and said it is following guidance set by the World Health Organisation that people should not wear masks while exercising indoors as they may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably.
Under Government guidelines drawn up in consultation with UKactive, gyms are instead ensuring members keep two metres apart. The Government has even suggested allowing one person per 100 square feet of usable space.
PureGym, which has more than 260 outlets, said that means a club that normally accommodates 180 to 200 people at peak times will hold nearer 130, including staff.
Virgin Active will open the majority of its 42 UK gyms on Saturday but members will not be required to wear face masks.
David Lloyd also confirmed masks will not be mandatory in its 100 UK health clubs.
Other safety measures include rigorous cleaning schedules throughout the day, using disinfectant certified to kill viruses within 60 seconds, and checking employees’ temperature on arrival. The gym chains also have a range of offers to help retain members.
UKactive said: ‘We note the Government’s decision on face coverings on shops and public transport where it is harder to keep social distancing in place.
‘However, we also support the Government’s consideration that there need to be practical requirements for each sector.
‘As such, when it comes to gyms and leisure centres, the appropriate mitigation measures will be in place to make sure that social distancing remains. Therefore we would not expect face coverings to become mandatory in our facilities.’
Responding to news that gyms are reopening today, Richard Darwin, chief executive of The Gym Group – which runs 179 gyms in the UK – said he was ‘delighted’ by the announcement.
But the Group, one of Britain’s biggest fitness chains, revealed it had lost around a fifth of its members during lockdown – even though it froze their payments.
The Gym Group said that 178,000 people had cancelled their memberships with one of its 179 gyms, which are mainly across England.
Before lockdown, on March 18, the company had 870,000 members. This had dropped to 692,000 on Thursday, at an average age of 32
Direct debit repayments will now restart, but members can request to have their membership frozen for longer.
‘We are in the process of un-furloughing our colleagues, who will be ready to open the doors of our gyms in England on July 25 and in the other home nations once restrictions are lifted,’ Mr Darwin said.
‘We are encouraged by the response of our members, the vast majority of whom are keen to get back to the gym to begin working out again.
‘We look forward to welcoming them back and being able to continue providing affordable fitness for all.’
According to its own research, 92 per cent of members are keen to get back to exercising at one of the The Gym Group’s 160 sites in England, 13 in Scotland and three in Wales which are all set to reopen from July 25.
The normally round-the-clock gyms will initially open from 6am to 10pm on weekdays and from 8am to 8pm on weekends.
Staff will get their temperature checked at the start of their shifts, and the number of the people in each gym will be restricted to one per 100 square feet.
The company will also launch an app where customers can monitor how busy the gym is, and check historical trends to spot patterns of when it might be safe to go.
‘Opening safely is our primary concern and we have comprehensive plans in place for both our colleagues and members as we re-open our gyms,’ Mr Darwin said.
‘We are pleased to have been able to work with Government and the rest of the health and fitness sector on how best to operate in a Covid-secure way.
‘Together with the Government we recognise the significant benefits of exercise in improving the nation’s physical and mental well-being, particularly at this time as we respond to the pandemic.’