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Chester County Press

As fitness centers reopen, ‘safety’ and ‘precaution’ are as essential as a workout

07/07/2020 07:49PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

In a normal world, the YMCA of Greater Brandywine (YGBW) regularly checks in its 80,000 members at its six locations in Chester County with a simple membership card scan and a friendly greeting at the front desk.

That was four months ago, before the arrival of the coronavirus led to the virtual shutdown of Pennsylvania, including the closing of the YGBW on March 15.

On June 29, when the county’s entrance into the green phase of the State’s plan for reopening included fitness centers and gyms, it did not take long for the first returning members to acknowledge that the normal world of the “Y” was no longer normal.

The YGBW has instituted several new protocols designed to ramp up the safety of its members, staff and community, starting with the limited and staggered reopening of its programming and activities, wellness centers, indoor tracks, group exercise and swimming pools.

Signs of the “new Y” are clearly visible at each entrance. Before entering any of the facilities, members and staff will be required to answer health-related questions and be temperature screened. Anyone showing signs of COVID-19 or who has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will not be permitted to enter for the safety of all members, and no guest or trial passes will be accepted.

Once inside, members won’t just be working out on a treadmill or lifting weights, but practicing social distancing; most equipment is now spaced six feet apart, single-entry and single-exit points are located at the main entrance and directional signage is seen throughout each of the buildings. Masks are required in common areas but can be removed while exercising, and members will see several hand sanitizing stations placed throughout each branch.

In addition, community water fountains are shut down, so members are encouraged to bring their own water bottles; and equipment must be disinfected before and after use, using a disinfectant solution that will be provided at each location.

“The entire YGBW staff is thrilled to reopen and welcome members back to our facilities,” said Denise Day, president and CEO of YGBW. “Our team has been working hard over the past several weeks to prepare for reopening. Although things will look a bit different to protect everyone’s health and safety, we are all excited to reopen and welcome our community back safely.”

“We’re following all of the latest cleaning protocols from the CDC, have implemented a heightened disinfectant schedule, and our staff have been trained on how to disinfect equipment and high-touch points,” Nic Legere, YGBW’s association director of safety and risk management. “It is important for us to remain composed and moving forward during COVID-19, and keep our core values focused even on these times to develop healthy minds, bodies and spirits.

“We keep that at the forefront of what we do, pivot often and look for new and innovative ideas about how we can continue to serve the community.”

Legere said that while the YGBW has begun the process of reopening its locations and kicking off its many programs again, its virtual classes will remain in place, and for a good reason.

“We know not all of our members are not ready to get back to their ‘Y’ just yet,” he said.

While fitness centers have been given the green light to reopen, the reluctance by some gym members to jump back into their normal routine of grinding out their workouts in the confines of an enclosed space – and in the company of others – is a battle between perception and protocol, and precaution and fear.

As ANCHOR life + fitness owner Charlene Richardson prepared to reopen her fitness facility in Kennett Square on June 29, she instituted a brand new set of policies designed to maximize programming and safeguard its members from potential exposure. Everyone entering ANCHOR is required to wear a mask and gets their temperature taken at the door. Individual workout pods between six and eight feet apart have been marked off. Sanitation stations have been placed throughout the building, and the distribution of towels and the availability of showers have both been eliminated. 

“We’ve even shortened our class times to allow for instructors to clean in between classes, and taped down the floors for directions,” Richardson said. “Because our yoga studio is in the back, practitioners will now enter through the back door of the facility, so that we can maintain our numbers well below what has been suggested.

“Basically, you’re getting in, you’re doing workout and you’re getting out, at this point.”

Richardson said that while 75 to 80 percent of the ANCHOR members have expressed confidence in returning to the facility, some have told her that their reluctance to coming back stems from their fear of contracting the virus and transferring it to someone they live with who is classified as “immune compromised.”

The fear speaks for itself. A survey conducted in May by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicated that the majority of the country is reluctant to abide by the freedoms associated with the reopening of businesses as legislated by individual states.

The results of the survey revealed that just 42 percent of those who went to concerts, movies, theaters or sporting events at least monthly before the outbreak say they’d do so in the next few weeks, if given the opportunity – and only about half of those surveyed who regularly went to restaurants, exercised at the gym or traveled would feel comfortable doing so again.

For many fitness centers large and small who have struggled to keep the wheels of their businesses afloat during the pandemic, a savior in the form of virtual fitness has become a safe and perhaps permanent lifeline. Throughout the last few months, ANCHOR’s Zoom and remote classes have continued to connect instructors with members, and while the doors of the YGBW have now reopened, its virtual platforms – taught by its trained instructors -- are still available on Facebook Live and the YouTube channel.

For David Berger of Progressive Fitness Coaching, working with his clients through face time only may have begun as a necessity, but it has since evolved into a series of individual success stories. 

“When the pandemic hit, my clients were super cautious, and didn’t want me to come to their home,” he said. “At first, coaching them online felt very distant, but now it’s kind of what we have learned to do. They’re getting the accountability they appreciate and the instruction from a qualified trainer, and my clients are making great progress. Some of my clients have told me that their remote workout regimen is more challenging than they were when I was with them in person.”

Berger credited one of his clients – a woman who lives with osteoporosis – for making tremendous progress over the past few months, despite the fact that his twice-a-week appointments with her have been online.

“Her strength gains through this quarantine have been the most significant improvements she has made during my years of working with her,” he said. “During the lockdown, I really changed my approach towards her. I knew I wasn’t going to physically be there with her, so I needed to make sure that she remained focused, so I tailored everything to maintaining her bone health.

While the steps being made by fitness centers in Chester County and nationwide to address their reopening during a worldwide pandemic are being conducted with diligent attention and detail, it is a scrub down in the wake of a virus whose course, impact and end is still not fully known.

“We totally understand that there will be some people who aren’t ready right now,” Richardson said. “There are a lot of unknowns out there right now, and going back to a gym so soon may not be suitable for everyone.”

With or without the pandemic, exercise in any form – whether in a fitness center, under the tutelage of a fitness coach, or on one’s own -- is suitable for everyone, Berger said.

“The psychology behind health and fitness is just as important as the physical component,” he said. “Exercise is medicine, and health is wealth. There are so many people who have the capabilities to exercise, but their fear of locks them down. That’s always been the case when it comes to exercising.

“This time has presented new challenges, but there has to be an impetus in the beginning to make that change, and that’s often a hard thing for many people to find. Becoming a healthier person should always be the driving factor.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].


Seven tips for keeping fit during COVID-19

1.  Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation causes an increase in cortisol levels independent of exercise.
2.  Maintain hydration levels before during and after your workout. Dehydration increases the cortisol response.
3.  Pay attention to refueling especially during a longer workout. Consuming a carbohydrate/protein sports drink during your workout will minimize cortisol elevation and muscle protein breakdown.
4.  Don’t skip your recovery nutrition. Consuming a carbohydrate/protein recovery drink within 45 minutes post workout can pay dramatic dividends by reducing cortisol levels and minimize inflammation both factors which negatively impact your body's defense mechanisms.
5.  Reduce the number of high volume, high intensity workouts per week.
6.  Take a rest the day after a particularly hard workout. This is a good practice even if there was not threat of coronavirus.
7.  Last but not least, don’t stop exercising. In this time of heightened anxiety, nothing relieves mental and physical stress better than exercise plus the added benefit of keeping your immune system strong.

Source: Progressive Fitness Coaching, LLC (