We answer the most common questions about when gyms will reopen, and find out how the fitness industry is responding to lockdown measures.
All gyms in the UK and numerous other countries including Germany, France, Denmark and the UAE are currently closed in order to prevent the spreading of coronavirus
Beijing has shut down gyms again after reopening them over fears of a second coronavirus wave
- Prof Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, warns that social distancing due to coronavirus will ” last for a year” to prevent second wave
- Trade association ukactive has announced their stratgery for the safe reopening of gyms in the UK when lockdown is lifted
For many people, the gym is the communal space they miss most since the closure of all public spaces deemed non-essential: after all, gyms and fitness studios offer community, motivation and the facilities for both keeping fit and socialising.
Before Covid-19 struck, the industry was thriving: last year, total UK gym membership broke the 10 million mark. According to the UK Fitness Industry Report 2019, 1 in every 7 people in the UK was a member of a gym before the outbreak. According to trade body UKactive, the physical activity sector contributes £7.7bn to the economy annually.
Though gyms are adapting to offer virtual fitness, calls are growing for the Government to reveal how it plans to release Britain from lockdown and people want to know when they can go back to their gyms: below, we speak to fitness industry insiders and answer the most frequently asked questions about when gyms will reopen, how time away from the gym will affect your fitness regime, the impact of coronavirus on gyms and what you can do to work out at home in the meantime.
Gym closure timeline: when did gyms close?
All gyms in Britain have been closed since Saturday March 21 in order to prevent the spreading of coronavirus.
The closures followed a Downing Street announcement on Friday March 20 in which Boris Johnson announced the closure of all public places deemed non-essential, including leisure centres, fitness and yoga studios, as well as swimming pools.
The PM’s instructions are currently that we must only exercise alone, or with members of the same household. Outdoor gyms, skate parks, golf courses and most public tennis courts are also closed (in any which are open, we should only play against members of our own household).
Some UK gyms had already chosen to close their doors beforehand. “We closed on 17 March 2020, following the Prime Minister’s announcement urging people to stop all non-essential contact,” says Chatty Dobson, owner of boutique gym Flex Chelsea. “We rapidly had to adapt: first we took our classes into the parks, and shortly after launched online.”
Elsewhere, attendance had already dwindled. “We had already started to notice an impact on our business as customers began self-isolating, working from home, or simply cutting back on non-essential travel to do their bit to prevent the spread,” says Hollie Grant, founder of the Pilates PT Method, which has an online programme too.
When will gyms in Britain open again?
It is not currently clear when gyms and other public spaces will be reopened, but the government stated when gym closures were announced that measures would be assessed every month from then on. “It’s a million dollar question – fingers crossed we get an update at the beginning of May from the government,” says Lee Mullins, founder of Workshop Gymnasium gyms. Different reports have suggested that closures are expected to last weeks, months, or longer.
“I don’t see membership gyms opening again for some months to come, given the current strategy of social distancing. That appears to be the direction,” says fitness expert Matt Roberts, the founder of Evolution gym in Grosvenor Square and former trainer to David Cameron.
“It’s hard to see how spin and circuit training studios and the like can open and operate in the same way for a while. However, I imagine that one-on-one personal training, physiotherapy, Pilates and the like could be available sooner as there is direct control over movement and contact from person to person. I’d hope for around June for those.”
Lee Mullins agrees: “I expect smaller private training facilities to have an advantage over bigger commercial gyms as they can control hygiene levels and numbers,” he says. Data tracking could be one way to minimise risk of infection in such instances.
“We’re all in the dark with regards to when we will be able to open, and what ‘open’ will look like whenever that is,” says FLEX Chelsea’s Chatty Dobson. “Although we know a lot of members are dying to get back to the class environment, we’re anticipating a little uncertainty around group classes for a while after we reopen; it’ll take a while to get back to pre-lockdown levels.”
What are other countries doing about re-opening gyms?
Scientists say that Britain has now Passed the initial coronavirus peak. The daily mortality rate in England and Wales hit its highest level on April 8, following a similar trajectory to other countries – which are now braced to begin reopening schools, shops and businesses.
Spain, France and Greece plan to ease the unprecedented measures to combat the pandemic within the next three weeks, while Germany allowed some smaller shops to reopen on Monday – although gyms, restaurants, bars and larger stores remain closed.
Denmark, one of the first European countries to shut down, will reopen day care centres and schools on April 15. All other curbs including a ban on gathering of more than 10 people and closure of cafes, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers will continue to apply until at least May 10.
Though there have been some reopenings across the globe, many gyms remain closed for the foreseeable future. Workshop Gymnasium has gyms in international cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Bali, Dubai and Milan, all of which remain closed.
“At the moment all of our gyms are still closed and sadly I have not heard from any of our teams in each city as to when they will reopen,” says Lee Mullins. Gyms in Dubai and the UAE have been closed since 15 March.
President Donald Trump unveiled a proposal this week to reopen America’s gyms. In a memo issued on Thursday titled “Guidelines for Opening Up America Again,” the White House included gyms among the businesses that would reopen to the general public during “phase one” of its plan to jump-start the American economy.
Gyms and sports facilities in China have started to slowly reopen in low-risk areas: by March 12, nearly 590 gyms and stadiums had reopened in Shanghai. Lockdown was lifted in Wuhan on April 6.
But this week, Beijing shut down gyms again, as fears rose over a second wave of coronavirus. Beijing gyms had been shut down since late January, but some had begun to re-open over the last few weeks.
Could gyms be asked to close again if there is a second peak?
Conceivably, a second peak or wave could see gyms re-open in the UK only to be forced to close again.
A major French study has warned of such a risk: with only 6 per cent of the population immune, France starts lifting lockdown on May 11.
You can find everything you need to know about the possibility of a second coronavirus wave and what does that mean for the UK’s lockdown exit strategy here?
“If there is another spike in cases we may see gyms open and then close again, but hopefully there are other ways of helping to manage the virus, such as masks, improved hygiene, and limits on the numbers of trainers and customers in a facility,” suggests Lee Mullins, founder of Workshop Gymnasium gyms. “We may be able to test client body temperature prior to entering the facility to see if they potentially have the virus. I think we will see a number of new protocols that will be implemented to help manage the safety of everyone attending gyms.”
Some gyms may be reluctant to open too soon, due to the costs associated with retaining staff, introducing new measures and health and safety inspections in uncertain times.
Can gym memberships be frozen indefinitely?
Direct debits for gym memberships have generally been frozen or cancelled. Gyms and yoga studios are turning to online classes in a bid to help people stay fit and maintain a revenue stream. Gym credits can also be saved for when gyms do re-open. “We don’t have a membership structure, we have a credit system – so credits will be there waiting for clients when this is all over,” explains Pilates PT Method founder Hollie Grant.
When will it be safe to go to the gym?
Gym operators are worried that nervous gym goers may not return as soon as lockdown is lifted and that they may struggle to attract new members who are anxious about the potential spread of the virus. Many clients may be reluctant to work out in close proximity in groups and to share equipment in the near future.
Gyms are likely to increase hygiene measures when they do reopen. Before lockdown, PureGym, which has 230 UK outposts, increased the frequency of cleaning, especially “for high use areas such as pin pads, door handles, lockers and equipment”. Humphrey Cobbold, chief executive of PureGym, has said the chain will space out treadmills and limit the number of members on site at one time post-lockdown.
This week, Ukactive – the trade body for gyms, leisure centres and other physical activity providers in the UK (ranging from PureGym, The Gym, and Everyone Active to smaller boutiques gyms) announced a four stage – strategy to support the safe eventual reopening of gyms throughout the UK.
It includes research on business modelling, a framework for operators, a public information campaign and policy support. Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “The physical activity sector stands together in its support for our nation’s health and wellbeing at this challenging time.
“Our priority remains securing the financial support and guarantees urgently required for the sector, however, we have also been planning for the future milestones in the management of the Covid-19 crisis.
“We have set out a four-stage strategy that will ensure a coordinated and consistent approach to the reopening of gyms, leisure centres, outdoor fitness and other facilities, based on putting the safety of customers and staff first. Our operators must meet future public health recommendations in relation to combatting Covid-19.
“We must act now to ensure that the organisations and workforce behind our nation’s activity levels are fully prepared to reopen in a safe and swift manner to ensure they can continue to serve our communities in future. Our message to the Government is that our sector will show it is ready to reopen when called upon.”
How do gym closures and lockdown measures affect your ability to exercise?
Many Brits have embraced keeping fit at a safe distance during lockdown by leaving the house and going for a run a walk or a cycle each day.
On April 16, new guidance was issued stating that exercising more than once per day is “reasonable”, but police officers have been advised to consider whether or not “repeated exercise” on the same day is a “reasonable excuse” for leaving home.
How has coronavirus changed the way the fitness industry operates?
Individual, freelance personal trainers, gyms and studios are streaming live workouts via Instagram and Zoom. These can be paid for individually or via a membership. The prices tend to be much reduced from the normal rate, but go some way to support self-employed trainers.
The new trend for virtual, remote personal training and online group workouts could impact how we consume fitness in the long-term, with digital streaming platforms like Fiit – which offers studio fitness at home – seeing a spike in subscriptions. You can read our review on the best home fitness apps.
At-home interactive spin sessions provided by the likes of the Peloton home exercise bike have also seen a rise in popularity, with shares almost doubling over the past month. Spin studios such as Psycle have launched live home workouts: theirs are in partnership with Stages which are selling the SC2 Indoor Cycle used in Psycle studios for home delivery.
What is the government doing to help the fitness industry?
Gyms still have overheads, rents and costs to cover, but measures brought in by Chancellor Rishi Sunak will go some way help businesses and freelance fitness professionals to stay afloat until gyms can re-open again.
The Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention scheme has lessened the financial burden on gyms of keeping staff on contracts on the payroll, and is designed to encourage them to retain staff at little or no cost. The scheme enables businesses to register employees who can no longer work as ‘furloughed’ through HMRC’s online portal, which then requires HMRC to reimburse up to 80% of these wages (capped at £2,500 per month). There is also business rates relief for gyms.
Could some gyms close permanently?
The industry is struggling, and some gyms are in danger of folding. Citigroup analysts say the Gym Group, which has 179 sites across the country, have enough cash to survive for nearly five months before needing additional financial assistance.
Many personal trainers are self-employed or freelance and can be reimbursed up to 80% of their earnings, but only if they have three years of income records.
“The industry is in dire straits,” says FLEX Chelsea’s Chatty Dobson. “With memberships on hold and rents on these large sites remaining at 100pc, there isn’t much that online classes can do to contribute financially. It’s seriously tough. We’re all rolling with the ‘how long is a piece of string’ method regarding when we can re-open.”