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LA's Gyms Are Allowed To Reopen After Coronavirus Closures, But They Won't Look The Same

Holly Drake exercises at Crank Fit--Dubai Indoor Cycling & Boutique Fitness Studio in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Perspex partitions have been installed in between riders to keep to social distancing regulations. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)
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Julia Paskin contributed to this story.

This post was updated on Tues. June 16th.

As of Friday June 12, gyms and fitness outlets are officially allowed to reopen in Los Angeles County, with restrictions and many, many new regulations.

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Like restaurants, gyms are creating elaborate systems to maintain some semblance of normalcy amid new safety precautions. But owners are grappling with how to keep their businesses alive (after being closed for nearly three months) without jeapordizing the health of their employees and customers.

Silverlake pilates studio, Avenir LA, reopened on Monday, June 15. Owner Kate Andrews reconfigured the studio so that each student can work out on a reformer, placed six feet apart. The studio is also asking customers and instructors to wear masks thorughout their workouts.

The studio is reopening with a reduced class schedule to make time for sanitizing pilates machines, as well as reduced class sizes to allow for social distancing.

Screenshot from Avenir's Instagram post asking clients if they'd want to come back to in-person classes.

Andrews told KPCC/LAist that per the new regulations, class attendees will be required to line up outside, six-feet apart, and wait for an instructor to open the doors. Studio members "will be getting an email [explaining] that our bathroom, our lobby space, and our water dispenser will be temporarily unavailable," Andrews said.

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Other changes? Hand santizer placed all over the studio, shorter class times to allow for cleaning and distancing between classes, and a new suggestion to limit the amount of personal items stored in the room during workouts.

Since gyms were forced to close in mid-March, Avenir has been running free classes via Instagram Live five days a week to keep their community engaged. Donations were encouraged but not mandatory.

The question now for Andrews, and other gym owners, is how many of her students will want to come back?

Andrews recently polled her clients on Instagram to gauge how many of them would want to resume in-person workouts. She found a little over 50 percent were eager to return, while the other half was hesitant.

A few blocks from Avenir, on Hyperion Avenue, owner Adrienne DiMatteo has been figuring out the logistics of reopening her spin and yoga studio, Hype Silverlake.

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She's expanded upon the state's guidelines, because as she wrote in Hype's opening announcement on Instagram, she doesn't think they go far enough (the state says workout machines should be at least six feet apart).

"This has been pretty challenging," DiMatteo said. "We know the coronavirus can travel six feet, but if there's more exertion it might be a little farther, so in my mind that means more than six feet," she told LAist. "It's more to make me feel comfortable coming to the studio. So hopefully it works for other people as well."

DiMatteo decided to convert the studio's parking lot into an outdoor gym, with bikes placed 8-to-12 feet apart. The indoor spin, yoga and HIIT classes will require guests to stay 8-to-15 feet away from one another, for added safety. And the gym's virtual classes will continue for clients who don't feel comfortable returning in-person just yet.

Now DiMatteo has to juggle the task of running outdoor, indoor and virtual classes at the same time. It's a lot of coordinate and her resources are already stretched thin.

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Figuring all this out was not an easy task, even though DiMatteo says she's already a self-proclaimed germaphobe: "Sincerely, it's like an organizing principle in my life." Gyms have to incorporate both state and county guidelines, while also making their clients feel comfortable.

The county guideline document alone features a six page long checklist, with over a hundred safety requirements.

A "Cleaned and Sanitized" sign is displayed on a exercise bike at Crank Fit--Dubai Indoor Cycling & Boutique Fitness Studio in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Perspex partitions have been installed in between riders to keep to social distancing regulations. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

DiMatteo says for most small independent fitness studios, there's no question about whether or not to reopen. It's a necessity. She hasn't had an income for three months, she says, so she has to reopen the studio if she wants to keep the business from shutting down for good.

"If you have guarantee on that loan, it's not really up to you," she said. Hype did receive a PPP loan as part of the CARES Act, but DiMatteo says it's not enough, especially when all of her employees are part-time.

"It's hard to lose your income and then continue to owe that debt every month," DiMatteo said. Even with the online classes the studio is running, she said, "We've been losing money."

Like restuarants, small, independently-owned fitness studios like Hype and Avenir run on razor thin margins. Even some of the large fitness chains are breaking under the coronavirus shutdowns -- this week 24-Hour Fitness filed for bankruptcy, closing down 100 of their gyms across the country.

Because of that, DiMatteo said a lot of other studio owners she knows area also reopening, but many may have to wait longer, while they wait for equipment and supplies, including bulk hand sanitizer and masks, "and in Covid world, that could be June or July."

A woman takes the temperature of a man at the entrance of a gym in Guadalajara as Mexico gradually reopens its economy after more than two months of shutdown amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Mexico began re-opening recently, reactivating the automotive industry, mining and construction, even as the country recorded more than 10,000 virus deaths. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)

Other spin studios opening on the Eastside include Ratio Cycling in East Hollywood, which is conducting personal training-style classes for those who are worried about social distancing and RevCycle in Eagle Rock, which is also putting space between their bikes and considering running outdoor classes.

Bigger gym chains such as L.A. Fitness opened on Friday as soon as state retrictions were lifted. Regulations include pre-workout temperature screenings, staggered lockers, face coverings and closures of saunas and water fountains.

Some of the many items on L.A. County's checklist for reopening gyms:

  • Alternate, staggered or shift schedules instituted to maximize physical distancing.
  • Hand sanitizer, tissues and trash cans available to the public at or near the entrance of the facility.
  • Amenities, including magazines, books, self-serve water stations (unless touchless), and other items for patrons, must be removed from reception areas and elsewhere in the fitness facility.
  • Wherever possible, install touchless, automatic water dispensers for use with personal, reusable water bottles or single-use, disposable paper cups. Display signage reminding staff and patrons that the bottle or cup should not touch the water dispenser.
  • Doors to multi-stall restrooms should be able to be opened and closed without touching the handles, using opening-devices, or powered door operators with the hand, whenever possible.
  • Gym occupancy is limited to 50% or less. Only those patrons that are actually exercising should be inside the facility. Patrons should not wait in the reception area
  • Remove communal furniture and/or cordoning off member lounge areas
  • Yoga classes held in temperatures over 100 degrees should be discouraged.
  • Spa services are not allowed.