“We’re disinfecting shower stalls after every use”: What reopening looks like at five Toronto gyms
Gyms were one of the last class of businesses to reopen—after all, they encourage sweating, lots of machine contact and laborious breathing. But as of July 31, gyms in Toronto had the all-clear from the province to get going. So how are they going to keep their clients Covid-free? We spoke with five gym staffers about all the precautions they’re taking—including outdoor workouts, shower disinfection and hospital-grade air filters—to ensure their clients are safe.
Owner, PureBarre Toronto
“We’ve been offering outdoor classes and livestream classes in the months since we closed. Once the city painted the physical distancing circles in Trinity Bellwoods, we felt comfortable holding classes there, knowing we could keep everybody six feet apart without having to think about it too hard. We hold them early in the morning so it doesn’t affect anyone who just wants to hang out in the park. We finally re-opened on August 4, and we’re taking a hybrid approach—we’re going to maintain livestream and outdoor classes to make sure everyone has an option they are comfortable with. Right now, we are offering two to three in-studio classes per day, one to two livestreams per day and two outdoor classes a week. The livestream classes don’t require any equipment; you can use a chair or a wall or anything you can touch for balance. We have lots of clients using canned goods instead of hand weights.
“Inside the studio, we put up a plexiglass barrier at the front desk. Previously, we would have started barre classes in the centre of the room, gone to the barre, then come back to the centre. Now we’ve marked the floor in our studio so everybody can stay in their own six-by-six-foot station. We’re also requiring everyone to wear masks throughout the workout, from the moment they walk into the space until the moment they leave. The Toronto bylaw says you can take the mask off once you’re in your station, but we’re taking an extra-conservative approach to make sure everybody is safe. The last thing we want is to shut down our business again.
“We’ve also limited our studio to 50 per cent capacity. It’s definitely affecting revenue, but we’ve been fortunate that a lot of members continued to pay their full membership fees over the past four months to support us. We are grateful beyond words that some people were willing to pay $200 per month for livestreams. Our landlord also came to the table and reduced our rent for six months.
“A week in, and the response has nothing but positive. All of our members have followed our protocols and many—including two physicians—have commented on how safe they feel and how well-suited our space is for distancing. Working out in a mask takes some getting used to, so we’ve cranked the AC in our studio to accommodate members getting a little warmer than before. We’ve had several members take multiple classes since reopening, so that speaks to how comfortable people are with our adjustments.
“I’ve gone through all the emotions about entering Stage 3. I think every business owner is nervous about what comes next. We’re doing everything we can to make the right decisions. Of course there’s an increase in profit as soon as you open your doors, but we’ll know in a few weeks whether being open is actually better for long-term revenue. I’m happy we have the choice. I think everybody was starting to get a bit antsy.”
Social media and marketing manager, Sweat and Tonic
“We launched in November 2019, so we were only open for five months before having to shut down again. Once we closed, we were able to pivot quickly and offer on-demand workouts you could watch anytime and anywhere. We began Zoom workouts called Sweat Live—which we will continue, since some people aren’t comfortable coming back to the gym yet—and we also do free Instagram live workouts for half an hour every day. We always knew we wanted to offer workouts on demand. We just didn’t realize it would happen so soon.
“We’ve implemented a lot of new changes at the studio. First of all, people must book their classes online so we can keep track of everyone for contact-tracing purposes. Before you enter the facility you’ll get a temperature check and disinfect your shoes. We’ve installed a touchless entry system. Everyone lines up outside the workout room before class; entering the room is like boarding a plane, where we call you zone by zone. If you’re in the back row you enter first, then the middle row, then the first row. We require people to wear a mask as they’re walking into the class. One they’ve arrived in their stations, the instructor will coordinate mask removal, saying, ‘Now you may remove your mask 3, 2, 1, go.’ In every studio we’ve installed plexiglass panels that go between clients. They’re on wheels so they can be moved around depending on the configuration of the class.
“One of the biggest investments we’ve made is in our ventilation system. We’ve upgraded to hospital-grade MERV 13 filters, and we’ve acquired energy recovery ventilators, or ERVs, which remove the stale air from inside and bring in fresh air from outside. We’ve also implemented a shower-booking system, which gives us the chance to disinfect each stall after every use.
“Because our saunas are closed indefinitely and we’ve lowered class capacity by half, we’ve also lowered our membership fees. We’re aware that times are tough, and since people can’t enjoy the same services here as they could, we’ve lowered the price of our unlimited membership from $275 to $250 and included all our online videos and livestream workouts on Zoom.
“The first weekend we reopened, we offered complimentary classes for anyone who wanted to sign up. Every single class was waitlisted. The classes were free, but we weren’t sure if people would feel comfortable coming back yet. So far, our turnout has been much better than expected. We saw so many familiar faces over the weekend, including people who had only ever done our Zoom workouts. It’s nice to see people coming from online to real life and feeling comfortable in the space.
“In general, people are pretty receptive to the new protocols. There have been one or two people who’ve reacted negatively to wearing masks, but by and large, everyone acts in accordance to the rules. They understand that the community will only be safe if everyone is cooperative.”
National Operations Manager, Goodlife
“After closing our doors, we consulted with experts in infection prevention and sanitization to come up with a reopening plan. We focused on three main areas: ensuring physical distancing, reducing the capacity in our clubs, and enhancing cleaning and sanitization practices.
“Previously, members could come and go as they pleased, but now they have to book their workout before arriving at the club so we can manage capacity levels. Each workout time slot is an hour, and once that block of time is up, the club closes for half an hour so we can perform a reset—that means sanitizing and disinfecting the club for the next cohort coming in. If we’re under capacity in bookings, then we will allow members to drop in, but only after everyone who has booked enters the club. If someone is looking to work out for longer than an hour, they will have to book their first workout, then wait in the walk-in line once the club closes and hope that the next time slot isn’t fully booked.
“We did have to physically reconfigure some of our clubs. For example, we had a new club in Oakville scheduled to open in April and we completely reimagined the layout to ensure the equipment is set up for physical distancing. In existing clubs, we reduced the amount of available equipment so members can keep physical distancing in place. If treadmills are lined up in a row, for example, every other machine will be available for use. We’ve unplugged and taped off the others to make sure people get the message. For members that had personal training, we now offer their sessions remotely, which was not something they could do before.
“During the closure, everybody’s Goodlife membership remained active but nobody was paying for it. Membership dues are a significant portion of our revenue, but we had a rainy-day fund to keep us afloat. Now we have to go about the business of staying open. We quickly converted our reopen strategy to a stay-open strategy.
“While we are hopeful that we can navigate this period safely, hope is never a strategy, so we will continue to stay vigilant and remain prepared for whatever may come our way. This past weekend, we had 150,000 workouts booked in the Toronto/Peel region alone. That’s enough people to fill the Air Canada Centre eight times over. It indicates that our members are ready to come back, that they’re excited and that they’re confident in the measures we’ve taken to keep them safe.”
Owner, Dwell Gym
“We closed our doors March 17, and then got to work like racehorses out of the gate. We actually had to paper our windows because members saw us working inside and kept asking if we were open. First we did a massive deep clean, then added a fresh coat of paint and reorganized a lot of equipment to ensure physical distancing. We wanted to be ready for whenever it was time to open again.
“We have over 8,000 square feet, and a lot of our equipment was already spaced out, but we decided to rearrange to make it flow better. We’ve created more cleaning stations for people, so they don’t have to cross to the other side of the gym to find a spray bottle of disinfectant. We also added an extra towel station, so if you’re coming in just to do cardio there’s no need to walk all the way to the back just to pick up a towel. We already had four FitWipe stations in place, but we upped that number to 11 and added occupancy signage to let people know the maximum number of people who can work out in a designated space.
“Rather than limiting use to every other elliptical, treadmill and rowing machine, we decided to build four-by-eight-foot polycarbonate shields and place them between each machine. The shields are in custom wooden frames painted our signature red. They look cool so we might even keep them after Covid.
“The Toronto bylaw states it is not mandatory to wear a mask while engaging in physical activity, but we ask that any time our members are passing people, they put their mask on. Our trainers are asked to keep masks on them at all times. There’s no policing in our gym, no shaming anybody, and we’ve been really strong with those kinds of messages.”
There is a maximum of 50 people allowed inside the gym, and since we’re open 24/7, we needed to figure out a way to monitor occupancy after hours. We designed an access-card system that automatically locks the doors from the outside whenever we reach maximum capacity. Every time somebody swipes in, they get counted as one person. The system is awesome for contact tracing because it marks the exact time period someone is inside the building. But we will likely never hit the 50-person mark because we’re always open—we don’t have that rush between 5 and 7 p.m. In seven years, we’ve never had more than 50 people inside the building.
“We were closed for four and a half months with zero revenue, which was really tough. But our members have been really supportive. A lot of them wanted us to keep charging them to support the gym which was awesome. When the province gave the go-ahead for us to open, we sold 17 new memberships in less than 24 hours, and we’ve signed up new members every single day.
While we were closed, a lot of people wanted to borrow equipment like barbells, kettlebells and plates, since they didn’t have access to a gym. We suggested that instead of paying us for the equipment, they donate to the food bank. We were able to raise almost $4,000 for the Daily Bread food bank. One member even borrowed one of our spin bikes. She still has it at home, because she’s not quite ready to come back. I said, ‘Just keep it for now. We don’t need it. We’re good.’
“We were given the green light to open on July 31, and we had one member come in at 12:02 a.m that morning. A lot of people have told me they feel like they’re walking into a brand new gym, so I guess our work has really paid off. So far everyone is on their best behaviour, wearing a mask when needed, wiping down gear and practising physician distancing. It’s been incredibly humbling to see the appreciation people have to be able to get some normality back into their lives. The vibe is like, ‘Thank you for giving us a gym to work out in.’ I’m like, ‘Thank you for coming back.’”
Owner, Crossfit YKV
“When Toronto moved into Stage 2, Crossfit YKV started outdoor classes in our parking lot. People love working out outdoors, Covid or not, so now that the weather is nice I’m trying to run as many classes as I can outside. Right now, we only hold them in the evenings because we’re in a residential area and we don’t want to receive any noise complaints. We also offer Zoom classes three times a day. Around 25 per cent of our membership took part in them, and I also posted the workouts online so other members could participate on their own time.
“Coming back, people will line up six feet apart before class and get their temperatures checked before going inside. Our facility lends itself well to physical distancing. We have a big rig in the middle of the room where the squat stands and pull-up bars are. Stations are already six feet apart, but we’ve put squares down on the floor to make it clear. Once people are inside, the coach will assign everyone a square they need to stick to for the duration of the class. Once they’re inside the square, they can take their masks off. When they’re finished working out, they have to wipe down all of the equipment with disinfectant.
“We’re also running classes at 50 per cent capacity. It’s great because everyone is able to get more one-on-one time with the instructor. Five months without revenue has been tough, so we’re offering more classes now to offset our smaller class sizes.
“Reopening has been pretty smooth so far. Everyone is doing a great job following the new protocols. The odd person may forget their mask, but then we just supply them with one. On the first day, August 4, we ran nine classes total with 15 minutes between each class. The plan was to start small and ramp up, but I can’t believe how many people are coming back. We were expecting around 50 per cent of the membership to come back, but we’re probably well above 80 per cent. It’s been unreal.”