When the country went into lockdown, one of the many business types that closed were gyms and health clubs.
For many, it meant no longer being able to do one of the most popular sources of enjoyment; or at least staying healthy, depending on how you view exercise.
The road to reopening proved to be a long one. After various rumblings that they would in early July, gyms were officially allowed to open again from 25th July. However, there are certain restrictions in place, which make it difficult for them to provide the same level of experience that you might expect.
Here's a rundown of those adjustments and our tips for exploring cost-effective alternatives if you decide the gym is no longer for you.
Which gyms can re-open?
Gyms will need to be compliant with the government's regulations to open safely. These include closing or restricting changing rooms and showers usage (so you'll need to arrive and leave in your kit), the correct spacing between the equipment, as well as regular cleaning and sanitisation (check the government's full guidance).
It's worth checking with your local gym if they will be able to do this; don't just assume yours will be in a position to re-open straight away. While you are at it, check that the specific activity you use the gym for is still in operation. You might find your favourite class isn't running yet.
Local lockdown rules also mean that gyms may be closed at short notice. We've seen this with the restrictions placed on parts of the North West and Yorkshire. It's also worth checking with your gym how they intend to handle your membership should that happen in the future.
What precautions should I take?
The phrase "new normal" is relevant for gym-going too. There are restrictions on time spent in the gym, in the changing room and more.
Nuffield Health has released details of the guidelines relevant to using their gyms, which are as follows:
- Be prepared to have your temperature taken. Some gyms will choose to safeguard their staff and customers by checking people's temperature as they arrive.
- Use hand sanitising stations. Much like shops and supermarkets, expect to regularly sanitise your hands while using and when entering and leaving.
- Check-in at reception if you're doing a class. Gyms may be using track and trace, which may automatically log when you enter. For classes, it's best to always check-in. Try and do so as close to the time as possible to avoid unnecessary time spent in the gym.
- Clean your equipment and mats. As above, keep all of your equipment clean.
- Follow the social distancing signs. You'll need to be 2m apart from people, and expect one way systems to be in operation.
- Keep to a one-hour workout max. Nuffield will be restricting the time spent at the gym, and others may do the same.
- Only shower if you're swimming. Showering and changing room usage may be limited or unavailable.
Bear in mind, guidelines will differ per establishment, so it's best to check with yours directly to find out what they will be.
What happens to my membership?
It depends on the terms and conditions of your membership agreement. Most gyms will have paused payments, which means that they will start again if it is now open. For this reason, you may already have seen a payment leave your account for your membership if you pay monthly.
Others may have carried on, so it's worth contacting your gym ASAP as you may be entitled to a refund or free membership in the future if you have paid during the time it was closed. If you are tied into an annual contract, you will need to pay the full cost unless you can get your gym to agree to a cancellation. As most will have paused your membership, the four months lost due to lockdown will not count if you haven't paid for them.
I have a membership, but I don't feel safe in the gym - can I freeze or cancel?
Understandably, you might not want to go back to the gym under the current circumstances. Which? have spoken to most major gyms about their policies and the vast majority have options for you to continue to freeze your membership if you wish to do so.
This means your contract is suspended, not cancelled or fulfilled. You are unlikely to be able to cancel if your gym is satisfying the legal requirements to open, but it's worth contacting them to see what your options are. Remember, each gym is different, and they may take your circumstances into account when making a decision. Here's what Citizen's Advice state around cancelling gym memberships.
If you're looking to end your membership, make sure you contact the gym rather than merely cancelling the direct debit. Failing to do so could make you liable for charges.
Bring your own equipment
If you usually rent items for your workout at your gym or leisure centre, be it a yoga mat, or swimming float, then be prepared to bring your own. Doing so is more hygienic and can reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
We'd advise you to do the same with food and drink too. Water fountains are unlikely to be open for the same reason, and vending machines may also be out of use.
You might need to be more organised
The 24-hour access gym has revolutionised the way we keep fit, catering for our rapidly shifting schedules. It's meant we can drop in pretty much when we like. However with the stricter guidelines and reduced capacity, it might be harder to get the spot you need.
Swimming pools, in particular, are likely to operate on set time slots and lower capacities. Check with your gym directly to see how they are operating, but it's likely you may have to book your sessions in advance.
What if I don't want to return to the gym?
After spending four months away from gyms, you may be itching to get back into them. At the same time, is it a good idea to question whether you can replace the work you did there with lower-cost alternatives?
It's worth noting that the gyms may not be fully operational to what you want from them, including restricted opening hours and fewer classes. It might also be that the experience isn't quite what you are used to - swimming, for example, has a few new guidelines, including no overtaking.
For this reason, is it worth exploring a cheaper alternative? You could choose to work out from home, while the summer months mean it's easier to go running or cycling or even take advantage of a free open-air gym. You may be able to join the cycle to work scheme to save money on a bike, which could be cheaper than a year's gym membership.
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