After what may be up to six months of minimal social interaction, probably including non-attendance at the gym, what is likely to give clients the confidence to start training at your facility again?
It is useful to consider that different individuals will have different levels of concern about COVID-19, and how it impacts their day-to-day life, including going to the gym. To pick examples from both ends of the spectrum: there will be people, particularly those in high-risk groups, who may still be second-guessing leaving their homes at all. At the other end of possible perspectives there will be those who just want life to get back to how it was before the pandemic. Those that perhaps consider the whole situation to be an excessive reaction to a virus.
A majority will lie in the middle ground somewhere between those two perspectives: they want their lifestyle to resume a degree of normality. At the same time they do not want to take risks that will put them in a position of being more likely to catch the virus and they certainly don’t want to be responsible for passing it on to others.
Survey reveals why clients return to the gym post-lockdown
In a recent survey by Steele et al.(1) taken during the COVID-19 “lockdown” period, participants were asked to share information about how they trained before the epidemic vs. during it. There are some fascinating insights that can point to why your clients can benefit from returning to your facility.
Many respondents considered their lockdown training approach to be less effective.
You will once again be able to help your clients benefit from experiencing more effective workouts, and/or workouts they perceive as being more effective. Both of which outcomes have value.
40% of individuals who continued to train during the lockdown period stated they enjoyed their workouts less than before.
Your facility reopening can help many of your clients enjoy their workouts more again.
33% of individuals responded that they were less motivated to train during lockdown.
Many of your clients are likely to experience increased motivation to exercise, simply due to the fact they have access to the service you provide again.
During lockdown there was an increase in use of higher repetition ranges than before. Possibly due to the increased use of bodyweight exercise and perhaps also access to only a limited amount of free weights for those at home.
Some of your clients may have enjoyed using higher repetitions during lockdown, however many will likely be excited to train with greater loads and more moderate and lower repetition ranges again too.
During lockdown there was a trend towards a reduction in perceived effort during exercise.
Being back in the facility and working under your direct supervision can help enable clients to experience the rewards of higher effort workouts.
Prior to lockdown the most popular reported training goal was “strength”, during lockdown it was “general health”.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 situation, many individuals may continue to feel that “general health” is a key outcome and a greater number of new sign-ups may express this as a reason for coming to your facility. In these cases, you can align the benefits of your service with this desired outcome.
A Safe Space?
If you are in a locality that allows your facility to be operational now, you have a valuable opportunity to cater to your clients’ needs. During this time, it is important to be able to do so in a way that is both responsible and reassuring. When the client enters your facility and exercises with you, they need to be in as safe a space as possible, as do you.
A recent piece of research(2) including 3764 participants, compared two randomized groups of individuals in Oslo, Norway. For three weeks starting in May 2020 one group were allowed access to their fitness facilities and the other group was not. At the fitness facilities social distancing was observed and enhanced hand and surface hygiene measures were in place. Locker rooms were open, but showers and saunas were closed. At the end of the study there was not one COVID-19 case attributable to gym attendance and the researchers concluded: “Provided good hygiene and social distancing measures, there was no increased COVID-19 spread at training facilities.” Great news. It should be noted that the study has faced some criticism for being underpowered, not lasting long enough and for taking place during a period where COVID-19 cases were low in Norway. Nevertheless, it does at least point toward the possibility that fitness facilities have the potential to be safe spaces.
Countries, states, counties and cities have been affected to differing degrees by COVID-19. Laws vary as to what businesses can open, where, and how they can operate. As a facility owner your first port of call needs to be the local laws that apply directly to your facility and additionally any new stipulations made by your insurance company.
What follows is general advice for HIT facilities, in situations where your local laws are more stringent than listed below you must follow your local laws, in areas where laws are perhaps less lax, you may still want to consider applying some of the suggestions in this article if you perceive they will enhance your service and protect the wellbeing of both your clients and staff. The broad picture is to be doing everything that is practically possible to protect your clients and trainers and minimize the risk of any spread of the virus at, or via your facility.
15 protocols to put in place to make your gym covid-secure
You are probably fatigued of hearing it, but two key elements are increased frequency of handwashing or hand sanitizing and surface cleaning. Doing these two things between every client will make a significant difference to the mitigation of viral spread.
Leave a 5-10 minute gap between client appointment times, to enable sanitization of the equipment, other key touch points and thorough cleaning of your hands.
Make sure that you provide easy access to hand sanitizer at relevant areas within the facility.
If you have hand washing facilities, provide disposable paper towels, rather than cloth towels, and a nearby bag-lined bin for convenient disposal.
Aim to stand 2 meters apart from the client, or at least 1 meter apart if the first is not practical due to any space constraints.
You can consider putting tape markings on the floor next to each machine to remind you (and other trainers) of the appropriate distance to stand from the client exercising. Immersed in the moment instructing mid-set, it is possible to forget distance criteria, those visual guide markers can help eliminate this.
Stand side to side with the client rather than facing them directly when talking and instructing. This will make aerosol /droplet contamination less likely.
Additionally, when instructing the client avoid shouting or raising your voice for the same purpose.
Personal trainers can wear masks and perhaps visors or safety glasses too. Disposable gloves can be considered, changing pairs before each new client.
Keep the workouts short as possible to reduce risk as, even if you are unlucky enough to be in the presence of an infectious individual, there is less time for contamination and at the very least you will be exposed to a lower viral load.
This is a reason why the HIT protocol is a strong candidate for the most suitable form of indoor resistance training during the pandemic- workouts only run 10-30 minutes.
Minimize unnecessary chat and interaction at the beginning and end of the workouts. Ideally the client comes in the door, you have a quick checking conversation about how they are/how they felt after last workout and if there is anything you need to know prior to commencing the workout then get straight to the workout.
At the end of the workout there is no need for any more conversation than running through any salient information or teaching points regarding the workout they have just had then a polite goodbye and the client is on their way.
If your facility has changing rooms and/or showering facilities, you may want to consider temporarily halting their use or at least encourage clients to arrive at the facility in the clothes they are going to workout in.
If you find this is not appropriate or feasible for your clientele, cleaning the changing room may need to be done each time used by a client.
Think of how you and the client can move through the facility from entrance to exit minimizing touch contact with surfaces as much as possible. For instance, is it possible for the entrance door to be left open the entire time? Figure out where the touchpoints are going to be in the facility- door handles, exercise machines, light switches, remote controls, electronic devices etc. These are the areas that you will need to focus on cleaning efficiently between appointments.
Keep a sanitizing spray bottle and cloths next to each piece of equipment and other frequent touchpoints for ease of cleaning between clients. If you sense a client is particularly COVID risk averse you can make the point of sanitizing the machine handles in front of them before commencement of each exercise.
If you have a water fountain in your facility put a sign up next to it to remind people not to use it for face-to-tap drinking, that it is only for refilling of personal bottles.
Ventilation of the facility and the input of fresh air is important. If you have a filtered air ventilation system, ensure that it is being used appropriately and filters are changed as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you don’t have a ventilation system, keep as many doors and windows open as fully as possible throughout working hours.
At the end of each working day ensure that you deep clean the entire facility and equipment, including bagging and removal off-site, of any waste.
Add a page to your website or a post on your Facebook business page advising clients as to the protocols that are in place at your facility.
Operate on a book in advance basis utilizing online and phone bookings and ideally take payments exclusively via contactless, direct debit or bank transfers.
If a client, or a member of staff, feels unwell they should be advised to avoid coming to the facility. You can use screening questions such as:
– Have you had the recent onset of a new continuous cough?
– Do you have a high temperature?
– Have you noticed a loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell?
If the client has any of these symptoms, however mild, they should stay at home and reschedule their appointment.
Reassuring clients about the relative safety of attending your facilityIt is private: one trainer and one client in the exercise area at any one time. People are not hanging around chatting in other areas such as reception. There is visible evidence of increased hand and surface hygiene measures. The trainer stands an appropriate distance from the client throughout the appointment and wears a mask. There is a clear policy in place clearly outlining clients and trainers must not come to the facility if unwell.
Make your HIT facility the last place that your clientele is going to pick up the virus.
Steele, J., Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Carlson, L., Williams, D., Phillips, S., Smith, D., … Fisher, J. (2020, September 9). The impact of public-health measures to limit the spread of Coronavirus on training behaviours of individuals previously participating in resistance training: A cross-sectional survey study. Available here
Randomized Re-Opening of Training Facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. TRAiN study group, Michael Bretthauer. Available here
Great article Simon. Super helpful. Shared it everywhere.