The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 28, 2020 1:00 am

Exercise buffs slowly return to reopened gyms

VICTORIA JACOBSEN | The Journal Gazette

When Indiana gyms were legally allowed to reopen right after Memorial Day, a good chunk of local YMCA members rushed back into their regular routines, returning the first week, if not the first day.

Chris Angellatta, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne, said attendance at area Y's has slowly crept up in each of the weeks since. But traffic is still at about half that of a regular June – which is just about where he was hoping it would be.

“That's a perfect number. And it's growing a little bit,” Angellatta said. “We haven't had to turn anyone away yet from a regular facility. Our outdoor pool at the Jorgensen Y has had many days when they have reached capacity, but generally the facilities haven't really come close to our new COVID capacities.”

Kristen Norris, a 31-year-old who regularly attends Zoomba and Turbo-Kick classes at the Jackson Lehman Family YMCA, said she kept up her exercise regimen with virtual classes posted online by the YMCA. The virtual classes were even led by her favorite instructor at Jackson Lehman. Even so, she was eager to get back in the brick-and-mortar gym, returning for her first post-quarantine visit the day in-person classes were allowed to resume.

“When it's not crazy hot, instructors do the class outside now, which is really nice because then you're out in the open air and you don't have to worry as much about germs,” Norris said as she left a cardio kickboxing class. “They don't have fans on in the gyms or the classrooms to prevent germs from spreading around, which makes class a little bit hotter, but it's more comforting.”

Spiece Fitness executive director Anne Davis reported a similar situation at her gym, where traffic is about 65% that of a regular June. Davis said the Spiece building is so large that visitors would still be able to exercise a safe distance from each other even if all members suddenly returned to their regular workout schedules. 

Those fitness devotees who have ventured back to their gyms will have noticed a few changes since the coronavirus pandemic caused the shutdown of most public places in March. Rows of treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes have either been pulled apart and spread out around the gyms or have had every other machine labeled as out of use. Gym employees are sporting masks if they're not currently instructing an exercise class, and instead of the communal bottles of disinfectant and towels stationed around the gym, most exercise facilities have shifted to either disposal cleaning wipes or personal disinfectant bottles that each gym-goer can carry with them for the duration of their stay.

At local YMCAs, the weight room and exercise machine area are shut down for an hour during the day so that a disinfecting mist can be sprayed over all the equipment, in the hopes of reaching and sterilizing the nooks and crannies that a staff member would probably miss during a typical wipe-down. 

Perhaps the most conspicuous change will be the lack of casual basketball games that provide a constant soundtrack at many gyms.

For a few more weeks at least, local YMCAs are not allowing any sort of sport in which players are bound to invade each others' personal space, including basketball, volleyball, squash and pickleball.

Spiece Fitness has allowed basketball teams to practice on its courts since June 14, but there is no open gym for pick-up games or casual shootarounds. Davis said Spiece is also working to keep spectators from congregating and watching practices.

SportOne has opened its courts for open gym but reported that very few visitors have stopped by to play basketball outside of organized practices so far. 

Jackson Maley, a 17-year-old Blackhawk Christian student, said he chose to venture back to the gym because he was sick of his home workout routine.

“I have an elliptical at home, so I did that for about 20 minutes a day, and some push-ups and sit-ups,” said Maley, who said he visited his local YMCA the first day it opened. “Obviously there's a lot more variety here. I have a lot more machines to work a lot more specific muscles, instead of just abs and chest. It's a lot easier here. I was tired of not having any lifting and weights to do. I was getting a little bored of just doing cardio.”

Maley said that, given his age, he thought the precautions being taken at the YMCA seemed sufficient to keep him healthy. 

Angellatta said that those who have returned to the gym tend to be young adults or middle aged, in part because the YMCA is not holding classes designed for older adults, who would be most likely to become extremely sick or die if they did contract the coronavirus. 

Davis said Spiece has also halted fitness classes for older adults, but she is still seeing some of her older members come by to exercise on their own anyway.

“We don't have stats on this, but from what I've seen and the pulse that I have on this gym, it  really varies completely,” Davis said. “There are some people that are seniors and don't want to come, but there are some that are chomping at the bit to come and they came right away. It's amazing how many seniors still want to come. I'm pretty surprised. And then it's amazing how many 25-year-olds aren't comfortable coming back again.

“In our group fitness, you'll have a class of people, and one half will say, 'I can't wait to get back!' And the other half are like, 'I can't believe I'm here, I shouldn't be here.'”

While foot traffic is still slower than usual at Spiece, Davis said that the numbers seem to suggest that people intend to continue working out at the gym in the future, even if they're keeping their distance now.

“It's very interesting to me, because I've been doing this for over 20 years, and I feel like I can always gauge exactly how each month is going to go. It's very consistent in our industry, based on season and weather,” Davis said. “Our usage is definitely down. We have a lot of member who are choosing not to come, and we've put their accounts on hold, they don't have to pay if they don't want to come during this time. But it's amazing how many people are joining and not canceling. So our sales are up, our retention is up, but our usage is down. Which is very interesting to me.”

Eric Schisler, 34, said he and his family are among those who are slowly returning to the gym weeks after they were given the option.

Schisler said that a home pull-up bar and push-ups made up most of his workout routine during quarantine, but that his 2-year-old son had few outlets for his energy and no other children to play with. They returned to the YMCA in part because the child watch provided to exercising parents is currently one of the few programs where a toddler can socialize.

“I wasn't coming very much before, I was just getting going before. So I'm kind of excited to get back to it again and try to get a little healthier,” Schisler said, before gesturing to his young son. “He just didn't have anywhere to go. I had him just running around me the whole time, climbing on me.” 

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