In pre-pandemic days, you might have overlooked the disinfecting wipes station at your local gym. Someone just used your treadmill or grabbed the barbell? Nothing to worry about, you might have thought.
But in the era of COVID-19 and phased reopenings of fitness centers, the apathetic attitude toward shared spaces, equipment and hand-washing is long gone. Local gym owners are having to adapt to each additional phase in Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia” reopening plan, including restrictions on indoor and outdoor usage, limitations on the number of patrons and more.
George Leppert, owner and operator of G3 Fitness Group (which owns and operates several Orangetheory Fitness locations across the region), says he was frustrated at first, especially as the situation continued to evolve through early June.
“We are all learning as we go through this, our leaders included,” says Leppert. “There is no playbook for us to follow and I feel we, as a community, have done the best we can to manage a very difficult situation. As we learn more and more about this virus, we are able to better craft policies and procedures to keep everyone safe.”
Cardio-centered gyms like Orangetheory Fitness, have begun reopening across Northern Virginia this week, as well as yoga studios like FierceOm in Chantilly, where classes are transitioning from entirely virtual back to in-person experiences.
“For us, the pandemic hit hard,” says Jenny Cline, founder of FierceOm. “We provide a space for our community to come to find their calm, and their stillness. Only being able to offer that virtually has been tough. We are grateful that we have the platform to connect live with our community, but it has been a challenging adaptation for both us and clients.”
On Tuesday evening, Cline welcomed members back into the space for the first time since the studio closed its doors in mid-March.
“It went extremely well,” says Cline.
But there are new measures in place that guests will notice straight away.
“We require all to wear a mask upon entering, exiting and in the common space,” says Cline. “Masks are OK to take off and place on mats once class starts. We have several procedures in place, such as marked spaces on the studio floor, the removal of all complimentary props and sanitizing stations throughout the studio. Enhanced cleaning procedures, restroom policies and set-up to name a few. [In the first class] everyone was extremely respectful of personal space before and after. It was so nice to smell the incense and candles, hear our music playing with the door propped open—nothing less than magical!”
Similar measures are in place at Orangetheory as well, where members must get temperature screened before entering, and all staff members—including coaches—are required to wear face masks and eye protection. Classes are smaller to meet the state’s requirements, and workouts are now 45 minutes instead of the full hour, to make sure there’s enough time for enhanced cleaning and sanitation in between classes.
As a fitness studio that relies heavily on equipment for HIIT circuits with cardio and endurance training, Leppert says the increased cleaning and sanitation is crucial.
“One big change that members will also notice is we are now able to assign each person to their own station for the entire workout,” says Leppert. “For example, if you start on treadmill one, you will rotate to rower one and station one on the weight floor. No other person will use that equipment during the workout. And in between classes, the studio will go through a complete disinfection and sanitation process to get it ready for the next class.”
As guests cautiously reenter the fitness studio spaces, although there might be a bit of fear and anxiety, owners are simply ready to have their communities back in a time when they needed them most.
“Orangetheory is a pretty special place,” says Leppert. “People come because they want to be there. Friendships have been made, people have experienced huge transformations both physically and mentally, and we are looking forward to helping people continue that journey.”
For Cline, she has missed “the energy of the space, really. The central connection of the flow of energy in a packed class.” And although the “hello” hugs and hands-on adjustments will be on pause for a while, she’s still grateful to have the “see you tomorrow” back.
“FierceOm is a space that has always been more than a yoga studio to so many,” says Cline. “Students and front-desk staff, teachers and random walk-ins hang out before and after class with conversation and connection. It’s a gorgeous vibe I have yet to experience anywhere else. We miss it immensely.”
As the commonwealth eventually moves into phase three (as of publication time, Gov. Ralph Northam has not yet announced a date), the owners admit they’re truly not sure what’s coming down the pipeline next.
“Honestly, I wish I did,” says Cline. “I think with as much change as we all have experienced these last months, predicting anything is hard. We will do our best to communicate effectively, timely and make wise decisions based on client and instructor safety first. I am sure we will always offer virtual classes now and moving forward. With having to jump into that so quickly, we are researching and looking for the best tools to implement that permanently and to the best quality we can.”
Leppert echoes the confusion and struggle of navigating uncharted waters, but is looking forward to reaching clients where they are, whether that’s still at home, or in the recently opened spaces.
“Just like other small business owners in the area, there has been such a range of emotions that have surfaced during this time,” says Leppert. “From frustration with the unknown, to sadness about having to let people know that their jobs are on hold, to anticipation about reopening and the amazing energy and commitment of our teams. Because of the engagement we have created with Orangetheory at-home workouts and live Zoom workouts, this will continue to be a part of our offering moving forward.”
Until more data is released and safety guidelines are set in stone, patrons, staff members and owners will continue to focus on safety in locations across Northern Virginia. But they’ll also make sure that health—whether it’s mental or physical—will be a top priority too.
“We are intensely focused on making sure our members and team are safe in our environment,” says Leppert. “We have taken nothing for granted and will go all out to make sure our workouts are as great as ever.”
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