The government wants to contain the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing and self-isolation.

To this effect, President Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster which, among other measures, seeks to limit gatherings of 100 people or more.

And there are few places, other than corporate offices, where people are more tightly packed together than during peak hours at your local gym.

A potential high-risk transmission environment

The gym environment also compounds risk factors because they create ideal conditions for the transmission of a virus such as COVID-19.

  • There are lots of people working out in close proximity in a confined space without adequate ventilation.
  • Everyone shares workout equipment, often without cleaning their hands before or during workouts.
  • The humid environment means a virus can often remain active on surfaces for extended periods of time.

Given the risks, South Africa’s two biggest gym chains have committed to improving hygiene practices in an attempt to help contain the spread of the virus, but at this stage, both companies plan to remain open for business and are fully operational.

How big gym chains are upping their hygiene game

In a recent post on social media, Virgin Active affirmed that the company is committed to bolstering their hygiene controls, “and have stringent measures in place.”

These measures include:

  • Card self-scanning for members on entry to avoid person-to-person contact.
  • Making hand sanitiser available to all its members.
  • Providing disinfectant spray and paper towels for wiping down equipment.
  • Stringent cleaning protocols that include the use of hospital-grade cleaning products which contain G-Cide.

Virgin Active uses an outsourced cleaning company called Oryx, which is also contracted to numerous hospitals, and use hospital-grade cleaning products that have highly effective anti-viral properties. These products last up to 8 hours on a surface. Through Oryx, Virgin Active has increased the size of their cleaning teams and cleaning frequency, focusing particularly on high-touch areas.

Virgin Active has also subsequently announced plans to halve the size of group exercise classes to encourage social distancing, and will soon offer online workouts.

All group exercise spaces will need to be pre-booked online or via the club’s app. However, the gym’s Club V kids facility will be closed from Thursday, with all memberships automatically frozen in line with the government-mandated school closures.

Planet Fitness has also implemented measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 at training facilities around the country. While the club confirmed that it already follows stringent hygiene measures in all its clubs to protect its members, it is has stepped up efforts. These include:

  • Having more staff on the floor to sanitise equipment throughout the day, particularly after use.
  • Providing 60% alcohol-based hand sanitiser and disinfectant products.
  • Opening earlier and closing for a period at midday to sanitise and deep-clean equipment.

And smaller gym chains are also boosting measures to ensure the safety of their members. Duncan, the MOD manager at The Gym Company in Bromhof, Randburg, explained that the company is implementing proactive wipe-downs of all equipment every 20 minutes and during quiet periods.

He added that the company is busy rolling out temperature scanners at entrances, and anyone with a body of temperature above 38°C will not be permitted entry. Gyms also have hand sanitizer in all change rooms, clients need to self-scan their cards to gain entry.

Members also have a role to play to contain COVID-19

Should you decide to stick with your weekly gym sessions, be sensible and implement personal hygiene practices to protect yourself and, potentially, other members from infection.

The non-negotiables for a visit to the gym include:

  • Do NOT go to the gym if you feel sick or present with flu-like symptoms.
  • Consider training during off-peak periods
  • Wash your hands on arrival and after your workout. Wash them again when you get home.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not touch your face during your workout.
  • Avoid direct contact with other gym members – no handshakes or high-fives.
  • Use the disinfectant spray and paper towels to wipe down equipment before and after use.
  • Use two towels – one to wipe sweat from your face and the other to wipe down equipment before and after use (ideally after spraying with disinfectant).