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For Gyms, And Their Customers, Reopening Will Be Anything But Routine03:37
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As gyms in Massachusetts start to open up again, Courtney Nowicki from Brookline gets back to her workout at Healthworks in Coolidge Corner. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
As gyms in Massachusetts start to open up again, Courtney Nowicki from Brookline gets back to her workout at Healthworks in Coolidge Corner. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

If you've missed hitting the gym or your Pilates class since the pandemic shut down the state in mid-March, there's good news — starting Monday, your gym, unless it's in Boston or Somerville, can reopen.

(Indoor fitness centers in Boston can reopen on Monday, July 13; in Somerville, reopening begins the following Monday, July 20.)

But heading to the gym is going to look a lot different: class sizes will be strictly limited, equipment will be spaced out more and staff must follow explicit cleaning and sanitizing protocols.

Gym owners are happy, but cautious, about reopening.

"Now that we have the opportunity to reopen, there's a level of excitement," said Andre Thomas, owner of The F.I.T.T. PIT in Hyde Park. He closed in mid-March as part of the state's early coronavirus response.

"But at the same time because all the questions haven't been answered around COVID, there's a level of apprehension."

If you walked into a F.I.T.T. PIT boot camp class few months ago, you'd be greeted with a busy scene of frenzied fitness: 30 or so people sweating to thumping music, running circuits around the room, huffing and puffing on machines, lifting weights and pulling giant ropes.

By next week, when customers show up for the class, there will be some very obvious changes.

After walking in the door, they'll have to sanitize their shoes, wash their hands and get their temperature checked. And those crazy boot camp classes? For one thing, they'll be way smaller — maybe 10 people instead of 35.

"And we're not going to be moving around like we did before. Everybody's going to have a specific spot in the gym where they're working out. They're going to get the equipment that's assigned to them," said Thomas.

It's not ideal, but Thomas, like many other gym owners, is just relieved to be able to accept any customers.

"We've had zero revenue," said Rob Shapiro, founder of BodyScapes Fitness, which has four locations in Greater Boston, three of which will open on Monday. "When the order came on [March 16] for us to close, we froze everybody's membership."

Under the new rules, customers at BodySpaces Fitness will have to book an appointment to work out. And although Shapiro doesn't plan on requiring customers to wear face masks while exercising, he's open to changing that policy.

"If we get pushback and everybody is saying, 'We're not going in there unless everyone is wearing a mask,' guess what? Everyone is wearing a mask. That's the new normal," he said.

The state has put out some guidance for fitness centers and health clubs but certain provisions appear contradictory. One provision says that face coverings are required "for all workers and visitors, except where unsafe due to medical condition or disability." But the next provision states, "If customers cannot wear a face covering during strenuous fitness activities, physical distancing must be at least 14 feet. If customers are wearing face coverings during fitness activities, physical distancing must be at least 6 feet."

In any case, there are some sports where social distancing isn't really an option, especially if that sport involves putting, say, your foot or your fist in someone else's face.

"That is something that all of us in the martial arts community are really bummed out about," said Ali Fuller, executive director of Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts in Dorchester. While she is preparing to reopen soon, she isn't exactly sure when that will happen.

"With sparring in kickboxing or rolling in Brazilian jiujitsu, it is literally impossible to do those things 14 or 6 feet apart," she said.

What she does know is that heads-up sparring is out. That does take some of the fun out of the sport, Fuller said, but she added, better to be cautious than risk her students getting sick. And if they feel the need to hit something, they still have punching bags.

Until health officials say otherwise, or there's a vaccine for coronavirus, Fuller said, "all of us are going to have to rethink the very nature of the classes we provide."

This article was originally published on July 06, 2020.

This segment aired on July 6, 2020.

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Adrian Ma is a reporter for WBUR's Bostonomix team.

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