No showers, BYO-dumbbells and robot cleaners: this is the future of London’s gyms

Katie Strick
hh: AFP via Getty Images

Circle July 4 in your diaries. On this side of the pond, we won’t be stuffing our faces with hot dogs — but we might be getting our sweat on.

According to plans submitted to the Government by industry body UK Active, the reopening of gyms and fitness studios could be brought forward from October to as soon as next month. You could be back on the treadmill before you’re back in the pub.

So what will reopening look like for venues founded on huffing and puffing? Industry leaders have been hard at work to rustle up a new training plan — the pandemic, they say, is actually the start of a new fitness revolution. From sanitising machines to HIIT classes in the park, this is how gyms are preparing to get London sweating together again.

Intimacy issues

Current government plans suggest that large-scale gyms and small studios will be allowed to reopen from the same date, but insiders have their own ideas. Boutiques like Frame say they will watch how big-box gyms open before they act (spin chain Boom Cycle doesn’t expect to open until August at the earliest), whereas Sandy Macaskill, UK founder of bootcamp phenomenon Barry’s, believes boutiques like his should be opening first. “We’re well-suited to social distancing because our clients are already used to capacity caps, timetables and being given assigned spots — it’s not going to be left down to common sense or trust,” he says, explaining his studios will be deep-cleaned every 50 minutes between classes. “That’s 15, 16 times a day — no gyms come close.”

Gyms will put in place strict cleaning rules (Getty Images)

The entry plan

Studio lobbies are having a makeover. Leisure centre titan Everyone Active and Florida-born franchise Orange­theory Fitness plan to supply hand sanitiser at the door, while boutique chain 1Rebel is installing self-scanning temperature checks on arrival. Guests will be offered masks if they don’t have their own. At Frame’s rainbow-coloured studios, there will be sanitising stations and partition screens at the front desk, while yoga studio Triyoga has plans for a “traffic system” through the building when students arrive.

Working out wearing a mask could become the new-normal (Getty Images)

Size matters

The two-metre rule means cutting down on numbers. Pure Gym, the UK’s biggest fitness club operator, plans a slot-booking system to manage visitors, while Frame, Triyoga and Everyone Active’s boutique brand Fortis are halving class numbers. PureGym CEO Humphrey Cobbold warns that studio operators will struggle to break even at occupancy levels below 50 per cent, while Core Collective founder Jason de Savary worries his studios won’t be able to make revenue until the Government cuts its distancing guideline from two metres to one metre, the WHO’s recommendation.

Tread carefully

In Hong Kong, treadmills are separated by glass partitions, water fountains have been removed and there are phone wipe stations — will London look the same? In many cases, yes. 1Rebel will fix screens between items of equipment; cult spin chain SoulCycle will only book bikes that are a safe distance apart; and fitness magnate Duncan Bannatyne says equipment at his Bannatyne health clubs will be taped off and there will be a one-way system.

Some boutique brands are embracing BYOK (bring your own kit). Aussie-born franchise F45 will assign members a fixed station for the entire workout to stop equipment-sharing, while Frame is selling Quickie Fit Kits containing Pilates balls, resistance bands and gliders for members to bring to class.

'Bring your own kit' may soon be a reality at some studios (Alamy Stock Photo)

Sanitisation stations

Cleaning routines are cranking up. SoulCycle has upgraded its disinfectant to an electrostatic spray said to kill Covid-19 in 60 seconds. “Staff will use this on every surface of the studio,” the studio’s website says.

Celebrity trainer Dalton Wong says he’ll be using 70 per cent alcohol sanitiser as part of his 10-step cleaning plan between clients, while others’ disinfectants are turbocharged. PureGym is considering robot cleaners that use light beams to zap surfaces, while Everyone Active says staff will use fogging machines to clinically clean the entire building twice a day.

Locker-room rules

Don’t expect to shower, says Justin Rogers, creative director at Ten Health & Fitness. The Pilates chain is asking clients to wash at home when studios reopen, as is Soulcycle: bathrooms, sinks and lockers will be disinfected but showers will be off-limits. The safest solution: come in your kit. Triyoga says it is “unlikely” its changing rooms will be open initially, while Nike trainer Luke Worthington will be asking PT clients to arrive and leave in their kit and bring shoes solely for indoor use.

Park life

The beauty of restarting PT sessions? You can train in the park where there’s more air circulating, says Ollie Lee, PT and trainer at Kobox. He’s waiting until next month, but many PTs have started outdoor sessions face-to-face already. De Savary is looking at ways Core Collective can hold open-air classes, as all three of his gyms are next to parks.

Frame CEO Joan Murphy is frustrated that open-air classes haven’t been allowed already as in Holland, Italy and Germany: “It doesn’t make logical sense that parks and beaches can be busy with hardly any structure but a professionally run outdoor fitness activity can’t.”

Sweating is social

De Savary is concerned that “fear propaganda” will make many people nervous to return at first, but he doesn’t believe it will last. “If this crisis has shown us one thing it’s that we crave social contact.” For many Londoners, it’s their main source of human connection, Psycle CEO Rhian Stephenson points out — especially at boutiques which pride themselves on this sense of community. 1Rebel has been “inundated” with messages from customers keen to return, and Macaskill says most members are “desperate” to get back in the Red Room. “That first class back at Barry’s is going to be off the charts.”

Flexi-working (out)

The feeling across the industry is that streaming is here to stay. 1Rebel has gained customers in more than 70 countries since launching its digital platform Rebel TV in March, while Core Collective was already planning its streaming TV service before the pandemic hit. It simply pushed them to accelerate the process. PTs, too, are expecting clients to continue video sessions post-Covid, says Fiit trainer and PT Charlotte Holmes. Not only is it more convenient, but many find they’re receiving a higher-quality service over Zoom as the trainer has to work harder to explain moves. The future of fitness could be “blended”: a combination of digital and in-person workouts to suit the predicted boom in flexible working. Haydn Elliott, co-owner of F45 Soho, says: “For the next 18 months I think a lot of people’s working lives will massively dictate where they train”: in-studio work­outs on days they’re in the office; living room workouts on days they’re working from home.

Fitness first

The result of this combined approach? More working-out than ever before, predicts de Savary. “I expect that people will move towards getting an extra workout done a week from home,” he says, while Macaskill predicts people will be less intimidated to come to classes after online tasters over lockdown. He believes the crisis will spark a fitness boom for respiratory reasons, too: the pandemic shocked a lot of people into putting greater focus on their health. “We will go into an era where everybody is going to be taking better care of themselves,” Cobbold predicts.

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