[Rodrigo Sarsfield / Unsplash]

The Slow Comeback of Gyms

09:00 June 09, 2020
By: John Glover

It's been almost a month since New Orleans began Phase One of its economic reopening plan. So far, one could almost say that the move's been going swimmingly, except that literally speaking, many New Orleans gyms are keeping their pools closed (more on that later).

You heard it right. Gyms have been included in the Phase One reopenings, along with movie theaters, restaurants, retail stores, and other types of businesses. The news that gyms would be part of Phase One came as a huge bummer to many New Orleanians who purchased gym memberships around the New Year and were then promptly and secretly elated when they found out that they wouldn't be able to use them around the middle of March. Not only did people not have to exercise anymore, but they had the perfect excuse in the form of a world-spanning pandemic.

That excuse went out the window around the middle of last month, when the gyms reopened for business, albeit at limited capacities. The gym rats have come scurrying back, along with the more cardio-oriented, Type A, weekend-warrior sort, who are only too happy to be pumping iron and hitting the treadmill again, respectively. That just leaves the New Year's resolution crowd, most of whom have admitted defeat by now, though surely there are a few particularly stubborn folks out there who are yet to throw in the towel (in the context of the gym, that's literally and figuratively).

Many gyms adapted to quarantining by offering workout classes online. Lots of New Orleans gyms, a surprising percentage of which seem to be locally owned small businesses, have cultivated a loyal following among a group of core members who would have continued to pay dues, even as their favorite gym's doors closed. At the same time, even among loyal customers (many of whom lost their income as a result of spiraling unemployment after the virus hit), there must have been a sharp drop-off in membership payments. And, appropriately, many gyms waived all membership fees during their closures.

For cash-strapped local businesses struggling just to survive, the Phase One return to business would have come as a saving grace. At long last, dues-paying clients could return to the gym. They'd burn off whatever percentage of body fat they'd accumulated from sheltering-in-place, and the athletic clubs could begin paying their bills again. Everyone wins.

Well, almost, but not quite. Phase One came as a God-send to many-a-waning enterprise, but these past weeks have not exactly seen a return to the status quo ante. On the contrary, it's been a slow, drawn-out process, with no businesses having gone back to the way they were—at least not entirely.

[ Meghan Holmes / Unsplash ]

Perusing the websites of the various gyms in the city reveals strenuous limitations on their businesses. Athletic clubs are putting every other cardio and weight-lifting machine out of commission to allow for socially distant exercise. Group workout classes are still prohibited and are instead livestreamed with the instructor only. Employees must wear masks and constantly be sanitizing space and equipment between clients' visits. Check-ins and check-outs are all digital now. As previously alluded to, the pools are still closed along with locker rooms, showers, and saunas. The New Orleans Athletic Club is using a thermometer to check visitors' temperatures as they enter the gym, and disinfectant wipes abound. The list of restrictions continues.

All told, the story of New Orleans gyms over the past couple weeks amounts to a relatively minor chapter in the broader and unfolding saga of the quarantine in Southeast Louisiana. At the time of this writing, the drama continues taking place around us; we still don't know, for instance, when Phase Two will finally kick in.

In the meantime, the requisite authorities are surly weighing the options, considering the pros of economic resurgence against the cons of a dreaded second wave of coronavirus outbreaks. As the person who knew what he was talking about once said, "The sum of wisdom can be related in three words: Wait and see."

The New Orleans Athletic Club declined comment.

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