Op-Ed: Why I’m Grateful for the Gym Closures

Why gyms should have been the first thing to close and the last to reopen.

On March 20, 2020 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the closure of gyms overnight. I was out of my regular job for the first time in my life. I have never been fired or left an opportunity without a new one lined up. Nearly all of my life (30 out of 47 years) has been spent training people in gyms, often in ones I owned. This is my pride and my passion and my reason for living. Training is no longer a hobby for me, but the source for my entire wellbeing. I have performed approximately 7,500 training sessions on myself and coached around 80,000 hours of client sessions. Sales, service, maintenance, design, repair and marketing; name something to do with the gym and I’ve done it. This time off is going to save lives and give owners and members alike time to reassess the entire business; and fix it.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

On any given day, the best maintained gyms in the world would still be considered filthy by a reasonable person’s standards, if they only understood what was happening. You see, in a crowded sweaty place, bacteria, viruses, mold and other things that can harm us thrive. The gym is one of the best places for this to happen.

No staff is able to walk around meticulously cleaning up after every member. They can’t wash the air, clean everything you touch, or prevent you from being there when you shouldn’t. It’s an impossible task and with something that hops from person to person as easy as COVID, they shouldn’t have to.

On a daily basis I see the following in they gym, and have since my first job at Future Physique in 1990:

  • Countless numbers of people using the bathroom and not washing their hands after. They immediately return to the gym floor and resume working out. If you do this please stop. Take the 20 seconds and do the number one thing you should do to prevent transfer of disease. Wash your hands.
  • Members or clients saying to me “I don’t feel that well, but I thought I should sweat it out.” No, you should be home resting. Working out will slow down your recovery from illness and help spread whatever you have. The myth that people cling to, thinking training will make them better, needs to end with whatever sickness they have.
  • Using a bench people lie on to do steps ups. Your shoes are filthy. There is residue of whatever was on the street on your soles. I never see anyone wipe these off after they are done and people’s skin, hands, face, and more touch these. Just stop.
  • Along those same lines, dropping dumbbells on the floor then picking them up by the heads increases the germs on your hands. You should wash them after. Even more importantly: Stop tapping the dumbbells together over your face. It’s bad for the weights, takes the tension out of your muscles, can knock metal and paint chips into your eyes and all the germs on them for that matter. Every tap tosses microbes loose where you can breathe them in.
  • Even worse, strongman equipment like sandbags and stones are unable to get completely clean.
  • Something that may sound silly but is just good gym advice in general is to stop standing over the dumbbell rack and doing your exercises. Step way back and allow other people access to them. It also stops you from breathing all over them.

When the gym reopens, wash your hands, use disinfectant wipes, bring your own towel, and stay home when you are sick. Help your owner keep the place clean and keep yourself from getting sick.

Gym Floor

The current model of gyms is also part of the problem. Build a mega gym, charge super low prices, and provide sub-par service to your members. Most chains hope 90% of the members never come in or cancel and that is what almost always happens. These types of gyms often hire entry level employees. Many of them do the bare minimum as far as work goes, and that goes for cleaning.

A giant gym of 10,000 members at $25 a month can be quite profitable and you don’t even have to know what a squat rack is. Smaller facilities can be cleaner, have smarter staff members and get you better results. Prices would be higher though and cost seems such a huge factor for members. I hear often that $40 a month is too expensive. For something so many people miss right now, that price seems like it’s free.

Gyms could then show people how to properly wipe down a machine after use and discuss with them why to not workout out when they don’t feel well. Staff members should be given the freedom to help members do this when they “forget” without fear of being looked at from their managers as harassing clients. A well functioning gym is actually like a club of friends and less like a money machine.

When the time to go back to your iron pit comes, please do your best to help keep it clean. Also consider giving others their space when training and being helpful whenever you can. This pandemic may cause industry wide changes and health department mandates, be ready for them.