For months, gyms were not allowed to operate and this has left fitness facilities all over the nation abandoned by humans and inhabited by dust bunnies.
Gyms were not relevant in our lives anymore and this caused a huge health problem among us; an international research survey involving 1047 respondents(1) reported that COVID-19 home confinement has resulted in a decrease in all levels of physical activities and about 28% increase in daily sitting time as well as an increase in unhealthy patterns of food consumption.
But with gyms and studios reopening soon, we really need to know how safe it is to use one. If you have no interest in visiting one anytime soon, you can stop reading and go to this article instead. But nonetheless, we decided to write this article for those on the fence in hopes to clarify some doubts that you might have.
To help you make the best decision, we boiled it down to 3 factors to consider when you make your choice: Standard operating procedures(SOPs) adherence, facility traffic, and overall supervision.
Adherence to standard operating procedures
This could be the most important factor on the list simply because; the higher the protocol adherence, the lower the chances of cross-infection happening. The ministry has provided strict guidelines(2) for all operators to follow and they are expected to carry out their due diligence.
Recently, there has been an emphasis on the importance of ventilation for gyms which we haven’t seen the exact SOPs yet* but there is a study(3) that found combining proper ventilation and air cleaning can reduce aerosol particle concentrations by 80 to 90%, depending on aerosol size.
*UPDATE: Gym Ventilation guidelines have been clarified by the Ministry Of Health Malaysia. (7)
But what happens behind closed doors are only known to those inside those doors. We suggest doing a couple of things that might ease your worries:
- Giving the gym a phone call and ask them to clearly state what and how are they carrying out the responsibilities of adhering to these SOPs. Look out for elaborate and detailed answers as this might show us how serious they are in keeping you safe.
- Observe their social media for their facility arrangements and activities. These are huge clues for you because this will give you an idea of how observant they are to little things such as notice reminders, physical distancing, masks and sanitization.
- Ask a friend or a trusted employee to give you an overview of how particular the management is in handling the situation. Obviously, people going to the gym are also concerned about their own safety so they will be open and transparent with what’s happening in the facility they’re visiting.
After getting the confidence you need, you can then make the best choice according to your analysis and calculations. Just make sure you are also adhering to the SOPs once you are there!
Facility foot traffic and capacity
This is also a big factor for you to consider due to the simple fact that the fewer the people that visit the facility, the lower the chances are for you to get infected. There is a huge risk difference between a gym with 1000 daily customers and a gym with 10 daily customers. The odds are just much lower with low-traffic facilities.
On that note, it might be important to understand the different types of fitness facilities that exist in Malaysia:
- Big box gyms – These are the gyms with names you are probably most familiar with and they are also usually the largest in terms of size and membership. These gyms are most likely to be located in shopping malls and have the most equipment and amenities to boast. They usually have at least over 500 members coming in every day when things were normal.
- Boutique gyms – These are mostly your local mom-and-pop gyms which averagely take up a couple of shop lots around your neighbourhood. Members usually know each other and you can expect 100 – 500 daily visits prior to the lockdown.
- Private studios – This type of facility has the lowest traffic on the list which includes personal training studios and small group personal training studios that emphasizes more on coaching you rather than the size and equipment in their facility. You can expect no more than 100 people visiting per day to as low as only 10 per day.
- Yoga/dance/martial art studios – These are facilities with the least equipment on their premise which means that sanitization is probably the easiest to do here. Depending on the nature of the business, whether it’s private or group-based, you are looking at numbers like those seen in the previous item on this list (10-100 people) but usually on the higher end as they are more likely than not to do classes in a group setting.
- Rock climbing gyms – These facilities vary accordingly as you can find small ones to really huge ones so numbers of visitors will obviously be higher the bigger it is. However, it is important to note that there will most likely be shared equipment in these places such as harnesses and climbing shoes so that could be an additional point to consider if you do not have your own.
Note: These numbers are estimates based on our experience and knowledge of the fitness industry because we couldn’t find any concrete data on the actual numbers. So the numbers you see might slightly differ on a gym to gym basis.
There you go, now that you know the difference, this could also be a good time for you to try out a different type of facility than you were used to. And once you have made your choice, of course, do run them through the first factor as well.
Supervision and monitoring of safety procedures
We know that standard operating procedures are vital to prevent unwanted incidents but enforcement of these protocols are not done by having words on a piece of paper but by the presence of responsible humans, to be more specific, staff members of the facility.
Of course, other members play a role too but it is down to the management and employees to make sure that everybody on the gym floor is held accountable to the SOPs.
Not only would reliable personnel keep you safe from COVID-19, but they should also keep you safe during your exercise routine. But if this is your first time choosing to work with a fitness professional(kudos to you!), you might not know what a reliable one means in the fitness world but there are breadcrumbs you can follow.
With new regulations and safety tools implemented, things would be a little different from previously. Hence, it is important to have staff members who are clear, careful and firm with all safety procedures to create an environment that wins your confidence and other members too.
Have a chat with us if we are not alert during a missed step, tell us to be caring to the ones who might not comprehend so well, remind us when we forget to wipe off the bench after being used. After all, we are also just like you, learning how to live with this new norm and are pretty new at this.
The fitness industry has taken a huge hit during the pandemic despite the numerous studies that have shown it is fairly a safe place to patronize, like this study from the USA(4) which showed of more than 49.4 million health club visits, only 0.0023% tested positive for COVID-19.
This one from the UK(5) ironically demonstrates that non-gym goers are 160 times more likely to get COVID-19 than gym-goers.
Or if you prefer local Malaysian data, take a look at this one(6) from the president of our National Sports & Fitness Venue Owners and Operators Association (NSFVOOA) stated that data collected from within the industry showed only one reported on-site transmission for every 2.85 million check-ins.
So do your own risk analysis, take steps like the above, don’t worry too much and do support this struggling industry when we reopen and give us a chance to help you become a healthier and fitter version of yourself.
Hey, if you happen to be reading this in Penang and you’re looking for a highly monitored, low-traffic, and professionally supervised training facility in Penang, click here to book a free consultation for yourself.
(1) Ammar, Achraf, et al. “Effects of COVID-19 home confinement on eating behaviour and physical activity: results of the ECLB-COVID19 international online survey.” Nutrients 12.6 (2020): 1583.
(2) Ministry of Youth and Sports Malaysia 2021, SOP SUKAN DAN REKREASI, accessed 9 September 2021, <https://www.kbs.gov.my/en/sopsukanrekreasi.html>.
(3) Blocken, Bert, et al. “Ventilation and air cleaning to limit aerosol particle concentrations in a gym during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Building and environment 193 (2021): 107659.
(4) International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). (2020, September 2). National Study Confirms It’s Safe To Work Out At The Gym: Current Data Shows No Evidence of COVID-19 Spread in Gyms. <https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-study-confirms-its-safe-to-work-out-at-the-gym-current-data-shows-no-evidence-of-covid-19-spread-in-gyms-301122664.html>.
(5) Walker, T. (2021, September 2). Link between gym visits and COVID-19 continues to weaken. <https://www.healthclubmanagement.co.uk/health-club-management-news/Link-between-health-club-visits-and-COVID-19-reduces-during-2021-less-gym-goers-get-COVID-in-2021/348388>.
(6) Lee, C. Y. & The Star. (2021, September 10). Gyms reminded not to place equipment outdoors. <https://www.thestar.com.my/metro/metro-news/2021/09/10/gyms-reminded-not-to-place-equipment-outdoors>.
(7) IAQ & Ventilation Task Force Engineering Services Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia. (2021, September). KKM GYM Ventilation Guidelines. Https://Www.Kbs.Com.My/. https://www.kbs.gov.my/sop.html?download=1472:092021-kkm-gym-ventilation-guidance