As gyms reopen, more people become vaccinated and restrictions ease, how can you tell which gyms are being safe?

For much of the pandemic, gyms have been flagged by experts for being high-risk environments for transmission. After all, you are breathing heavily and many times in a poorly ventilated indoor space. So as case counts drop and vaccination rates rise, many of us are likely looking forward to spending more time working out again at our local gyms. 

As a professional Barre Instructor and Manager at The Bar Method Brooklyn, I witnessed firsthand what it was like shutting down in March of 2020 as well as the planning and procedures that were thoughtfully implemented to re-open safely for clients. We updated our ventilation system, adjusted class times to sanitize equipment between classes, created a health screening and had a mandatory mask policy. Current policies in place at gyms and fitness studios are informed by local guidelines—which is to say, they can vary widely.

I was a little shocked when I returned to a different fitness center for the first time in over a year and saw that half of the clients were maskless. I was somewhat put at ease knowing that the CDC declared it safe for fully-vaccinated people to be without a mask indoors. However, I was taken back to find out from the staff that they were strictly using the honor system to implement going mask free. There were also no other safety measures in place at check in like a contact tracing form, temperature check or health screening. 

While COVID laws for gyms vary from state to state, here are a few tips to help you assess your risk level and comfort before you head back to the gym. 

Athlete workout exercise at gym after pandemic reopening. They are running on treadmill and wearing a protective face mask
Credit: Getty Images / bgblue / Nitat Termmee

1. Ask questions

Don't be like me and find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Call ahead and get answers to your questions. If your gym is no longer requiring masks for fully vaccinated clients, ask if they are requiring proof of vaccination. The honor system is great for a lot of things, but you may not want COVID to be one of them. 

Additionally, ask about the facility's written operation and sanitizing plan? Every fitness facility and studio should have a detailed operating plan that serves as a guide for managing a safe return to operations. Ask how this plan is being supervised day-to-day. 

2. Learn about ventilation

Indoor fitness facilities should have a high turnover of air. They should maintain building ventilation systems according to their state's local building codes and guidelines. Increasing outdoor airflow is a practical way for gyms to ensure good indoor air quality which means keeping windows open, when the weather allows.

3. Be observant

See for yourself if your fitness center is implementing the safety measures they say they are. Are the staff and clients wearing the mask properly? Is social distancing being enforced? Air quality is harder to determine but ask yourself if you feel any airflow in the facility. If you can smell other patrons that's probably an indicator that ventilation isn't the best. Lastly, if anyone becomes defensive about your questions regarding precautions that could be a red flag. 

Bottom line

Fully vaccinated or not, physical movement is an amazing way to stay healthy mentally and physically (here's why exercise is so good for your mental health). Always remember that you have control over the safety precautions that you decide to take at the gym. Consider keeping your mask on during low-intensity workouts. Work out near an open window and bring your own equipment like resistance bands if possible. Find out what peak times are for your facility and avoid going at that time so it's less crowded.

Mindful touches like this can help keep you safe and reduce anxiety as you re-enter the gym world.