Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: How gyms are working out social-distancing rules

Preparations have been made at Olympia Leisure Centre in south Belfast as Northern Ireland becomes the first part of the UK where gyms may reopen on Friday following lifting lockdown restrictions Image copyright PA Media/Rebecca Black

Gym facilities in Northern Ireland can open from Friday as part of the executive's continued easing of coronavirus lockdown measures.

After several months of closure, gyms will reopen their doors with new measures in place such as using tape as markers to ensure social distancing and sanitising exercise equipment after use.

Other changes, like booking systems and an enforced maximum number of people allowed in a gym at one time, will also be in place to reduce any spread of the virus.

Better Gym (Better), which operates in nine of the 15 leisure centres in Belfast, will not be opening its facilities until 14 July.

Image caption People were clearly keen to get back into the gym - this was taken on Friday morning in a Belfast gym

They will carry out a phased reopening starting with the larger facilities at Brook, Grove, Lisnasharragh, Olympia, Falls, Better Gym Belfast, Better Gym Connswater, Andersonstown and Shankill.

A Better app will be available for users to book gym slots, and could also assist in tracking and tracing any potential outbreaks of the virus.

With new sanitary measures expected to be in place across all facilities large and small, responsibility may fall on both the gym user and employees to ensure equipment is properly cleansed.

'It's a social club'

Sam Conley, who runs Sam Conley Fitness in Limavady, says his facilities will contain a maximum of three personal trainers at any one time, and that responsibility will fall to personal trainers to sanitise equipment used after a session has finished.

Mr Conley has installed other measures in his facility including temperature checks at the door.

"I have set up an entrance station for hand sanitising and checking the temperature of clients as they arrive," he said.

Image copyright Kevin Harkin
Image caption Gym-goers will be asked to sanitise their hands

Until now, he has adapted to the closure of his gym by offering online coaching as well as operating a group for clients to "share meal pics, quotes and pictures of their exercise" to stay motivated.

He said lockdown had been a positive experience in forcing him and his clients to adapt to new ways of training, and new clients have joined the waiting list to use the facilities upon reopening.

Lockdown has encouraged many gym-goers to maintain their fitness through home workouts, but Kevin Harkin who runs Synergy personal training studio, doesn't believe this will sway people into not returning to the gym.

"We've had most of our current members sign right back up, and honestly in terms of new enquiries - it reminds me of the January rush," he said.

Despite more people doing home workouts, some industry research has shown that 80% of former gym-goers are ready to make a return to the gym.

Image copyright GLL
Image caption Just as in shops, tape markings will be used to help with social distancing in gyms

"A gym isn't just a place where people go to do exercise, it's a social club and a vital part of many people's lives," he said.

His studio will be laid out with a series of pods, where members will have their own pod to train in for an hour.

Session times will be reduced slightly to ensure time to sanitise these training areas before the next session.

Household items

One gym user who has been eager to go back since their closure is Kathryn Marron from Belfast.

She told BBC News NI she had been working out at home instead during the months of lockdown.

"I'm a big gym user because I go around four to five times a week," she said.

Image copyright Kathryn Marron
Image caption Belfast woman Kathryn Marron has had to innovate for her home workouts

"I have adapted to the gyms being closed as I bought resistance bands and use heavy household items as weights.

"I definitely prefer lifting heavier weights and barbells in the gym.

"With saying that, home workouts have been a pleasant change as I enjoy working by myself."

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