Fitness centers reopen in third phase of Gov. Baker’s plan

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The fitness center at the Hockomock YMCA was opened on July 8 and it's expected that occupancy will be low in the initial weeks. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

After weeks of takeout and Netflix, it’s gyms to the rescue, open as of Monday, July 6, in accordance with the third phase of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan. Gyms, fitness centers, and martial arts dojos have all opened their doors, though with a number of new regulations. These included a limit on how many people can be inside at a time, mandatory masks, and a spacing out of equipment to meet social distancing guidelines.

At the Hockomock YMCA, the fitness centers, strength training, indoor group exercise, and indoor pools opened on July 8. Gymnasiums for basketball and group sports, locker rooms, and along with indoor tracks will be closed. Family locker rooms will be open to members using the pools for a pre-swim shower and post-swim changing only. Whirlpools, saunas, and steam rooms will be closed. Youth programs are not available at this time.

Chief Operating Officer Jim Downs said the facility never truly closed, as it was utilized for a food distribution program to needy families and emergency childcare. Outdoor fitness classes and pools were opened in late June, and Downs said that people were quick to sign up. For the indoors, however, he isn’t expecting it to be as popular.

We don’t foresee getting to what the occupancy will be in the summer,” he said. “In talking to other Ys they’re seeing 10-15 percent of what they see. It works for us, allows us to start slow.”

At Answer is Fitness on John L Dietsch Boulevard in North Attleborough, co-owner Jeff Fortier said it is great to be back. The 24-hour facility opened on Monday at 4 a.m. following two-weeks spent getting the gym ready. Fortier says hello to everyone who comes in, and that the response has been strong.

People been very respectful,” he said. “We took every precaution we could to let people know it’s very serious and we’re being very serious about it.”

Fortier said it was hard to close the gym back in March, and people are excited to see the doors open once again. Machines are cleaned thoroughly, and a regular deep cleaning of the entire facility is done. Because of the capacity limits, the crowd has been down to around 60 people at the most. Online resistance training, power classes, and step aerobics were posted during the closure, and still available at no charge.

It’s a great feeling,” said Fortier. “We’re workers, family owned and owner-operated and we take pride in what we do. It was a letdown to close down.”

But not everyone is quite ready to hit the weights. Fortier said Answer is Fitness offered people the chance to freeze their memberships for three months if they want, and across the three locations 1,100 people have done so. At the YMCA, cardio equipment has been spaced out to 14 feet apart in the fitness center and gym, but Downs doesn’t see them all being used at once. Around half the members continued to pay their fees. Of the other half, 35 percent froze their memberships and 15 canceled them.

It’s been a hard road financially,” said Downs. “Those that paid, that supported the food access.”

Not all the exercise centers in town had to wait for the July 6 opening. Striking Beauties has been offering outside classes since early June. Owner Dena Paolino learned that outdoor lessons could be done if space allowed and set up in the parking lot for the Rocksteady and Striking Beauties classes. Masks are worn when social distancing isn’t possible and equipment is wiped down if it needs to be shared.

It was great. We used to do outdoor classes a lot so getting it set up wasn’t really difficult,” she said back in June. “It felt so good to see the girls again in person, to see real people.”

Initially, Athletes Acceleration had to wait until July 6 to open its doors, but since the layout and classes can easily meet social distancing, it qualified as a youth sports camp, and so has been seeing clients under the age of 18 for the past month. Owner Pat Bieth said that many of their customers are high school or college athletes, and so have an uncertain future. Fall sports are up in the air with some rumors circulating as to what will happen. Club sports have resumed, but some travel to different states, and the rules there aren’t always the same.

The coaches are trying to prepare the kids for the fall seasons,” said Bieth. “Right now that’s the assumption.”

One concern is that some student athletes haven’t been practicing or training as much in the spring, and may also take the summer off. This could result in injuries if they try to resume their normal training after weeks of little exercise

Everything is going to be faster paced in the fall,” he said. “Accountability is a big thing. The motivated kids are out there and working hard, but then you have the exact opposite.”

During the shutdown, Athletes Acceleration created training videos that were posted online. They’ve also made an introductory video for all members that outlined the changes that were made. Conditioning exercises had to be stopped, but weight training and lane running is still done. Everything is cleaned regularly, and Bieth said it has been a challenge to get supplies, or to know what to purchase, since the details aren’t always clear.

It has been busy,” said Bieth. “But it’s been a weird time.”