Fitness centers are reopening, but exercising caution

  • Get Fit NH owner Meagan Sbat helps out with a strength class at their South Main Street location on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nannu Nobis works out at Get Fit NH on South Main Street in Concord on Tuesday with plenty of room for social distancing and even cleaning materials. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • GetFitNH owner Meagan Sbat helps out with a strength class at their South Main Street location on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Fitness instructor Dylan Tiede runs a strength fitness class at Get Fit NH personal training studio on South Main Street in Concord on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Nannu Nobis works out at Get Fit NH on South Main Street in Concord on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 with plenty of room for social distancing and even cleaning materials. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2020 2:33:24 PM

The front doors are locked at 43 Degrees North, but the Concord athletic club is open. They just don’t want anyone wandering in without a reservation, or a face mask.

“Our biggest challenge has been getting people to sign up ahead of time,” said Crystal Reynolds, who is part of the ownership group at the club. “It’s not easy because we’re trying to teach them new patterns of behavior.”

The details of those new patterns were outlined by the state as part of Gov. Chris Sununu’s June 1 order allowing gyms, yoga studios and other fitness centers to open and offer classes on a limited basis.

As Reynolds said, those orders require everyone to reserve a spot in classes before arriving at the gym. They also require that all fitness center staff and members answer screening questions before they enter the facility: do they have a temperature, do they have any other coronavirus symptoms, have they been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is displaying symptoms.

Staff and members must wear masks at all times unless they’re working out. Sanitizer must be readily available, surfaces must be cleaned regularly, 8 feet of distance from others must be kept while exercising, common areas must be closed, capacity must be limited to 50%, and other restrictions.

The complete list of guidelines can be found at covidguidance.nh.gov. The document is six pages long and detailed, but so far it seems like people are willing to follow the rules to help keep themselves and their community safe and healthy.

“What we’ve found is, number one, people are really happy to be back. And they’re appreciative of the measures that we’ve taken to try and ensure their safety and our staff’s safety as well,” said James Doremus, CEO of the Concord YMCA. “Our members have been very cooperative and supportive, and they understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and we couldn’t be any happier with how they’ve worked with us to support each other.”

Meagan Sbat, owner of Get Fit NH personal training studio in Concord, knows the new guidelines inside and out. In fact, she sees most of the rules as a direct reflection of the recommendations she made to Gov. Sununu’s Economic Re-opening Task Force.

“Basically, all that was approved is almost the exact letter and video that I submitted to the task force,” Sbat said. “The only thing that was maybe a little different was I suggested 15 minutes between classes for cleaning and they put 30 to 60 minutes. So, we’ve been following all that to a T.”

The first item in the “Business Process Adaptations: Group Fitness Classes” section of the new guidelines recommends conducting “outdoor group fitness classes if possible.” That’s what Sbat has done at Get Fit NH, and the new outside classes helped her draw back more customers than she expected last week.

“I did the math and we had 43% (of our) in-person (customers) back,” Sbat said. “Honestly, I’m surprised we didn’t lose more people, but … a lot of people are way more comfortable being outside, so it’s pretty lucky we’re in the season that we’re in. Our inside numbers are much smaller than our outside numbers.”

The YMCA has also added new outdoor classes, and they have been a hit with members.

“The things that have gone really, really well are the pool, the outdoor group exercises and our virtual classes continue to be strong,” Doremus said. “The indoor classes haven’t seen the same degree of participation just yet, so we’ll see what happens over time.”

The indoor space at 43 Degrees North is so large that they are keeping all of their classes inside, and they’re still not using all of their square footage. The extra space has allowed 43 Degrees to take extra safety precautions, like having two separate entrances for the two exercise spaces they are using – one room that’s dedicated to group classes and a larger space that houses most of their strength-training equipment and is being used for their newly created strength classes.

Reynolds has also taken steps to further ensure air quality and safety. They are using multiple high-end HEPA air filters and changing the filter in their existing air system every month instead of the recommended once every six months. The building itself adds to the safety – the poured concrete exterior helps seal off the interior and the clear sight-lines in the open-space concept allow Reynolds and her staff to keep an eye on everything that is happening in the club.

The YMCA is still offering the virtual classes it began when the pandemic first shut down all non-essential businesses, and those online sessions are still popular. Get Fit NH and 43 Degrees North are still offering virtual classes as well, and both places are also live-streaming some of their in-person classes so people at home can feel like they are part of the group.

The virtual classes at Sharing Yoga have been so popular that owners David Breen and Laurie Farmer decided not to reopen just yet.

“The irony of this whole thing is that our Zoom classes have really been very popular,” Breen said. “So, we just thought we’d wait and see how it goes for other places reopening.”

They have prepared the Main Street studio for re-opening. Breen took all of the loaner yoga mats out of the studio back in March. “They’re still in the back of my car,” he said with a laugh. They also removed all of the props – blocks, straps and blankets – and used blue painter’s tape to demarcate the 8-foot spaces where people could put their mats. Without social distancing, Sharing Yoga could hold about 30 practitioners, with social distancing, that number drops to eight. That reality, plus the success of their online classes and the uncertainty of what the future might hold, has kept Farmer and Breen in a holding pattern.

“We’re not in a hurry with opening. We just want to wait and see what happens in general, not just with yoga studios and gyms, but as the economy reopens and restaurants and all that other stuff, let’s see what happens. At this point I would say we would consider opening after the Fourth of July.”




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