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10 things you should know before returning to the gym on Long Island

Steve Panzik, owner of Power Ten Fitness Club in Port Washington talks about the measures the gym has taken in preparing to reopen amid continued health and safety concerns.  Credit: Corey Sipkin

“Closed for social distancing.”

When members return to exercise at Gold’s Gym in East Northport they’ll see that message — a sign of the times — on treadmills, ellipticals and stair climbers. “We’ve blocked off cardio equipment to put space between our members,” said co-owner Nick Orlando, 31.

The 34,000-square-foot business, like other Long Island fitness facilities, large and small, has made the physical layout and social distancing top priorities in reopening plans. They’re in good company. At Fusion MMA & Kickboxing in Port Jefferson, every other training bag for members to punch, kick and elbow will be deemed off-limits. The same holds for treadmills at Orangetheory in West Babylon.

Gym owners aren’t just flying by the seat of their track pants when it comes to capping at around the halfway point. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday gyms in New York can reopen as of Aug. 24, with masks mandated at all times and operations limited to 33% capacity. 

When government rules were not yet available, local owners prepped by looking to protocols for gyms outside New York as well as local restaurants and other service businesses that have already reopened.

Danielle Gagnon and Candy Vetrano, owners of Yoganomics, a yoga studio in Medford, planned on shrinking the pre-COVID average class size. “We mapped out the studio floor with purple tape to see how it would work,” said Gagnon, 41.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures in 2019 showed there were just over 500 private sector fitness and recreational sports centers divided about evenly in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Many pivoted to virtual fitness classes when the pandemic began. Reopening requires changing things up in-house, where members may need to sign waivers and have their temperatures scanned. 

Here are 10 more ways the gym experience will change, according to plans by local owners. Mandates may evolve as further guidance from the state is released. 

1. Covering your face (and feet) will be mandatory.

According to Cuomo, masks must be worn at all times, even during exercise. And at Evolution Pilates in Port Washington, members can’t go barefoot. “You must wear socks,” said owner Mo Wolfe.

2. Workout stations will be separated by dividers.

In addition to marking equipment off-limits, physical dividers will keep people apart. At Power 10 Fitness in Port Washington, partitions stand between cardio machines so neighbors don’t breathe down each others' necks. See-through individual plastic enclosures are in the works at Farmingdale Fit Boot Camp. At CrossFit Babylon, owner Trish Evangelista, 31, has taped off squares so exercisers stay put in one place. Equipment is designated for each square.

3. You may be able to reserve a new designated “family” room. 

At Suffolk YJCC in Commack, fitness director Scott Zlochower, 38, has selected rooms for small groups of relatives or workout buddies. “I’ve taken two fitness rooms and made them family fitness rooms. You can work out with the people you come with,” he said. Each contains cardio equipment and weights.

4. Your workout may be time restricted. 

Steve Panzik, owner of Power Ten Fitness Club in Port Washington is asking members to limit their workouts to 45 minutes to one hour to avoid social lingering.

5. You may be asked to BYO.

To avoid sharing of equipment, Yoganomics is one of a number of studios that’s adopted a bring-your-own policy. “There’s no rental of props — straps, mats, blocks,” said Gagnon. “We’re asking people to come fully prepared on their own.”

6. Many amenities will be axed.

Waiting areas and showers may be closed. Lockers may be limited.

7. Coaching methods will be modified.

To help students to get a deeper stretch or more intense workout, instructors may use their hands to help pinpoint the area. That’s changed.

“We are teaching without touch,” said Evolution Pilates’ Wolfe, 53. “We’ve been honing verbal cuing over the past four months of virtual classes. We’ll instruct students to imagine pushing here.” Just Breathe yoga studio in Commack will be similarly hands-off as teachers help students maximize their exercise, said owner Nicole Amodio, 41.

8. Class sizes will be limited.

Localities must inspect gyms to determine whether they can have indoor classes. If approved, members will need to plan ahead and reserve space in popular classes, as capacity will be limited. 

9. There could be a literal change in the air.

With the question of how the coronavirus spreads in constant question, recycled air at gyms is a concern. Gold’s Gym in East Northport invested $20,000 to install AirPHX technology, an air and surface sanitizing system to kill mold, bacteria and viruses. At Just Breathe, a 1,200 square feet space, three UV towers that kill surface bacteria have been installed. “Each tower covers 400 square feet,” said Amodio.

Cleaning protocols will also be stepped up. Many gyms have expanded time between classes to deep-clean equipment and workout spaces. Hand wipes will be more prominent all around gyms.

10. There will be new, outdoor exercise options.

Outdoor areas, including backyards and parking lots, are doubling as classrooms for yoga, spinning, kickboxing, and just about every exercise under the sun. At Just Breathe, a new 20-feet-by-40-feet tent covers a space for ohm’s.

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