Bend! Pivot! Stretch! Reach! Long Island gym owners have sweated through strategic and financial workouts to prepare for reopenings. How long before fitness facilities get the go-ahead? A class-action suit discussed by fitness facilities would push for ASAP. In the meantime, there are more burning questions: How are gyms getting ready for reentry even before statewide protocols are set? Do people want to go back or continue to work out at home on their own?
Steven Briscoe, 27, co-owner of Farmingdale Fit Body Boot Camp, which, like many gyms, pivoted to virtual classes early in the pandemic lockdown, surveyed 200 of his clients last month to gauge interest in returning. “About 70% are itching to get back to the gym,” he said. “The other 30% prefer a wait-and-see approach.”
Chalk up the gap in attitudes — gung-ho versus go-slow — to factors including COVID-19-related health concerns, scheduling issues, investments in home gym equipment, the style of workout, and even child care considerations.
“There’s still a lot they don’t know about this virus,” said Arnie Herz, 58, a Port Washington lawyer with a heart condition who traded Evolution Pilates in-house workouts for the studio’s virtual ones. “I’m still cautious about returning to the studio."
When members do head back to health clubs, they can expect changes. Briscoe’s facility is set to be restricted to 50% capacity, feature self-contained workout enclosures and provide more equipment to avoid sharing. Toll for renovations: nearly $8,700.
"I don’t need nail salons to open, or bars. I need the gym”
Steven Panzik, 44, a physical therapist and owner of Power Ten Fitness Club in Port Washington, spent between $10,000 and $15,000. Partitions separate cardio machines; a communal water fountain is out, two new hand-washing stations are in. Outdoors, where, he said, members can workout as of July 8, “we are building a pop-up tent facility.” Members will have their temperatures taken before entering the space with socially distanced equipment as well as capacity and time limits.
THE CASE: RUSHING TO RETURN
Not all group exercise translates fully to homes, experts say. At Orangetheory Fitness, exercisers on treadmills are hooked to heart monitors so the coach measures intensity throughout the whole class.
“It’s almost impossible to duplicate the experience at home,” said Jessica Eisenbarth, 33, manager of Orangetheory in West Babylon, where social distancing will be the name of the game upon reopening. “Some clients say they’re over the virtual classes.”
Joanna Pavone, a 30-year-old Queens accountant, is one of them. “I’m dying to go back to the studio,” said Pavone, who’s worked out at the Forest Hills and West Babylon branches. “I’m not as motivated at home,” she said. “I’m energized by the coach and others in the room. I’d go back today if I could.”
She’s not alone. Erin O’Boyle, 35, who lives in Commack and teaches fifth grade in Manhattan, hits Orangetheory in East Northport in-person and now virtually. “I would be standing outside there today if they’d let me in," she said. "I don’t need nail salons to open, or bars. I need the gym.”
Rosa Santell Hitzel, 48, a business travel operations manager for American Express who’s supplementing Briscoe’s boot camp virtual workouts with 3-to-5-mile walks with her husband and weightlifting in the basement mini-gym of her West Babylon home, said, “It’s not just physical transformation that brings us to this happy place, it’s for our mental and emotional therapy as well.”
At the Suffolk YJCC in Commack, swimmers are already back in the lap pool, which has partitions dividing lane entrances. Before they hit the water, members have their temperature scanned and are escorted to the pool, according to Scott Zlochower, 38, director of fitness. The rest of the fitness center has been reorganized for social distancing. “We’re just waiting for the governor to say go,” he said.
Mo Wolfe, 53, owner of Evolution Pilates in Port Washington, is doing likewise. To stay afloat, she’s sold two Pilates exercise machines, called Reformers, that can go for as much as $5,000. She brought a third one home, slimming her fleet from six to three — a move that facilitates social distancing. “We have six feet between apparatus stations,” she said.
Wolfe wept when gym reopenings were delayed from Phase 4, she said. “But even if we were able to reopen on the proposed date, 90% of my clients would continue with virtual classes. It’s about child care because summer camps are closed.”
THE CASE: STAYING AT HOME
Joan Garber, 60, a teacher’s assistant who’s taken Power Ten virtual classes during quarantine, said,“I’ve become so involved with my fitness life that losing part of that is kind of sad. There’s only so much you can do with 10-pound dumbbells in your living room. I have no reluctance about going back to my gym.” But not everyone feels the same after months of finding workout alternatives.
Hertz, who's still doing Evolution Pilates' virtual classes, said the two things keeping him from going back to the gym are his health and "that I love exercise at home.” It loves him back — Hertz has shed 15 pounds since lockdown began. His favorite suit, he said, “now looks like a Halloween costume.”
Dealing with ovarian cancer, Tracy Winters, 59, does have qualms due to health concerns about dropping Evolution Pilates virtual classes and returning for in-studio sessions. “I will definitely continue exercising remotely at my house. Would I rather be back at the gym? Absolutely. But it’s going to be different now.”
Gebeth Morton, 44, who has been taking “long walks” with her husband besides doing Power Ten online workouts is not rushing back to the gym. “We’re afraid that one of us will catch the virus. For now, we’re definitely staying home,” said the 44-year-old physical therapist with a rare CD4 immunodeficiency. “Maybe even until they get the vaccine.”
THE CASE: A BLEND OF BOTH
And there are some who’ll likely find a blend of both at-home and in-person when gyms reopen.
Ashley Schapiro, 39, vice president global brand acquisition American Eagle, is another Evolution Pilates regular who commuted to the city for work before the quarantine. “I definitely miss the camaraderie at the studio,” said Schapiro, who bought a secondhand Reformer for $1,900 which she uses during virtual Evolution classes. “What’s the future look like for me? A combination of both — at home and the gym,” she said. “The beauty of that is I can workout even more.”
Gym owners agree that going forward, even when a vaccine is found, a hybrid model blending in-studio and virtual exercise will become business as usual. “The hybrid model is here to stay,” said Fit Body Boot Camp’s Briscoe.