Keeping exercise clientele healthy has been about much more than providing a treadmill or weight equipment during the era of COVID-19.
Deep cleanings, social distancing, constant sanitization of equipment, and wearing masks have been both the priority and the challenge for fitness centers. And it will likely remain the case for several months ahead.
Gyms were closed for a couple of months when the coronavirus necessitated lockdowns in mid-March. Many precautions have been taken since by fitness places in an effort to minimize the risk of the people working out.
Understandably, some people are still reluctant to work out in enclosed places and haven’t returned to their gym.
Halo Athletic Center
Halo Athletic Center opened in November 2019, so it’s been under COVID-19 guidelines for most of its existence. But the owners are thrilled to be in business.
Ashley Beard, who owns the business with her husband Jody, and business partner Kyle Williams, called Halo Athletic Center their “passion project.”
The Beards were collegiate athletes. Ashley played soccer at Baylor while Jody was a football player.
“Growing up in sports we had these great trainers and we wanted to give back to the community,” she said.
The interior at 5727 Bagby Ave. is filled with colorful walls peppered with words of encouragement . Ashley, who majored in interior design and fashion merchandising, put those interior design skills to use on the painting project, which took a couple of months with the help of her brother and their business partner’s stepdaughter.
Masks must be worn upon arrival, but not while working out as the equipment is well spaced out. Two rollup doors also mitigate COVID concerns because they can be opened to allow in the fresh air from outside, she said.
Outside areas are available for exercise, with a track and sand pits. Halo also will be adding a 5,400-square-foot building that will house a basketball court and speed and agility center.
Even with the pandemic she said they were able to hold all their memberships and are still holding some memberships for people who aren’t quite ready to be in public areas yet.
She was touched that members wanted Halo to continue to charge them membership fees during the time it was locked down, but Beard said they wouldn’t consider that.
“It was such a sweet offer,” she said.
They have trained top-level athletes, including members of the USA Track and Field team, the Chinese rowing and kayaking team and Boston Red Sox players.
Halo rents out other parts of the building to related businesses. Duality Yoga provides yoga, hot yoga and barre. Maria Hagelstein is a trainer who also runs the Bod Pod, which measures body composition.
Housed in the building is a registered dietician, massage therapist and two aestheticians, which can make it a “one-stop shop” for busy moms, she said.
The gym is still new, so capacity has been under 50%, but it’s growing, she said.
“We have members from age 16 to 82 who feel like they’re a part of a community,” she said.
YMCA of Central Texas
There’s plenty of room for members, said Amy Juengling, interim CEO of the YMCA of Central Texas.
“We’re still underutilized. We’re not at 50% capacity,” she said, adding that safety protocols remain a priority at its two facilities, the Waco Family YMCA and Doris Miller YMCA.
Upon entering the YMCA members have to wear a mask and undergo a temperature check before using the facility. Masks are to remain on when moving from place to place within the facility but it isn’t required while using equipment.
While many members already wipe down the equipment after use, Juengling said they are holding members accountable and asking them to sanitize the equipment when done.
“Our members are doing a great job,” she said. Sections of the YMCA are closed and deep-cleaned during portions of the day.
The lap pool, therapy pool and spa are all open, but social distancing protocols must be followed.
Group exercise classes are being held at the YMCA, but there are 6-foot-wide squares taped to the floor, she said. Participants stay within those boxes during the workout and keep their towels and other gear with them inside the tape.
Jeungling said the larger group exercise classes were moved to the basketball gym, which also has the taped squares on its floor.
She said that in January the Waco Family YMCA is going to offer something that has been tried at Dallas YMCAs.
They will be creating personal workout rooms so that a single person or members of a family can exercise.
“The space will have weights and cardio equipment and it will be cleaned and sanitized after each use,” she said.
The rooms will be able to be reserved by members.
Other activities are set to resume. While fall youth basketball wasn’t held, winter basketball is ramping up with the more competitive Little Dribblers program at the Doris Miller YMCA and regular basketball camps and programs at the Family YMCA. Youth recreational basketball will be at both sites.
The YMCA is holding its after-school programs and child care for 10 schools.
WRS Athletic Club
WRS Athletic Club, 5047 Franklin Ave., has taken many steps on making its space safer, said owner Robbie Little.
For starters, it may be one of the only clubs where members are required to wear masks even while working out. But that hasn’t been a problem, he said.
“The members have really stepped up,” Little said. “The cleanliness of the club has always been No. 1. We clean like crazy anyway, but we’ve added personal cleaning stations throughout. There are 10 more stations in the weight room and cardio rooms.”
One of the club’s biggest efforts to provide a safer environment was installing a special filtration system for the air conditioning units, he said.
The system provides the unit with hydrogen peroxide air molecules released into the rooms. The molecules kill viruses, bacteria and mold on contact both in the air and on surface areas.
The club also separated its equipment to provide additional space between clients while exercising. Previously, there was one room with all the cardio machines. Those machines are now spread out across three rooms, he said.
The weight room likewise is spread out more to provide distancing.
WRS has an employee designated to constantly sanitize equipment and touch points in the building.
“Our biggest thing is the members’ buy-in,” Little said. “They’re all adults at the club and they appreciate our efforts to keep it clean. It’s reassuring and relaxing for me to know once someone is off the treadmill they’ll clean it for the next person.
“I have had members tell us this is the only place they’ll go because it is so clean.”
During the lockdown from mid-March to mid-May, some of the club’s trainers would video workouts for the members and share them on the club’s private YouTube channel available to members.
While a number of members have returned since to work out at the club, yoga classes are still provided virtually.
Membership dues were not charged during the lockdown, he said.
There was somewhat of a silver lining for Train Waco when the city of Waco announced the closure of gyms as part of the lockdown on March 18.
Train Waco was in the process of moving from its CrossFit Waco building on Elm Avenue to its more spacious digs at the QTI building, 300 S. Valley Mills Drive.
Work on converting that space for the CrossFit area and adding a more traditional gym with cardio equipment and strength machines was just beginning when the order came, said Jonathon Shelton, who co-owns and operates Train Waco with Brandon Hancock.
But while members couldn’t use the facility, it did provide the opportunity to focus on the renovation work for the interior. The 23,000 square feet of space is 10,000 more than Train Waco had in its previous location.
On May 18, when gyms were allowed to reopen, the CrossFit portion was available again. On June 1, the traditional gym section opened.
“We’ve been fully functioning since June and constantly growing since we’ve been in,” Shelton said. But when the shutdown was continuing it created some anxiety for the owners.
“It was a little scary, because for a while you didn’t have an idea of when we’d reopen and we were just sitting there,” he said. “But once we got the green light, we hit it full steam.”
He said members wear masks upon entering the facility, but not while exercising. However, they do stay apart for social distancing.
“We’re hoping that in 2021 there will be more flattening of the curve and we can create that community like we have with CrossFit,” he said.
Curves, which serves women and is known for its 30-minute circuit workout, follows COVID-19 protocols for its clients, manager Staci Bottoms said.
Masks are worn upon entry, the women stay six feet apart during workouts, and equipment is wiped down between each use, she said.
During the lockdown period from mid-March to mid-May, Curves engaged with its members through its social media app, she said, including encouraging them to exercise in their neighborhoods.
And while some might have taken a break from workouts during the pandemic, Bottoms said it was important to encourage clients to get back to fitness.
“We all know that exercise is good for your overall health, both mind and body,” she said.
While some still are reluctant to get back inside the facility, those who do come are diligent about following the safety protocols.
“The ladies are very good about that and we do what we can to make it easy for them,” she said.
Everyone is anxious to return to normal living and exercising, Bottoms added.
“We’re trying to stay strong and persevere through all this,” she said.