For me, the risks far outway the benefits
As economies reopen gyms are reopening, but I won't be taking advantage of the opportunity to reactive my suspended membership.
There will be a second wave of the pandemic, and setting myself up as a high-risk target doesn't appeal to me. It's not that I don't want to go back - I miss the access to the equipment and the discipline of turning up.
I administratively suspended my gym membership 10 days before the declaration of an Australia-wide lockdown on March 22nd, 2020. You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the sweat, heavy breathing and poor hygiene practices were a significant health risk.
Making the call was logical, but I hesitated. It's painful to think of throwing away 2 decades of regular tough exercise, the years of work with the kettlebells, rowing machines, and cable machines. It was deflating just thinking about it. But Italy was sinking under the pandemic, and I made the call.
In the lockdown, my exercise routine is entirely different. It's daily but irregular and more cardio than strength and interval training. It is a second-best choice, but despite that, I won't be rushing back to the gym.
Here are four reasons that I absolutely will not be returning to the gym until after the second wave.
Reason #1 - There WILL be a second wave
The WHO says there will be a second wave. Australia's Chief Medical Officer says that there will be a second wave. The US is guaranteed to have a significant second wave, and that will keep the virus alive and travelling globally.
For Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere, a second wave will strike in winter, along with the influenza season. There is also a not-insignificant chance of the second wave being carried forward as a more contagious mutation of the original COVID19.
That adds up to three vectors of risk all targeting an unknown date in the future - a second wave, winter immune infections, and mutations. There are no mitigating factors here. These are all high probability outcomes.
Reason #2 - A gym is the WORST place to be
We all know that COVID19 spreads by touch, and by being carried by breath - ours and other people's breathing and coughing. Fitness industry lobbyists claim that gyms are no worse than other personal service locations. That may be true, which just means that as at hairdressers, barbers and nail salons you can get the virus.
Everything in gyms is touched and rarely wiped down. Everyone is working hard and breathing hard, and if they are not working hard, they are talking loudly. Talking loudly sprays the virus for over 5 metres, especially in closed areas.
A fundamental requirement to control the spread of the virus in the air is to design and manage the airflow properly. If the breath of people "upwind" of you is being sucked past you as it is being drawn into the air conditioning return-air ducts, then you are getting a room full of the virus in your face.
In a nutshell, the gym than almost anywhere else is in a category of places, e.g. on an aeroplane, where you are most likely to get a high viral load. But unlike flying, you go to the gym more frequently.
Reason #3 Gym management culture doesn't change quickly
Gym owners all swear that new hygiene processes will keep patrons safe. That may work in a small gym, but in the big-brand gym where I go, it is simply not going to happen.
People don't change their behaviour and attitude overnight. My gym has a management culture where machines remain broken for months and half-repaired for years. The carpets are left dirty; the air conditioning breaks down three times each summer; clocks in different rooms show different times; TV monitors always look like they've been affected by a nearby alien landing; and, the jacuzzi is periodically closed down because the bacteria count is out of control.
The chain is owned by an investment bank whose sole intention is to trade the business into a public IPO. That works by minimising expenses and maximising earnings so that the multiples stack up as high as possible.
The IPO goal is not compatible with COVID cleanliness. The staff had previously told me that they have to account for every sheet of photocopy paper. Will they have to account for every disinfectant wipe as well and will over-use reflect adversely in their pay packet?
Besides, authorities have warned that disinfectant may not kill the virus if the surface has not been cleaned with a detergent first. The latter is not going to happen at my gym - not even the remotest chance. Is it going to happen at yours?
Aside: You might ask why I still go to this gym? The answer is pure convenience - it's just a 5-minute ride on my Aldi bike home-to-gym. My response to their classic NPS question: "On a scale of zero to ten, how likely are you to recommend our business to a friend or colleague?" is a zero. I go solely because of the location.
Reason # 4 - It's about me - I have a high-risk health profile
A personal reason that I'm not returning until after the 2nd wave is that I'm in a high-risk category. I am male, over 65, and diabetic. According to my calculations that makes my mortality risk up to 3-times higher than a younger healthy female (females under 50 have the lowest risk among adults).
Although I exercise by myself and only take one class a week (Spin), I do spend more time than average at each visit. I average about 90 minutes, including the warm-up and cool-down. I've worked out that when we are older that it is better to go less frequently - to enable rest and recovery - but to work harder each time across a range of modalities.
90-minutes is a long exposure, especially if, like me, you are at high risk.
Until then, I'll continue to enjoy outdoor exercising
For these four reasons, I will most definitely not be re-activating my membership until after the second wave, and until I can reassess the "post-second wave new normal". What that will be, I don't know.
In the meantime, I am enjoying my more frequent running and outdoor exercise. From what I see, many others are also positively experiencing the change of scenery from a gym. It will be interesting to see how many prefer to stay away and continue to exercise outdoors.
I wish you all the best for when you return to the gym. Stay safe.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or another qualified clinician. Disclaimer.
Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter