In the United States, an estimated 73 million gym enthusiasts are eager to return when gyms and fitness programs have reopened in a limited capacity in every state. New York City has allowed indoor group fitness classes to resume in New York City at 33 percent capacity, and face masks will be required.
Public health experts found that virus transmission in indoor gyms is caused by maskless participants with high-respiratory exertion and lack of ventilation in enclosed spaces.
The safest way to work out is the outdoors or within the confines of your home. Attending group classes can make the scenario safer by moving it outside, making sure everyone is wearing masks, and observing social distancing.
Indoor fitness classes are risky
Indoor fitness classes have poorly ventilated rooms which can be risky. However, limiting class size, wearing a mask, and increase the social distance between participants can improve ventilation.
According to Virginia Tech’s engineer professor, Dr. Linsey Marr, group classes are often breathing heavily. People always exhale and inhale at far higher volumes than when at rest during exercises.
Dr. Marr recommends a class size limit of 10 people with an increased physical distance up to 10 feet between participants rather than the standard recommended social distance of 6 feet.
The type of indoor exercise in the classroom makes a difference. The risk is likely to go up as exercise intensity increases because breathing rates increase. Heavy breathing naturally increases during strenuous workouts, such as spin or dance classes, compared to low-intensity workouts, such as yoga or Pilates.
Aside from constant sanitization and deep cleaning, one solution is to have open multiple garage-style doors, even in winter. The main objective of an indoor gym is to make sure the ventilation was adequate. Humans exhale carbon dioxide, and indoor facilities cause a buildup of carbon dioxide with heavy breathing during workouts. The level of carbon dioxide can be an indicator of how well-ventilated a room is.
Group fitness classes can continue to operate safely during the pandemic, provided the facility is well ventilated and enforces distancing precautions and capacity limits.
Fans such as overhead exhaust fans or window fans that pull air out of the room are good. Avoid any gym classes that use fans to cool down the room and recirculate air as it increases the risk of viral spread.
Supermarkets have an indoor carbon dioxide reading of 800 parts per million. It suggests that ventilation levels are adequate to reduce the risk of breathing in exhaled germs. With proper ventilation, gyms must have around 500 parts per million to keep indoor carbon dioxide levels even lower.
Proper ventilation and physical make a difference
A gym is a breeding ground for viruses and other bacteria, due to sweat excreted during exercise. Everyone should put in extra effort to wash their hands and wipe down gym equipment before and after use. We cannot depend on the gym’s promise that they are constantly clean and sanitize their facilities.
Proper ventilation, class size limitations, and social distancing make a huge difference in your health and safety. Take notice if your indoor gym has high ceilings and if you can smell someone in the room.
It is advisable to allow cross ventilation with open windows and doors on opposite sides of the room if a class is held indoors. Adding several portable air cleaners that lack more doors or windows also helps.
To wear or not to wear a mask?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask during exercise the but you cannot rely on your mask for full protection. Masks tend to get moist from sweat during exercise, which reduces their filter efficiency. While gyms require masks to enter but it is not enforced or required during group classes.
Observe proper social distancing
Public health officials suggested 6 feet of physical distance for most situations, but extending it to at least 10 feet during exercise is better. There must be ample space in front of you, each side, and behind you as you exercise.
The rules vary by state. Some states require their indoor classes must have enough room for people to stand 14 feet apart. Six feet is considered adequate if there are barriers between participants. Some require a 10-foot by 10-foot area (100 square feet) per person. States like Montana required fitness classes to be held outdoors, while South Dakota has no guidance.
Recommended class size limit
There are different rules for class size limitations in different states. Some limit their attendance to 25 percent to 40 percent of capacity, while others allow more or less 10 people per class. Class size limit is determined by how far apart people can stand from one another on all sides, limiting the class size to 10 people or fewer.
The risk for contracting coronavirus or developing serious illness drops dramatically if you’ve been vaccinated. People who are vaccinated are should take the same precautions as everyone else in public. In most states, the younger and healthier people are most likely to go to gyms or instruct a fitness class. They are less likely to be among the first groups to be vaccinated. The International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association reports state that 73 percent of gym and fitness class participants are 55 and younger.
How will I know if my gym implemented COVID safety precautions?
The IHRSA Active & Safe Commitment has implemented best practices to provide a safe environment. Facilities must sign the pledge promise to observe proper physical distancing and mitigation measures, health and safety protocols, and contact tracing.
The IHRSA encourages the gym to have a checklist of health and safety protocols on its website and signages at the facility. These protocols include ventilation, fresh air being exchanged, capacity limits, physical distance, and mask-wearing policy.
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