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What to expect from St. Albert gyms as they prepare to reopen

Changes include distancing, sanitization and pre-registration

Gyms and fitness centres in St. Albert are getting ready to reopen after shutting down four months ago because of COVID-19 restrictions. 

The Alberta government announced Monday the second phase of reopening would start Friday, meaning gym facilities can start welcoming back sweaty patrons as soon as June 12.

Getting ready to reopen will mean gyms will have to plan out how their businesses will run while making sure everyone is kept safe. 

“As soon as our doors closed, we were getting ready for them to reopen,” said Danielle Smith, general manager at the Sturgeon Valley Athletic Club. 

With months of preparation under their belt, the gym on Carnegie Drive will be ready to open Friday, Smith said. Since the news broke, the gym has seen 100 people sign up for memberships.

“When we got that announcement yesterday, there were some pretty loud cheers around here, that's for sure.”

Heavy lifting

To maintain a certain limit on the number of people allowed inside the 22,000 sq. ft. space, Sturgeon Valley will be requiring people to book a time online so they can keep up a headcount and cleaning protocols. 

More staff will be on hand on the gym floor to help with the sanitization of high-touch points. Then after every hour, the gym will close for 15 minutes before the next booking to clean. 

Any exercise requiring a higher intensity workout, including HIIT classes, will need at least three metres of space between people.

Gym equipment will be spaced out between two to three metres apart. The gym decided to rely on distancing instead of barriers between equipment to keep people from feeling claustrophobic, Smith said.

For people feeling unsure about going back to the gym in a pandemic, virtual and outdoor classes will still be going on a few times in a week.

“I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable or pressured in any way, so we’re ready and waiting for them when they’re ready,” she said.

For other gyms, getting guidelines put in place by Friday just isn't feasible.

Blake MacDonald, president of Orangetheory Canada, brought the international gym franchise to Canada by opening the first location in St. Albert.

Now with 108 Canadian outlets and 11 in the Edmonton area, the biggest factor when it comes to reopening for MacDonald is safety, he said.  

"A lot of us will not be able to reopen for several weeks until we're able to make the adjustment to our facilities, to re-hire our staff, to get everybody trained properly for all the new protocols ... there's going to be a lot of work ahead of us for sure."

MacDonald said he feels lucky to have a network of more than 1,200 studios across the United States and more than 23 countries to draw learning experiences from. Orangetheory Canada is now working with its global headquarters to create a reopening guide for all of our locations in Canada, each modified depending on the market. 

"We're very confident we're going to be able to get it right, just might take us a little bit longer because of the complexity of our business concept."

The FX3 Fitness gym on Riel Drive has about 1,752 sq. ft. of space to fit within the provincial guidelines. Owner Michelle Parker said her goal is to reopen June 22 and launch a new coaching app.

While members are eager to get back to the gym, many may choose to not come back at all, she said. 

"Some have even said they're in better shape not going to the gym and doing it at home. A good portion may never come back, either out of fear for themselves, or because they've adapted," she said. 

recent survey conducted by shows 42 per cent of Canadian respondents with gym memberships said they won't be returning once they reopen, at least not right away.

Gym at home

If anyone knows the importance of keeping up gym routines, it's Morinville strongman Scott Wallace.

"To lose four months of training for a competitive strongman, a competitive powerlifter, or even a competitive bodybuilder, puts you four months behind schedule," Wallace said. "You can't just pick it back up again."

Standing six feet two inches and weighing over 300 pounds, Wallace was named Alberta's Strongest Man in the Master's Division last summer. In 2018, he finished 15th in the World's Strongest Man Masters in North Carolina. His goal this year is to qualify again in August and finish top 10 in the world, whether the gyms are closed or not.

As a professional competitive strongman, the equipment Wallace needs to train is costly. After a month of not being able to access the equipment he needed, Wallace spent around $6,000 to build his own heavyweight gym in his garage so he could reach his goal of lifting 905 pounds deadlift off 18-inch blocks. 

"I actually just did a lift on Sunday, where I lifted a personal best of 865 (pounds)," he said. "But had I been off any longer, I would still be behind schedule."

Now that he has his own heavy-weight gym at home, he said he will continue to do a majority of his training there. But as the owner of vitamin and supplement store Crushers Supplements in Morinville, Wallace said seeing gyms reopen again is a welcome relief for the fitness industry.

"I can tell you right now: if I didn't build what I built at home, I would be there first thing in the morning on Friday," Wallace said.

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