Spacing between equipment on the gym floor. (Virgin Active)

Virgin Active is in the final stages of readying its clubs for when it gets government approval.

When its clubs do re-open, its more than 700,000 members in South Africa will have to book their sessions before coming to the gym.

The company has also taken other steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including strict physical distancing and investing in ventilation equipment that ensures that 100% of the air in its gyms is replaced within nine minutes.

Virgin Active has not deducted member debit orders during lockdown in South Africa, which is the last of its eight markets that will remain closed.

It has already opened in Italy, Thailand, Namibia and Botswana. Clubs have seen between 40% to 50% of their members returning, while 60% to 80% of members are back in Thailand. Clubs in Singapore and Australia are reopening this week. 

So far, club reopenings have been successful, particularly in Italy, which suffered almost 34,000 fatalities from Covid-19. A spokesperson said that Virgin Active saw very little hesitancy from Italian members returning to gyms, with many seeing it as a chance to bolster their immune system amid ongoing health concerns about the virus.

Across the world, gyms have been among the first public places to close during global lockdowns. You can’t get Covid-19 from sweat, but there is nervousness about touching equipment which could be infected by saliva droplets from someone else.

Here's what you can expect when you return to the gym:

To avoid a lunch-hour gym rush, Virgin Active has been in talks with companies whose offices are close to its gyms, to arrange for staggered time off for employees during the working day.  

At the entrance of the gym, your temperature will be checked before you will be allowed in.

Temperature checks at the gym entrance. (Virgin Active)

You won’t be allowed to bring your own gym towel, or yoga mat, for hygienic purposes. Paper towels and sanitiser are provided throughout the gym, and Virgin Active yoga mats are “deep cleaned” after every session.

Sanitiation stations throughout the gyms. (Virgin Active)

Trainers and staff will be wearing masks. Virgin Active will be selling “high-performance” exercise masks, but whether masks will be mandatory when training will be determined by government.

Permitted class sizes have been reduced by 50%, and class times have been shortened to a maximum of 45 minutes to ensure there is enough time to clean the rooms and equipment between classes. Each member must stay within a dedicated grid to ensure physical distancing.

Class sizes will be reduced and grids mark your spot on the floor. (Virgin Active)

Most classes will still be offered, but some with accommodation - "Rumble" boxing classes, for example, won't use boxing gloves, which are tough to deep clean regularly. But suspension yoga – exercise with an adjustable sling – won’t be available.

Every second electrical piece of training equipment, including bikes and treadmills, has been disabled on the gym floor to ensure that members stay further apart from each other.

Every second treadmill is disabled to ensure physical distancing. (Virgin Active)
Every second bike in spin classes will be out of action. (Virgin Active)

After using weights, members must leave them in a designated area where they will be picked up and cleaned by staff.

After using weights, you need to drop it in a special area for cleaning. (Virgin Active)

On the mats, large blocks demarcate areas for personal trainers and their clients.

Physical trainers and their clients have their own grids on the gym mat. (Virgin Active)

Swimming is one of the safest ways to exercise – thanks to chlorinated pools, which should kill the coronavirus. Two people will be allowed per lane, and group classes will be moved from the small heated pools to the big pools to make it easier to monitor members.

Computer stations will be closed.  

Change rooms have blocks marked on the floor to keep members apart. 

In the locker rooms, blocks indicate where you can stand. (Virgin Active)

Refreshment bars will be open, but for takeaways only and contactless payment is required.

Staff will be divided into three different teams who will always work the same shift – to limit “cross-pollination”. Accordingly, if one person is exposed to Covid-19, it will be contained within the team. Staff will be constantly screened for symptoms, including with temperature checks.

Amid high levels of continued anxiety about the coronavirus, Virgin Active staff are also being trained in resolving potential conflicts if, for example, members feel that someone else is encroaching on their space.

The article has been updated to remove a reference to a requirement to book gym sessions beforehand. Also steam rooms and saunas may not be closed after gyms reopen. Virgin Active says final arrangements will be announced once government has approved its reopening plan.

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