What it's like to be back at the gym: it's eerily quiet and sweat towels are banned

Business Insider SA
Only 50 people are allowed in gyms at any time. Photo: Kelly Anderson
  • Virgin Active reopened on Monday for the first time in almost five months. 
  • According to government regulations, only 50 members are permitted in a gym at any time, which leaves the vast exercise spaces almost eerily deserted.
  • No sweat towels are allowed and you are not supposed to drink from the water fountains.
  • For more articles, go to

Under the new lockdown level 2 regulations, gyms in South Africa could reopen last week, for the first time in almost five months.

Planet Fitness and some of the smaller chains allowed members back last week, while Virgin Active – South Africa’s biggest gym group with 700,000 members – reopened on Monday.

The first day back did not go smoothly. Only 50 people are allowed in the gym at any time, and members were encouraged to book a one-hour slot via its app and website, to prevent arriving at an at-capacity gym, and having to wait your turn – but the booking system crashed over the weekend.

Despite not being able to book, I went to my local gym in Wembley Square, Cape Town on Monday afternoon. Fortunately, there wasn't a waiting list or queue.

On arrival, I had my temperature checked and hands sanitised.

I was marked on a sheet which tracks when a person comes in and leaves, so they make sure only 50 people are inside at all times.

When I was there, there were 48 people in the gym, so it was nearly at capacity… but it felt empty.

There was loads of space on the floor, and almost all the cardio equipment was open.

The most “concentrated” place was the weights section, but even that felt deserted.

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

Cleaning staff were always visible and seemed to be constantly busy doing something. All staff members were wearing masks and visors.

Some of the biggest changes – apart from the vast open spaces - are that no sweat towels are allowed. You have to use paper towels provided.

While no drinking from fountains was allowed, I still saw people using them.

There was meant to be a one-hour time limit on training sessions, but that wasn’t enforced from what I could tell.

In fact, there was no visible enforcement of rules. Some people did not wear masks at all, some only wore them for half the time (including personal trainers).

I also saw that some members weren’t wiping down their equipment when they were done, but I didn’t see a single staff member the floor who enforced any of the rules.

Basically, it was every man for himself. Luckily there was loads of space so you could get away from the rule breakers if you were concerned, but it was still a bit frustrating to see a lack of Covid-etiquette from some members.

My advice if you were considering going back to gym is that you have to take responsibility for your own hygiene and don’t assume everyone else is as cautious as you.

You can’t get Covid-19 from sweat, but you need to be careful about touching equipment which could be infected by saliva droplets from someone else.

Wipe down your equipment before and after you use it and wear your mask as much as possible.

Try find a space to work out that is well distanced from others and give your hands and phone a good clean when you leave.


Receive a daily update on your cellphone with all our latest news: click here.

Get the best of our site emailed to you daily: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo