Fitness Facilities Sweating Out Reopening Date, Offer Alternatives in the Meantime

Sue Molnar, a SoulCycle Master Instructor, tried on the headphones being given out to riders so they can hear the music during new outdoor rides. Independent/Courtesy SoulCycle

Long Island may be nearly a week into its fourth phase of the reopening process, but gyms and fitness studios remained shuttered. Just because workout spaces can’t open their doors, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a workout in—they have figured out a way to still get your sweat on.

SoulCycle, the New York-based fitness company, may be known for its indoor cycling classes, but it took the bikes outside last weekend and classes were packed. The outdoor series continues July 17-19, July 24-July 26, and July 31-August 2.

At two locations in the Hamptons, SoulCycle set up a tent on the green space at the Shoppes at Water Mill, where its studio is located, and one on the lawn at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, just behind the Barn, the space on Butter Lane where spin classes are usually held. Riders use disco-style headphones, provided by SoulCycle, to ensure strong sound quality while outside.

Meanwhile, hundreds of gym and fitness studio owners across the state have joined a class-action lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo for not allowing them to reopen in Phase 4. Health experts have said that gyms provide a high risk for the spread of COVID-19 due to higher densities, the increased breathing rate that comes with working out, and common touch areas.

But, owners—and even Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone—say they have plans in place for making post-pandemic workouts safe.

SoulCycle’s outdoor set up in Water Mill. Independent/James J. Mackin

Katherine Mitchell and her son, Brook Hartnett took over a space in East Hampton that had been MuvStrong during the pandemic to create Allegiance Personal Training. At the time it wasn’t clear when Phase 4 under the reopening would start, but they assumed gyms could open in the final phase.

“We were dismayed when we learned that small fitness studios were being classified the same way as large bootcamp-style gyms and that no fitness facilities would be allowed to open in phase 4,” Mitchell said, adding they have been providing outdoor, small group classes, live-online via Zoom workouts and more recently personal training outdoors at people’s homes until they are permitted to open.

“We are hopeful that New York State will make a distinction between large bootcamp gyms and small personal training studios,” she said. “We are 100 percent committed to the health and well being of our members and staff and feel that as a small facility we can provide the necessary sanitary measures.”

Allegiance Personal Training’s outdoor set up for training while the indoor space remains closed. Independent/Courtesy Allegiance Personal Training

They have created three workout areas that accommodate up to four people in each pod. “Everyone will have their own equipment and not need to share or touch anything but their own equipment. There will be at least six feet between each person and we will provide sanitizer. Gloves and masks will be available. The space will be cleaned throughout the day with time between sessions for cleaning and sanitizing. We have a bright, light space with lots of windows and doors that open and so we feel that we can provide adequate ventilation.”

The folks at Elements Fitness Studio, which offers a barre-based workout and has a location in East Hampton, said they are ready to welcome back their “Barre Babes” as soon as the Governor gives the green light. Elements, like many fitness studios, said they have invested heavily in COVID-19 modifications.

The pandemic has changed the class model forever by cutting class sizes, dramatically reducing the schedule, and creating individualized spaces, according to Andrea Fornarola, the owner. “We have been working extremely hard to create a new normal pivoting to virtual classes. As we prepare to reopen, we have to make a lot of additional changes as the concept of group fitness will change significantly.”

Fornarola and her team have created a new design for the studio to incorporate social distancing, which includes custom-designed glass partitions, which almost creates a cubicle-style workout station. “I think the partitions will make clients feel comfortable standing next to someone at the barre,” she said.

Glass partitions now separate barre station. Independent/Courtesy Elements Fitness

The partitions are six feet apart, creating an individualized barre station. “They are clear so you can still see the instructor and see the people next to you, however, they act as a sneeze guard and sweat guard so that you can stand profile at the barre or face the front of the room and not touch or sweat on the person in front of you,” she said, adding that it “really allows you to get in the zone without the hesitancy of spreading any germs.”

Elements also doubled the amount of equipment in its inventory so that each piece is used daily by one client. After classes, the last group’s equipment will be removed and the room will be sanitized before the next class.

Elements has also updated its HVAC systems, added new equipment, and updated its lobby design. In fact, it used the quarantine to renovate its studios, and redesign virtual channels to create a new on-demand streaming platform and app.

Even with classes available online, Fornarola said her clients are “chomping at the bit and so are we” to come back. “However, we do not want to open up too soon and risk the safety of our clients and staff as their wellbeing is always our top priority.”

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