Your Fitness Facility Can Be a Refuge In These Trying Times

(Photo courtesy 24 Hour Fitness.) Health clubs will look different upon reopening, as this image from 24 Hour Fitness shows where basketball courts are being used for cycling and personal training. But they can be places of refuge and bonding for members.

These last few months have likely been the most difficult our country has faced in many of our lifetimes. When we released our 2020 Trends report back in February, I never imagined that those trends would be blown completely to pieces in less than a month, first from the COVID-19 pandemic and then from the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests of his death and those of too many black men.

It’s enough to make anyone wonder what more can happen in 2020,

Exercise has always been a great stress reliever for me as I believe it is for many people. Despite the multipurpose club and the boxing studio I belong to being closed until just recently, I continued to walk and run outside and strength train at home as much as I could with a band and some improvised weights. Those workouts provided me with much-needed stress reduction, but I longed to get back to my gyms.

My longing to return was not just for the weight equipment, the exhilaration of hitting the heavy bag or the encouragement from the boxing instructors; it was for the community I felt at each location—from the members at my multipurpose gym (a group of regulars who always nod in recognition and who I exchange pleasantries with on a regular basis) and from the boxing instructors at my studio who shout peppy hellos when I walk in and give unending words of encouragement to get us through each class.  

At various times during the shutdowns, I ran into a few members from my clubs in the neighborhood. They all expressed how important these locations had become for their mental wellness as much as for their physical wellness.

We all know how a shared workout experience can bond a group of people, which is why small group and large group training have become so popular. Times of shared strife and stress also bond people to each other, and now is the time for you to be the place that bonding can occur.

Many of your members will be gung-ho to come back, but many will be timid. For people who are feeling stressed about returning, they may be wondering whether or not they should wear a mask, whether others will be wearing one, whether the bottles of cleaning solutions will be full when they need them, whether other members will remember to wipe down the equipment and whether other members will stay six feet away.

So how do you make your facility a welcoming place? You likely already have thought about this and have your own ideas, but here are a few from me.

First, make sure people feel comfortable coming into your club by sharing with them the new protocols you have put in place to keep them safe. (For some of the protocols other facilities are putting in place, check out this article.) Do so in emails, social media posts, verbal interactions in the club and signage.

Second, give them a warm welcome when they walk through your doors—and each time they come back. Some people will come in to give you a test run, and if they don’t like what they see, they will cancel (like one of the members I recently ran into on a walk in the neighborhood who said the lack of a face mask requirement at our gym caused him and some other older members to cancel). Make sure they know that you missed them and are glad they are back. Make sure your team members learn their names and chat with them while they are on the floor (socially distanced, of course).

Ensure you are enforcing your cleaning policies and are showing members that your staff is cleaning throughout the day.

Keep the cleaning supplies well stocked so no one is ever left wondering where to go to clean equipment.

Do a charitable activity. When people are depressed, getting outside themselves and doing something for others often is a good cure. When a group is involved in doing something for others, it not only lifts the spirit of each participant but also creates bonds within that group. So consider organizing an event or activity to help people in your community—perhaps gathering supplies for a local food bank, collecting cleaning supplies and toiletries for a women’s shelter, or sending food to frontline workers.

You likely have other ways that you are making your club a place of refuge for your members. If you want to share what you are doing, email me at [email protected].

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