Here's how to be a post-pandemic gym bunny

Come on in the water’s lovely: There’s no ignoring the lockdown love handles any more — outdoor pools are now open and fitness centres are soon to follow – Here’s how to be a post-pandemic gym bunny

  • Fitness facilities and indoor pools in England are set to reopen on July 25 
  • Patricia Nicol explored how swimming pools have adapted since lockdown 
  • Emma Rowley and Anna Maxted revealed the safety measures in place at gyms
  • Victoria Woodhall shares the exercise classes that have moved outside

When you can’t go to the gym or pool, they start to look a lot more appealing — as many of us have discovered in recent weeks. While pubs have been open since July 4, those of us keener on breaststroke than boozing have had to wait a little longer to get our chosen fix. But now we have a date — while outdoor pools opened in England this weekend, from July 25 fitness facilities, including indoor pools, will be welcoming us back. Here’s what to expect when doors reopen…

Come on in the water’s lovely

By Patricia Nichol  

Well, this certainly doesn’t feel as high-risk as a supermarket aisle, I think, as I launch into my first 50 metres of front-crawl in a swimming pool since lockdown began.

The water is cool, a refreshing 18c as the outside temperature mounts towards 30. As I swim, I am aware of just how lucky I am: swimming laps in a pristine pool.

Patricia Nicol (pictured) who swims at Charlton Lido twice a week, said the facility has double-width lanes and bathers are told to swim at a distance of at least two metres from others

Last Thursday, the government announcement — that outdoor pools in England could open from the weekend, then gyms and indoor pools from July 25 — was warmly welcomed by keen swimmers like me. The longed-for green light came too late for some volunteer-run lidos to take the plunge this weekend, or even, sadly, this summer. But, gradually, cherished community facilities are starting to reopen.

Swimmers in Scotland, Wales and North Ireland hope to be back in the water soon, too.

Swim England, the governing body, has been clear that pools, whether open-air or indoor, will adhere to stringent social distance guidelines for the foreseeable future. Nobody will be allowed in chlorinated pools without booking ahead, for example, and then only for an hour’s slot. Swimmers will be expected to arrive ‘pool ready’, avoiding the changing-room if possible. Use of toilets is discouraged, as is social chatter or play — it’s lane-swimming only.

Within those double-width lanes, bathers will be told to follow the same direction of travel, at a distance of at least two metres from the person in front, avoiding overtaking. Swimmers who start in the wrong lane will be expected to move. Likewise, anyone experiencing a loss of momentum will be expected to budge over rather than interrupt others’ flow.

Don’t be the person who makes a splash for all the wrong reasons seems the guiding principle. Swimmers I know welcome the in-depth directives as clear and sensible.

In the media, much sport has been had at the singling out of butterfly as the ASBO of traditional strokes: too pumped-up and pointlessly aggressive for these sensitive times.

Unfashionable sidestroke, however, is touted as a potential way to protect yourself from incursions into your airspace.

Swimming is Britain’s favourite participation sport, often recommended by doctors as a safe, non-weight bearing way to get fitter.

A fortnight ago, there was some surprise that amid a global health pandemic, pints and pork pies had been sanctioned ahead of the activity so many depend on for their physical and mental wellbeing. Now we can again take to the waters. Leap in, it will be lovely.

Patricia admits she’s comfort-eaten throughout lockdown, but in the water she feels weightless (file image)

As I glide through the gin-clear, filtered aqua of what is my beloved local pool, Charlton Lido in South-East London, I think of how often in recent months — amid the competing stress of work, home-schooling and worries for distant parents — I have dreamed of this sanctuary.

I love the sense of community found at many pools. Charlton Lido is no exception. Usually, I swim here twice a week, whatever the weather.

Other regulars include an accomplished blind swimmer, who judges his laps by counting strokes and a former Channel swimmer. Fellow enthusiasts include agile pensioners and those who have been through the mill — cancer, injury, redundancy, anxiety — and swum through it to the other side, stronger.

I may wince when I see the pictures accompanying this article: like many, I have comfort-eaten through lockdown. But in the water, I feel weightless, supple, sleek. I leave the pool on a swimmer’s high.

Charlton Lido, London, entry £7

Health clubs head outside

By Victoria Woodhall  

Like anyone who worked out how to cheat a Zoom fitness class (take a breather and blame frozen wi-fi), me and my new-found corona pounds are missing the gym.

It’s not just the personal attention from the instructor, but the camaraderie of seeing familiar faces and catching up for a gossip afterwards. David Lloyd has been working tirelessly to reassure the Government that gyms can apply all the social-distancing measures to open safely.

From what I can see at their gym in Chigwell, Essex, we’ll all be sporting sleeve tans in summer and cagoules in winter as more exercise classes move outside.

Victoria Woodhall (pictured) explored the David Lloyd gym in Chigwell, Essex, who are now holding 144 open air classes a week

As I arrive there is a spin-bike class taking place on the terrace under one of the ‘jumbrellas’ which provide both rain cover and shade. Fresh-air sessions have been allowed for a few weeks now for groups of five plus one instructor.

Here, they’ve been a knockout success — they now hold 144 open air classes a week and come heatwave or rain they look set to continue.

As I walk in, a discreet thermo-scanner, which looks like a security camera, takes my temperature. Anything over 38c and I will be asked to leave. On the gym floor I meet fitness manager Paula Maley. She’s in full plastic pinny, mask and gloves as she squirts down one of the running machines, only half of which are in use. We wait 60 seconds for the spray to work, before I can touch the controls.

The stay-safe message here is very much clean your hands and your equipment before and after. No one has to wear a mask, but the staff do when they clean. Over at the multigym, there are sections clearly marked out on the floor for four rather than the usual 15 people to work out; a member of staff will make sure everyone behaves and queues nicely.

Although queuing is unlikely. This place is about half the size of a football pitch and can fit 114 people. The advantage of out-of-town leisure centres is the floor space they have that makes distancing easier.

Victoria (pictured left) said indoor exercise classes have circles on the floor to mark a distance of three metres away from anyone else

For indoor exercise classes, circles on the floor mark your ‘spot’ three metres away from anyone else. Classes will be smaller; if you’re worried about getting full use of your gym membership, here they are laying on more of them.

Not everything will be available though; Zumba and aerobics will be out for the time being. There’s more yoga and Pilates in response to demand — not surprisingly we’re all searching for ways to cope with anxiety.

Forget tying yourself in knots with resistance bands and hulking dumbbells. We’re set to rediscover old-school drill moves such as planks says Paula.

Expect touch-free classes that don’t require fancy equipment, but use body weight to build muscle instead. You can even BYO for a new ‘rucksack workout’, where you use your own backpack as a weight. You’ll be encouraged to fill your water bottle at home, too.

It saves trying to find a locker for your kit — many of those will be out of action. I plan to come as I am; I’ve made peace with my lockdown exercise look of red face and birds’ nest hair. Maybe the glowy athleisure look is finally over.

David Lloyd Chigwell, Essex, three-month trial membership £199,

Yay! Scales are banned at mega gym

By Emma Rowley

For many of us, it’s been months since patchy gym attendance gave way to patchier at-home workouts. So I’m relieved to see that, in the supergym I’m in, the scales bear a ‘do not use’ sign.

It’s just one of many changes to the branch of PureGym in Manchester’s Urban Exchange development, after a 20-strong team has been refitting the chain in preparation for reopening its 220 gyms in England on July 27.

PureGym doesn’t have the traditional receptionists. Instead it asks users to punch in a code to open doors designed to let only one person enter at time. Now, you don’t touch a keypad — a new panel scanning each user’s unique QR code (a pattern on your phone screen that acts like an electronic key) is on the gym’s app.

Emma Rowley (pictured) said members of PureGym in Manchester’s Urban Exchange development, no longer have to punch in an entry code 

The tech allows the chain to know exactly how many people are using the gym — its 1.1 million members are asked to check the app before they attend a branch to see how busy it is. Capacity has been reduced at each gym — this one, which is 20,000 sq ft, will be capped at 170 users.

‘Most of our gyms average between six to seven tennis courts [in size], so that does give us the advantage of being able to spread our kit out,’ says chief marketing officer Stephen Rowe. Inside is a hand gel station, and signs flagging the TrainSafe plan — the gym’s new safety standards. They’ve worked with an NHS doctor and a sports scientist on the measures, such as setting a two-metre distance between stations. Equipment will be wiped off after use and visitors are expected to bring their own water bottles.

Tannoy announcements every 15 minutes remind you to use the new cleaning stations, with antiviral wipes, sprays and, of course, more hand gel, while staff will also nudge you to do so, too.

PureGyms normally open 24/7, but are reducing their hours (6am to 10pm) so staff are present.

Emma (pictured) explained that members don’t have to wear a mask, but they’re encouraged to go straight home after a workout 

In the cardio space, home to running machines and stationary bicycles, some now face the wall — so users won’t breathe over anyone walking past. You don’t have to wear a mask — and I can’t imagine working up a pace on the running machine in one. However, the air-con system has HEPA filters — short for ‘high efficiency particulate air’, said to be the gold standard of filters, and the air isn’t recirculated around the building.

Workout done, you’re encouraged to head straight home. When the place closes, there will be a deep clean by a team every night to ‘NHS non-clinical standards’.

Despite all that, what’s striking is how normal it feels. I’d be confident turning up. I might even look forward to it . . .

PureGym, Manchester Urban Exchange, £22.99 a month plus £15 joining fee,  

How the a-list will work out 

By Anna Maxted

Popular with actors and Olympic athletes, AMP serves a glamorous clientele. Still, I’m expecting my first post-lockdown visit to this 6,500 sq ft luxury gym to be joyless, exercising inside a cling-filmed box and no chit-chat allowed.

Anna Maxted (pictured) revealed the space given to each pod at AMP has doubled and visitors are being trusted to use common sense

Thankfully, Steve Mellor, founder of AMP, greets me from a sensible distance with a wide smile — and neither mask nor thermometer. A poll of members revealed that over three-quarters didn’t want temperature checks (although staff will still have their temperatures checked daily).

AMP, hidden away in a cobbled London mews, specialises in group personal training, with sessions on the hour every hour — and up to four people with each PT training in a ‘pod’ — an area containing all the necessary equipment. Post-pandemic, the space given to each pod has doubled. Steve, who used to run the gym at Claridge’s, says: ‘UK Active, the industry body, has recommended 100 sq ft per person. This is double that.’

Apart from giving members more space, and trusting them to use common sense, he adds: ‘It’s easy for us to manage the way the gym is used — you can’t come unless you’ve booked — but the key for us is building confidence.’

Anna (pictured) explained that shared products in the changing rooms including facial toners have been removed

The sense of normality is a relief, though many subtle changes have been made. ‘In every pod there are anti-viral wipes, and after you use any equipment you wipe it down,’ says Steve. ‘There’s hand-sanitiser in every pod and they’re cleaned every hour.’

The key service here is bespoke personal training, though now coaches are restricted to demonstrating and explaining exercises.

The training remains top-notch, but will the pampering be scaled back? Fruit from a shared bowl is no longer an option at AMP, ‘but we still have our complimentary coffees,’ says Steve.

A few luscious shared products in the changing rooms will be absent — such as the facial toner — but the hair straighteners will stay and be cleaned after every use. And, essentially, the club still looks fabulous.

AMP trial £149 a month. Monthly membership, £329,

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