Nicholas Khoo couldn’t wait to get back to the gym last week, after close to three months of getting practically zero workout.
“I lack discipline when it comes to working out at home. Also, I’m a gym rat,” he confesses. “At the gym, I have access to a wider variety of equipment to work out with and I can get a complete body workout that targets the different muscles and body parts,” says Khoo who used to work out five to six days a week prior to the movement control order (MCO).
Although he is concerned about his safety while working out with others, Khoo is satisfied with the way his gym is adhering to the stipulated standard operation procedures (SOP).
“There’s quite a robust SOP now to make sure we are safe. I bring my own towel, sanitise my hands and the equipment I use, bring my own water bottle and practise social distancing,” he says.
Among the SOP that gyms have to put in place include reducing the number of members who are working out at a time to enable proper social distancing (1m-3m for stationary workouts and 3m-5m for dynamic movements); temperature checks, sanitising stations and regular sanitising of the premises throughout the day. Instructors are also required to don masks while conducting training sessions.
Wait and see
While there are many like Khoo, who are happy that gyms are allowed to operate again, there are also quite a number of gym-goers who aren’t ready to return to their pre-pandemic gym routines.
Thivya Nathan, 35, says she plans to terminate her year-long gym membership as she doesn’t plan to return to the premise in the foreseeable future.
“I may not be doing as much weight-bearing exercises as before – I only have a pair of 7.5kg dumbbells at home – but I have been quite satisfied with my home workouts.
“Plus my husband, who never wanted to exercise before, has started to join me!” says Thivya, adding that she’s learnt to appreciate the convenience and time saved doing workouts at home.
Noel Chelliah, the owner of the DailyMuscle, a gym in Petaling Jaya, reckons that the MCO has changed the way people regard exercise and this, in turn, will change the landscape for gyms – both bigger chain outlets and smaller boutiques gyms – across the country.
“People are finally realising that they are in control of their own physical fitness. They always have been.
“The MCO has pushed people to do the things they weren’t willing to do in the past. I foresee this as something permanent, and people will be more comfortable and open to training at home and combining it with their gym memberships,” says Noel.
However, this way of working out will not agree with everyone, he notes.
“It really depends on one’s goals. While training at home is enough to maintain overall fitness, there are those who need professional help and need to work with a trainer in an environment like a gym,” says Noel.
Salina Imran isn’t sure what to do. Though she’s been working out consistently throughout the MCO – “Zoom classes can be a killer, believe it or not” – she admits that she misses exercising with her gym buddies.
So, when her gym opened its doors last Tuesday, she was there (having pre-registered for a slot, as per new normal) bright and early at 6.30am.
“The first class was (noisy) macam pasar. We couldn’t stop chatting with each other while doing our reps, even though we had to stand far apart!” she shares, adding that the instructors had a hard time making them focus on their movements.
But even though she’s been to the gym twice last week, Salina isn’t sure she’ll resume her previous five-days-a-week routine.
“Being reminded to stay home for the last three months has made me cautious. It’s been drummed into me, ‘stay home as much as possible’. It’s like my new mantra.
“I feel uneasy when there are too many people around. Though the gym follows all the SOPs, I’m still a little uncomfortable.
“I think I may continue my Zoom workouts for a while longer and come to the gym once in a while,” says the 42-year-old mother of two.
Noel and his team conducted an internal survey among their 400-odd members recently and found that about 40% were willing to come back within a few weeks of the gym’s opening (they have yet to open), 18% said they will come back right away while 15% said they will not return but will be doing virtual classes only. The remainder said they will be back in a few months.
“I am preparing for an overall slowdown as people are going to be cautious to go back to the gym. There is also a lot of fear about exercising, and we are responsible for educating people that it is possible to train at a gym while staying safe.
“Sadly, many of our part-time trainers may not be coming back to teach anytime soon, until we are able to reach better class capacity,” he says.
“While we are expecting to have to reduce class capacity down to 50% to conform to physical distancing guidelines, we don’t foresee a significant drop in membership because we still have virtual classes.
“There have been a few who have quit for financial reasons,” he says, adding that over 300 members signed up for the virtual programme since the MCO.
Less class capacity, Noel reckons, isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it gives gym operators a chance to improve and upgrade services and add more value for members.
“The MCO has actually forced us to think out of the box and improve on our services.
“We will have more classes (on site), and also virtual classes which is great because we are now able to get international guest teachers into our virtual studio and introduce new programmes and classes for our members.
“We will also be taking our popular six-week challenge programme online, which means we will be able to reach more people,” Noel adds.
Crossfit athlete Raja Abdul Rahman Mansor, 58, (or RJ as he is known) also feels that though the pandemic may have changed the way people work out, the shift isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I couldn’t wait to get back in the gym because I missed my coaches and buddies. The gym is a place where people socialise and this was missed during the MCO period.
“However, I will bring my own towels to wipe down the equipment I use. I will also bring my own sanitiser even if the gym has sanitising stations,” he says.
RJ, who brought the Crossfit Masters league (a crossfit competition for those aged 35 and above - there are athletes over 70!) to Malaysia two years ago, was supposed to hold a Crossfit Masters Throwdown in November with athletes from all over the region competing.
“Obviously that cannot happen but I am working on something else that we can do online and I’m excited about it.
“It will be different but, hopefully, just as good. After all, the essence of Crossfit is doing functional movements using body weight which we can do anywhere,” he says.
RJ added that the sheer convenience of online workouts has encouraged more people to get active.
“Families have started to work out together and that’s a great thing that we can build on and encourage,” he notes.
Noel is another who believes that “in every crisis, there is opportunity”.
“I also feel that this MCO has united many of the smaller boutique studios to collaborate ... like how we worked together and with the government to come up with the SOPs. There’s also talk that an association for Malaysian gym owners will be formed out of all this. So I’m definitely optimistic,” he says.
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