Safety precautions in place

Babel Fitness trainer Louis Lim sanitising gym equipment after use. — ART CHEN/The Star

THE new year usually sees many people making resolutions to stay fit and hitting the gyms in droves.

But a number of Covid-19 cases has recently emerged in at least nine gyms and fitness centres around the Klang Valley, forcing their temporary closure for sanitising purposes.

While some gym-goers are wary of the recent spike and opt to stay away, others say they will continue to frequent gyms and adhere to the standard operating procedures (SOP) to guard against the virus.

Adrian Tham, 44, said he opted not to return to the gym following the reopening last June during the recovery movement control order, as there were alternatives such as working out at home.

“I also felt that there were too many restrictions in place at gyms to feel comfortable working out there.

“It was not that I felt gyms were not safe spaces to exercise in but the SOP rules such as having to make prior appointments were inconvenient for me, ” he said, adding that he had officially cancelled his gym membership last month.

DailyMuscle gym co-founders Kimbeley Yap (left) and Noel livestreaming one of their daily classes for members.DailyMuscle gym co-founders Kimbeley Yap (left) and Noel livestreaming one of their daily classes for members.

Tham, who was an avid gym-goer for the past three years, said he now had an at-home high-intensity interval training routine supplemented with online workout videos.

“However, I do miss the sense of energy and motivation in gyms.

“The trainers and even other gym-goers used to offer me guidance and encouragement when working out.

“Hopefully, the situation will improve enough that I can eventually go back to a gym, ” said Tham, who is currently unemployed.

N. Kanmani, 40, who has been going to a gym in Puchong, Selangor since June last year, said the gym was significantly quieter after it was allowed to reopen on June 15 at the start of the recovery MCO.

Lockers at DailyMuscle gym are off-limits during the MCO.Lockers at DailyMuscle gym are off-limits during the MCO.

“Much of the usual crowd is staying away, so it has helped to reduce the number of visitors.

“Those who drop in normally come by after office hours.

“I only use the gym during non-peak hours.

“I trust the safety precautions the gym management has put in place and there is sufficient floor space for proper physical distancing.

“The gym also prepares enough sanitisers for users before and after using the equipment.”

Kanmani, who uses the gym two to three times a week, said she avoided using the shower facilities at the gym.

Azhan feels that the current SOP in gyms and fitness centres is sufficient for a safe workout.Azhan feels that the current SOP in gyms and fitness centres is sufficient for a safe workout.

“There is a little bit of fear whenever I am at the gym but it is something I need to do to maintain work-life balance, and the facilities at my condominium are all closed, ” she added.

Another gym-goer Vinod Kesavan, 42, who goes three to four times a week before work, said every person had to observe proper safety protocols.

“We have to take precautions and observe safe distancing and sanitise all the equipment used after every session.”

The corporate sales manager said he would continue to visit the gym but take extra precautions.

“I usually go very early in the morning when there is hardly anyone at the gym. I also don’t move around to different gyms.”

Being on guard

Babel Group general manager Billy Waters said they had put in place enhanced SOP and other preventative measures within its gyms to mitigate any situation that might arise.

The group owns and operates boutique gyms – Babel Fit – in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur.

“We now require members to sign a declaration form to determine that they have not been to any other fitness centres, attended large gatherings or been exposed to others who may be infected with the virus for the past 10 days.

“If there are any members who have been potentially exposed, we will activate a complimentary one-month freeze of their membership, ” said Waters.

Waters says the group has removed cross-club access for both staff and members.Waters says the group has removed cross-club access for both staff and members.

He highlighted that the group had also removed cross-club access for both staff and members.

He further said that they limited the number of class participants to only eight or nine people per class, as well as encouraged staff who were not involved in dealing with customers, to work from home.

He added that what was previously an outdoor lounge had been converted into an outdoor classroom for those who might not be comfortable in an indoor environment.

“We made quite a lot of changes within our teaching format and even at our locations.

“For example, until recently, we were offering free online classes which turned out to be quite popular, ” said Waters.

On the recent spike in cases affecting gyms and fitness centres, he said one potential factor could have been because of members wanting to try out different gyms.

“We have a large fitness community in the Klang Valley and when we know that the virus does not discriminate.

A notice board at a Babel Fit gym reminding members of the SOP to minimise the risk of infection. — ART CHEN/The StarA notice board at a Babel Fit gym reminding members of the SOP to minimise the risk of infection. — ART CHEN/The Star

“On our part, we must be stringent in how we observe the SOP and I am glad to say that our members and staff are following the rules, ” he said.

DailyMuscle co-founder Noel Chelliah said the Covid-19 cases in gyms “could have been prevented or minimised to some extent if people didn’t let their guard down.”

“I have always cautioned my team that Covid-19 is in the community. We have to learn to live with it and always take the necessary precautions.”

He said it was their policy for instructors at the gym, located in Jalan Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, to wear face masks even when teaching classes.

“Our trainers do not teach elsewhere as we are a private, members-only facility. No walk-ins, no free trials and we are not on Classpass (a class-sharing app). So we have a very controlled crowd.

“We keep our classes small, with an average of 10 people including the instructor, even though pre-MCO days the space could take up to average of 18 people.

“At the end of the day, we cannot prevent anything 100%, but we can certainly do our best to keep our members safe, ” he said, adding that they made sure to have the gym doors open for better ventilation.

Some gyms hold classes outdoors as some members are uncomfortable about exercising indoors during the pandemic.Some gyms hold classes outdoors as some members are uncomfortable about exercising indoors during the pandemic.

DailyMuscle has also been holding four livestream classes daily since last March, for members who prefer to stay at home.

In Sarawak, where cases have been relatively low, part-time personal trainer Muhammad Azhan Abdullah, 40, said the current SOP was sufficient for people to exercise safely.

“I have resumed my routine training clients at the gym.

“Of course we have to follow the rules such as checking in via My Sejahtera, have our temperatures taken as well as sanitising any equipment before and after workouts.

“We are keeping track of the number of cases in the state but so far it is safe, ” he said, adding that he would conduct training sessions in the gym about five to six times a week.

During the first phase of the movement control order when gyms were ordered to close, Azhan produced instructional videos with various exercises incorporating materials on hand in lieu of gym exercise equipment.

While he focused on producing the videos, participants would share their progress and workout ideas in their WhatsApp groups.

The government ordered gyms to close at the start of the second conditional MCO imposed in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya on Oct 14.

They were then allowed to operate from Oct 19 provided they followed strict SOP, which included physical distancing, limiting number of participants per session and practise all hygiene processes.

However, the National Security Council has not made the wearing of face masks mandatory for those exercising.

Note: DailyMuscle gym has been closed since Jan 7 for sanitisation following the confirmation of a member contracting Covid-19. It will reopen on Jan 11, provided there is no transmission from that member to anyone else in the gym.

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