What you need to know about gyms reopening across Southern California

David Wharton
·3 min read
INGLEWOOD, CA - MARCH 15: Anthony Carthan, an employee at Planet Fitness on Imperial Highway in Inglewood, disinfects exercise equipment while helping to prepare the fitness center for their re-opening tomorrow morning at 5am after being closed since July of 2020. Exercise equipment is spaced apart to ensure social distancing and the new guidelines allow for a maximum of 10 percent of capacity. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Anthony Carthan, an employee at Planet Fitness on Imperial Highway in Inglewood, disinfects exercise equipment while helping to prepare the fitness center for its reopening after being closed since July 2020. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Like other small fitness clubs around Southern California, The Gym L.A. has endured a rollercoaster ride over the last year, closing its doors at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, opening briefly during the summer before shutting down again.

On Monday, as Los Angeles County loosened COVID-19 restrictions related to businesses such as gyms, restaurants and movie theaters, co-owner Amani Soyinka waited patiently for customers to return.

“We’re still empty,” Soyinka said at midday from his West Los Angeles location. “Most people are a little hesitant, even though we’ve advertised all the sanitation efforts we’re making.”

Traffic was busier at large, chain franchises that have remained open by shifting weights and exercise machines to an outdoor space. Still, as the Southern California fitness industry picks up the tempo this week, gyms and their customers will encounter changes.

“A lot of disinfectant and paper towels,” said the manager at a chain location in the South Bay. “We’re checking temperatures at the door and making sure everyone wears a mask.”

With adjusted case rates and other metrics dipping from the purple to the less-severe red tier, the county has allowed fitness establishments to operate indoors at 10% occupancy while requesting they “proceed with caution.”

At the Do It Now! fitness club in Culver City, that meant allowing for about 10 people indoors and a few more at machines outside.

“We keep the doors open for ventilation,” manager Willis McNeil said. “We’re small, so we can control the crowd and have people waiting outside.”

Indoor pools, saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms remain off-limits. So do locker rooms and showers, though club owners say that more of their customers are working from home, which reduces the need for changing.

“They show up ready to work out,” said Cassian Sandeberg, owner of Bolder Fitness near the Mid-Wilshire District.

Jose Pineda, an employee at Planet Fitness on Imperial Highway in Inglewood prepares to lift another treadmill.
Jose Pineda, an employee at Planet Fitness on Imperial Highway in Inglewood, prepares to lift another treadmill into position so that the bottom can be disinfected while helping to get the fitness center ready for their reopening. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Clubs have added more hand-sanitizing stations and stopped handing out towels. Customers might notice another difference when it comes to the availability of exercise equipment.

Weight benches have been moved at least six feet apart and, in many gyms, every other cardio machine has been taped off to ensure safe distancing. That might induce a wince from anyone who has waited a half-hour for a treadmill or stationary bike.

The 10% occupancy rule should help keep the traffic flow manageable, gym owners say. A dozen Southern California clubs contacted by The Times reported light-to-medium crowds Monday. Some had taken the extra step of asking customers to make reservations.

“We did get some pushback and some people who were uncomfortable,” said Nahal Ahdoot, owner of Anytime Fitness in Tarzana, which has closed and reopened several times over the past year. “After a while, they realized this is the new norm.”

Gym owners seem more worried about attitudes once customers get inside.

“Are we going to have issues with people who don’t want to wear a mask on the treadmill?” Sandeberg said. “We’ve posted rules and told people what they are supposed to do, but it’s difficult to police everybody.”

Gyms are also concerned that many of their customers have grown accustomed to exercising at home after purchasing Peloton bikes or Mirror fitness systems during the lockdown.

“We’re dealing with people who might not come back,” Sandeberg said. “It’s Day 1. We’ll all learn as we go.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.