LACEY, NJ — When The MAX Challenge of Lacey closed last March, their members lost more than the physical space on 800 Lacey Rd. They maintained classes through Zoom and eventually outdoors, but the situation gave owners Tracey and Mike Keogh new obstacles in maintaining everything the group fitness-focused gym offered.
"By closing the gym, a lot of people, even a lot of our members, went into this really tough place," Tracey Keogh told Patch.
They felt more than ready once Governor Phil Murphy allowed them to reopen their facility Tuesday, and so did their members. Many New Jersey fitness centers will feature a "new normal" as gym goers return, including temperature checks, face masks and social distancing.
Each gym coped differently as they closed for nearly six months, but they all lacked one thing: certainty.
"We had no answers. There was no projected date," said Jeff Padula, who owns Retro Fitness in Bayville. "There was nothing going on that would help us to inform the membership as to when we would be back."
As the gym closure extended and some around New Jersey closed for good, Padula and his business partner had multiple discussions about the future of the facility. But they "never put a date on it where we would just call it a day," he said.
Retro Fitness kept members engaged through online classes. Staff at different franchises created virtual workouts. But the gyms also had plenty occurring behind the scenes. Retro Fitness renovated a room that once had a pool into a stretching area with turf.
The new layout allows for at least 6 feet between machines.
"That open feeling of the gym has been the source of everybody’s compliments who walks through the door," Padula said. "They feel great in here, and they love what we’ve done."
In the case of The MAX Challenge, the closure took some adjustment. Some of the customers in their 60s and 70s needed some guidance on using Zoom.
Once they figured that out, they wanted to make sure to keep members engaged. Many members are new to gyms or may have physical limitations, according to Mike Keogh, and it was important to keep everyone active.
"I think keeping people proactively healthy is our best bet in really battling this thing and winning in the end," he said.
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The Keogh's implemented plenty of changes at all three gyms they own: The MAX Challenge of Berkeley, Lacey and Howell. They currently only use each center for strength-training classes so people can access equipment. It's also a little easier on breathing than cardio, Mike Keogh says.
Their other classes have continued outdoors and online.
Members who get their temperatures checked will take a walkway to their designated exercise area. They can even maintain physical distance while getting to the bathrooms by using the walkways.
They also installed an air-purification unit, even before Murphy created requirements about HVAC systems. And a new fogger sanitizes each enter between classes.
But the Keogh's felt they could have opened their centers earlier, especially since their members don't use much equipment and can each stay in their own designated areas.
Mike Keogh recalled Murphy's comments mid-July, when the governor said the following: "Believe me, I want to get to gyms, I want to get to indoor dining, I want to get to theaters. But we can't do it if we think we're gonna have a likelihood of killing people."
He believes state officials might have thought differently if they could see The MAX Challenge's setup.
"I don’t think we need any more fear," Mike Keogh said. "I think people have a healthy fear for what it is, and I think we need to educate people. I think we’ve gone above and beyond what’s required and happily done so."
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