On Saturday 25th July I found myself embarking on three post-lockdown firsts. I got on the Tube. I travelled to Clapham Common (which I’m fairly certain would also have been a pre-lockdown first, no offence to Clapham Common). And I got on a stationary bike in a room illuminated by neon lights and exhausted myself pedalling to EDM. Yep, I'd taken one of the first spin classes on offer in four months, on the very day that gyms and swimming pools were allowed to reopen.
Personally, I haven’t missed workouts and gyms during lockdown. While I enjoyed classes when they were part of our lives, I’ve long been a fan of a jog around the park and an at-home workout with some Argos hand weights, so I found adapting easy. This is obviously not true for everyone: for every person like me who realised how much time was lost in commuting and showering at a gym vs working out at home, there is someone who couldn't get the same gym experience in their living room.
So it will have come as a relief for many that 25th July saw the reopening of indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities in England. While a decision regarding the wearing of face masks in gyms or studios is yet to be made, a series of mitigating measures have been put in place to keep people safe in a post-COVID world – from social distancing and reduced class sizes to increased ventilation and regular disinfection.
I was curious how different gyms would feel. Would the anxiety of venturing out of lockdown be tempered by the endorphins of the workout? What exactly would a gym floor look like? Would I even be able to keep up after months of relative inactivity? Which is how I ended up sweating in a basement on Saturday afternoon for the first time in months.
If you are ready and willing to go back to spin class (or any class for that matter) this week, here’s what you can expect.
What to expect before you arrive
According to government guidelines, the new measures put in place will include limiting the number of people allowed in gyms at any one time, avoiding changing rooms where possible, keeping saunas and steam rooms closed and avoiding sharing sports equipment unless it can be cleaned between uses.
At OnCore in Clapham (where I had my class) we queued outside in a socially distant line while waiting for the attendees of another class to leave. Then, as part of our check-in process, we had our temperatures taken using a temp gun, our hands were sprayed with sanitiser and we were asked to publicly agree to an oath that we were 'COVID secure' and would follow safety protocols.
In addition, Classpass (the service I booked the class through) is in the process of rolling out a feature whereby safety and cleanliness information for each workout venue is displayed prominently to help address users' concerns. Equally, if this information is not available, users will see explicit language that the venue has not yet provided its safety and cleanliness information.
What to expect during your visit
Upon entering, we filed downstairs (still in a socially distant queue) into a changing area that smelled distinctly of disinfectant before putting our belongings in lockers, picking up some recently cleaned hand weights and heading into the studio. The number of bikes was, unsurprisingly, greatly reduced with class numbers limited to about 12 to accommodate social distancing. Each bike also had a disinfectant spray and roll of paper towels for us to wipe down our bikes and equipment after the class.
There were no towels for your sweat, no socialising and no pretending that this was what we were used to. It was both tacitly and explicitly acknowledged by our instructor Chloe that the experience was a bit strange and that some of us (me) were coming to this after months of inactivity while others were raring to go. But once we got into it, pedalling away, I actually managed to forget about coronavirus and get swept up in the challenge of keeping up with a room (barely) full of strangers.
By the end of the class I was exhausted, very sweaty and happy to stand in my corner while I waited for people to file out. We all cleaned our equipment before the room itself was sprayed down. The majority of my classmates did not use the changing facilities, instead choosing to shower and change at home.
When I left and put my mask back on, I felt exhausted but surprisingly uplifted. As intimidated as I have been about returning to activities we previously took for granted, this has made me feel more prepared to slowly, carefully and socially distantly begin taking steps into our new normal. It made me realise how much I have missed the experience of communal workouts, and that I actually prefer the spaced out but intimate nature of smaller, socially distant classes. I'll definitely be back – once my thighs have stopped aching.