COVID-19 has certainly changed my exercise routine. These days, I do a lot of Zoom workouts in my apartment and some running outside. It's been fine — even fun at times. But I never stopped missing the camaraderie of group sweat sessions. So when I first started hearing about outdoor workout classes, I was pumped. Finally, a chance to do jumping jacks whilst near(ish) other people!
Soon after, my cautious side kicked in. "Nah!” I thought. It seemed unsafe. But the more I saw folks on my Instagram stories training with peppy instructors outside, the more I was intrigued. So I decided to do some research. Here's what the pros say about outdoor workout classes and whether they're safe.
Are outdoor workout classes safe during COVID-19?
No group activity is completely safe these days. But these fitness endeavors are “relatively low risk if done correctly and with the proper precaution,” according to Nate Favini, MD, the medical lead of Forward, a preventive primary care practice.
“The risk of any exercise class is the simple fact that you’re getting a group of people together,” Dr. Favini says. “Unfortunately these days, any gathering poses some risk.” And because you’re breathing harder when working out, you and the gal doing high knees next to you could be exhaling out respiratory droplets that can travel a longer distance. “This may make exercise classes slightly riskier than your average outdoor gathering,” he adds.
That said, they’re much safer than an indoor group fitness sessions would be, because they're outside, where the ventilation is better and virus particles disperse more quickly, Favini says.
Plus, regular exercise has all kinds of benefits, including “elevating mood, promoting restful sleep, and boosting the immune system,” according to Erika Schwartz, MD, an internist and the founder of ES Health, a Manhattan concierge medical practice. So, if a group workout is the only way you can get yourself to get moving, it might be worth weighing that with the potential risks of getting COVID-19.
Should I go to an outdoor workout class?
That's up to you. Weigh your tolerance for risk against how much you value the class, Dr. Favini suggests. If you like running outside by yourself, that’s still safer than an outdoor class and might be the best option for you. “But if the class is really important to you or critical to your fitness, the small increase in risk may be worthwhile,” Dr. Favini says.
The next step is making sure that the class you’re hitting up will follow the appropriate safety precautions. “Everyone in the class should be following physical distancing rules, remaining at least six feet apart, and masked at all times, Favini says. “If you’re sharing equipment, make sure you don’t touch your face after using the equipment and that you wash or sanitize your hands after the class.”
How to be safe at an outdoor workout class
Wear your mask, keep your distance from others, and bring hand sanitizer along. Dr. Favini says you could even consider wearing shades to prevent spread through the eyes (and you’ll be outside, so it’s a win-win). If you need equipment like dumbbells or a yoga mat, consider bringing your own, suggests Schwartz.
Above all, it's critical to not come in if you’re feeling at all sick, even if you're pretty sure you don't have COVID. No one wants to be near a sneezer right now. And be aware that you're taking part in a moderately risky activity. You may want to stay away from others for a few weeks after your class, especially people with preexisting conditions that would make getting COVID devastating.
What are outdoor workout classes doing to keep you safe?
Barry’s Outdoors is offering 50-minute floor workouts, where you get your instruction and tunes silent-disco style through headphones they provide. They’re keeping folks safe by requiring everyone to wear masks at all times and to physically distance. After you're done, their staff will deep clean their equipment with hospital-grade, EPA-registered disinfectant.
Similarly, Luke Milton, the founder of Training Mate, is hosting his fun and functional take on HIIT classes out in the fresh air in West Hollywood, CA. Before he opened up, he consulted three different doctors and made sure to bone up on the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. During the pandemic, Training Mate is capping class sizes at six people, and everyone wears masks.
SoulCycle, too, is hosting outdoor classes, silent disco style where instructors talk to you through headphones (that’ll come to you clean). The bikes are placed at least six feet apart, and they’re using a top-grade disinfectant on bikes and weights after class (yes, even if some weren’t used). It seems they thought of almost everything: Spinning shoes are rotated so you won't be strapping on a pair someone just used. They’ll only rent them out once the disinfectant has dried. However, only some locations require masks when riding, so call yours ahead of time to learn their policy.