Is exercising around so much disinfectant ok? (Being transparent about gym reopenings)

Posted on May 26, 2020

(Last Updated On: May 26, 2020)

For my clients asking me about going back into a gym, this is the kind of stuff I’m bringing up to them.

For gym owners / trainers re-opening, these are some things I would be very, very careful about.

As I first said back in March, I’m not going to tell anybody they should / shouldn’t close / reopen their gym or personal training business. A lot goes into that, and painting with the same brush rarely works.

Similarly, I’m not going to tell people whether they should / shouldn’t go into a gym.

IF the gym is willing to say,

“I know there is a risk in being open, and I unfortunately can’t quantify that risk, but I’m willing to take that risk if you are, so I can offset economic issues and we can all have some semblance of normalcy”

then ok. At least we know where you’re coming from, you’re being honest, and I think a lot of us are sympathetic to that viewpoint, certainly at this stage. We all don’t know a lot more than we know right now.

BUT it’s hard to see the appeal of a gym diving into 100% manure with its members by acting like or saying “It’s safe. It’s safe. It’s safe.” Where you’re patronizing people by saying it’s all overblown, getting political, and, frankly, whining the world isn’t fair, like you’re in a kindergarten class.

I say this as a longtime gym user, never mind running a fitness business: it is becoming appalling to see gym owners espousing their safety measures to coax people back, yet concurrently having their members sign new COVID waivers upon re-entering.

“We’re doing a safe reopening” yet having your members sign a document unequivocally stating “We can’t guarantee it’s safe. It’s not our fault if it’s not safe” is just shitty. Where on social media you know it’s safe, but you’re still lawyering up.

-> I know employees at these gyms. Social media of the gym: “We’re committed to safe this and that.”

What do these employees say they’re spending a great deal of their time on right now? What’s their inbox full of? Legal.

And don’t fling more excrement at this by saying “Waivers are normal.” We don’t sign waivers for all possible outcomes. We sign them for plausible ones. If waivers of this nature were so normal, you would have covered this issue in the first one you had people sign. You can’t say the world hasn’t changed much yet have people sign a legal document where you both agree it has.

I’m not saying businesses should be held liable, nor am I saying the business shouldn’t cover its ass, nor am I saying if a gym asks you to sign a waiver you shouldn’t go in. That’s getting into a level of legalese beyond me. 

What I’m saying is a gym is insulting and clearly not being honest with its members by acting like it knows how much its enormous, factory style, ceiling fans can play a role in transmitting a still brand new virus. You don’t know that, nor do you know endless other attributes of the virus:

  • How much your air conditioners can play a role
    • We think the virus doesn’t like warmer temperatures and greater humidity. Should we really be having our gyms at 68 degrees and low humidity then? Are we only creating a more hospital environment? Are we offsetting the benefits of summer?
  • The precise direction of your ventilation systems
    • A lot of gyms use enormous ground fans, set-up to blow horizontally and vertically (about 45 degrees from the floor) in the summer. Does 6 feet become 60 feet with those things? Do we have to not use them? What are the ramifications on ventilation then? On gym members overheating?
  • Whether you’ll allow / are able to enforce gym members spotting one another
  • Whether you can prevent gym members from getting within 6 feet from one another
    • Some say it’s their right to be open, is it members’ right to be able to talk to one another as they please in a facility they pay to use?
    • How about the inevitable forgetful moment? People are going to accidentally bump into each other, get talking, shake hands, etc.
  • How about once vaccines come into this? Can you prevent people entering your facility and or can you choose to not work with clients unless they’ve been vaccinated? How do discrimination and HIPAA laws factor into that?
  • What’s the gym’s process if a person gets the virus? Do they close for 14 days? Do members get a 14-day reduction or deferral on their membership dues? Do they help with contact tracing? Again, how does HIPAA factor in here?
  • Whether the 6 feet rule applies the same when people are exercising / moving fast throughout a facility
  • How do we reconcile the people we most try to help -obese, hypertensive, diabetic- are the people most at-risk for the virus? Are some gyms which particularly focus on these demographics enhanced transmission environments?
  • The ramifications of public health experts saying this: 

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    • What’s common in many gyms? Shouting. Can you prevent your gym members from talking above a certain decibel? (Apparently public health experts are looking at, if not already recommending, in-person singing be banned, due to how far saliva can be projected.)
    • If you’re required to stay at least 6 feet from people, you’re also more likely to talk louder, especially in a gym with music playing => 6 feet still good enough for droplet spread? Do we need to turn music off to help with this?
  • How contagious the virus is when people are on the ground?
    • Where people spend a lot of time in the gym. We think we know surfaces aren’t as contagious as droplets, but what about if our heads are inches from the surface?
  • If someone accidentally lifts too much, do we rush to spot them, or do we stay away due to social distancing?
  • How effective masks are when a person is exercising?
  • How effective exercise is when a person has a mask on?
    • Are you risking people passing out? Are you liable for that?

and on, and on, and on, it goes.

You, me, all of us, know none of this.  That’s ok! It’s incredibly frustrating, but I don’t think anybody is unsympathetic to that. Nobody thinks anybody else has all the answers. Well, I guess some people think they do. And that’s partially the point here- I’d be staying away from those people / businesses.

“We’re spraying everything down constantly.” 

What are the ramifications of people exercising (breathing heavy) around constant spray disinfectant use?

I’ve found exercise can help almost every single ailment a person can think of….except one. That one? Exercising in poor air quality. All that does is jack up your lungs faster.

What are the skin consequences of members / employees using disinfectant on their skin every 10 minutes or whatever? Should we be asking people to workout in long sleeves? Beyond nudity, can we enforce the clothing someone wears?

“We don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know.” 

Hence, the waiver.

I would be looking for a gym to TELL me, a member, these kind of things, so I know what I’m getting into. I’ll trust that gym more than another confidently acting like they have everything figured out.

Plenty of people will still, often understandably, choose to go back in. As long as we’re -the fitness industry- not deluding them. 

And plenty will choose to keep exercising outside. We have to accept that too.

If anybody cares about what I’m doing myself, I’ve thought about this a lot:

“One of the first rules of business is complaining is not a strategy. And so, you know, you have to work with the world as you find it, not as you would have it be.”

Jeff Bezos

First, again, to each their own. One of my favorite things about business, and life- so many approaches can work.

For me, I’m not -3 months into this- up in arms about how the world has changed and fighting / wanting / hoping for the old world to come back. I’m well into working within the world as it now is. Maybe, some of us, get our old world back. Maybe that fight is worth it. But it’s too uncertain for me to bank on it, at least within the foreseeable future. Plus, adjusting to the new is difficult, and there are first mover advantages, so I’m onto the difficult. If I need to go back to the old way, that’s pretty easy and not much will have been lost.

For the little it’s worth, I’m about the least concerned person you’ll ever come across when it comes to getting sick, the flu, etc. I used to joke with clients about how good my immune system is, but I do have my moments of being a hypochondriac Me? I’ve never gotten a flu shot. My kids? They get every recommended shot. Whatever that means. #Contradictions

To further give a sense of how much my world has changed: until this happened, beyond a vacation or two a year, it’s been 20 years since I’ve gone more than a few days without being in a gym. (I’m 33 years old.)

Never mind the virus, I do have real concerns about exercising around so much cleaning product use. You can very quickly find concerns about how much women and or professional home cleaners use cleaning product, such as it being potentially detrimental to longterm lung function. And they’re not breathing heavy around it. It’s not so much I think it is a problem; it’s I don’t know.

-> I have this concern with my young children going back to preschool too. Since the lungs make up so much more of the body in kids, and kids run around so much, air quality issues are magnified for them. You can very quickly find cleaning product use associated with asthma risk in children. (A topic I’m by no means qualified to have a valid opinion on, only a parenting concern.) Plus there’s that whole developing brain thing, and the never ending amount of stuff (that might now have cleaning products on it) they put in their mouths.

So, I don’t see myself going into a gym until at least 2021.

This is the least I’ve touched a weight in as long as I can remember, but I tell you, I sure can run these days.

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