Tales from Toronto gyms reopened in Stage 3

Two fitness users give a thumbs up to reopened gyms

Toronto gyms reopened last Friday for the first time since the COVID-19 closures in March. And they’re getting two sweaty thumbs up from users.

“I couldn’t wait to get back,” says stand-up comic and SiriusXM radio host Ben Miner, who before the pandemic was used to working out every day.

Miner was the first person in line at the West End YMCA on reopening day, July 31, after booking a slot on the gym’s app. He arrived at 6 am.

“I figured the gym would be the cleanest it would be first thing in the morning, and there’d be the fewest number of people,” he says.

According to the app, there are slots for 21 people per floor of the gym. Miner says during his visit he saw no more than 10.

There’s lots of space between cardio machines, he continues. And benches in the weights area have large squares on the floor around them to encourage physical distancing.

Norm R., a writer in North York, waited a few days to go to his local GoodLife branch. He showed up last Sunday around late morning, and then again two days later. He doesn’t regret the decision.

“I figured [GoodLife] had been open in other provinces for a while, so they must have worked things out,” he says. (Some other provinces moved to Stage 3 earlier than Ontario.)

After booking an hour-long slot online, Norm stood in a yellow reservation line when he arrived. (There’s another line in red – for drop-ins.) A staff member had his name on the list, then let him enter and swipe himself in with his access card.

The gym’s capacity is 46 users, but Norm estimates there were no more than 30. He used the elliptical machine and free weights.

He says GoodLife staff were excellent at cleaning things; often when someone left a station they’d quickly go over and desanitize it.

Masks are required in the public spaces, but not when exercising. Norm says he saw several people walking around the gym without masks.

“But that’s not to say they didn’t have them, they could have just been in their pocket,” he says. “You’re going from station to station – are you going to just keep taking it off and putting it back on?”

He says he didn’t notice staff chastising anyone for not wearing a mask.

Miner says he wore his mask whenever he was outside the square of a workout area at the Y.

“It’s one thing when you’re just walking around and it’s on your face,” he says. “But with an elevated heart rate, it can be cumbersome.” Through exercise, Miner lost half his body weight in two years, and says his bigger self would have had a hard time breathing with a mask on.

One thing neither did was use the lockers. Norm used the washroom and hung up a jacket, but decided not to use a locker. Miner lugged his stuff around in a gym bag and avoided the water fountain.

“If you go inside a locker room, it’s just one more enclosed room within a room,” says Norm. “I don’t need to be there.”

At the YMCA, Miner says staff were constantly cleaning up. At GoodLife, appointments are booked in hour-long slots. Patrons are told the hour is ending after 45 minutes and 10 minutes later. After each hour, the gym takes another 30 minutes to clean before the next hour begins.

Both felt safe about the experience visiting reopened Toronto gyms.

“I went home and later I coughed,” laughs Norm, “but I think I was just being self-conscious and paranoid. In my gut, I felt okay. Someone else might hear this and think, ‘Wow, that sounds kind of risky,’ but in the end everything that’s bringing us back to the public carries a level of risk. It’s up to you to see how you’re going to manage it within your comfort.” 


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