148 days, 14 hours and 21 minutes. That's how long gyms have been closed at the time of writing. Any business that can survive closure of one week is impressive, perhaps a month would be phenomenal but almost more than five months, definitely unheard of. However, that is what modern day fitness operators face, barely any revenue, high fixed cost and a lot of underserved clients. That is yet to mention the livelihood of our very own coaching and admin teams!
No wonder, there’s been ever increasing calls to re-open gyms, with the new #OpenMyGym hashtag recently catching wind. At Iron Hive, we highly praise any gym owner who has made it this far, you are actually one of very few you have made it (Research has shown that almost 30% of operators have shut down, and another 50% face potential bankruptcy in 2021). If you’ve been able to retain most of your staff, if not all, then again congratulations, this is even rarer than surviving. Fitness jobs have actually declined by half during the pandemic. As for customers, you have been an amazingly loyal bunch, by actively keeping up-to-date, texting, calling, and even protesting for us, yes us the very own gyms you pay your hard earned money to be open. We are a lucky few aren’t we? But seriously though should we actually open? Let’s tackle the facts then shall we.Members can follow each other, write and reply to comments and receive blog notifications. Each member gets their own personal profile page that they can customize.
So Covid, here we go again. To understand if we should open or not, I suggest that we first need to understand how the virus is transmitted within fitness centers. The main concern here is the nature of transmission. The virus spreads through air droplets, which increases with heavy breathing, or as Dr. Glatter puts it “When people breathe more rapidly and more deeply, they expel greater numbers of droplets”. Therefore, gyms could potentially serve as a hub for creating a cluster, which obviously has longer-term consequences to the overall health and well-being of society.
But what about the numbers? Although, we are in the early stages of reopening in some countries, researchers and private operators have been able to collect some hard data. In Australia and UK reports from Fitness Australia and ukactive have not found any evidence relating transmissions to fitness centres, whereas in the US 0.0023% of cases have been linked to fitness centers. So, if cases are rare, why aren’t we open?
Well, like the old saying goes ‘There are two sides to every coin’. While reopening the gym seems like a brilliant plan to get us all off our couches again, the research is still weak. In the UK and Australia for instance, the data was collected for a limited period, just over or under one month of results. This completely ignores the longer term view, what if more people come back? What if other businesses and the countries reopen? How does new mutation impact transmission? Will this number rise as well? And to answer this, we really don’t know.
What about those reported cluster cases you might ask? And quite rightly so, they have been certain figures that have illustrated how devastating the virus can spread within our fitness spaces. South Korea was one of the first highly publicised cases, where 112 people contracted COVID-19 due to a HIIT dance class, or in Chicago where 49/81 (60.4% transmission rate) patreons report positive COVID-19 results after taking fitness classes. Now this is worrying to say the very least.
But surely we can’t live in fear forever right? Of course not, statistical results from the University of Oregon Consulting Group (OCG) have yet to find any correlation between cases and gym use. Recently, IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association) which serves as the global health and fitness association recently considers gyms ‘overwhelmingly safe’ regardless of certain rare unlucky incidents.
To that we at Iron Hive say YES! Let’s precariously reopen, with a huge emphasis on ‘precarious’. We as an industry, as owners, as enthusiasts, as users should never ever forget the lessons we’ve learnt during COVID-19. Do be proactive, if you're a gym owner listen to and follow the guidelines, be strict, because after all, a cluster in your gym might spell the end for a previously thriving industry. If you are a user, follow the guidelines, do it for yourself and your community. Now it’s time to prepare for the other side and we at Iron Hive hope to see you all there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Keen Thammathataree is the CEO of a new fitness start up in Bangkok, Iron Hive Gym. He’s a former Commonwealth Games Powerlifting Champion, Olympic Weightlifter and CrossFitter. He’s extremely passionate about sports business and is a Sports Management honors degree graduate from the prestigious University of Edinburgh before receiving his Masters in Management from the University of Sydney. His goal in life is to see people use fitness as a tool for self-actualisation and finding their true inner self.