Gyms Can Reopen From July 25, But Will People Actually Go Back?

Now we're used to exercising at home, we asked gym-goers if they'll be heading back.

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Gyms can reopen from July 25, the government has announced, but with months of exercising without them, will the nation want to go back?

Nearly a third (31%) of Brits believe they’re actually doing more daily exercise now than before the start of lockdown, according to research by Nuffield Health. It could be partly thanks to the boom of Couch to 5K – more than 858,000 people downloaded the app during the first three months of lockdown, a 92% increase from the same period in 2019.

When we spoke to fitness fans back in May, many were already used to life without the gym. People told us they were enjoying running outdoors, joining Instagram live workouts and stretching like never before thanks to Yoga with Adriene.

Crucially, our newly-established fitness habits are free, or cost very little, at a time when so many across the country are facing redundancies and financial uncertainty.

So, what does that mean for gym memberships? Will we simply stop paying for them once our contracts lapse?

Back in May, Mateja Simic, 45, from Chelmsford, Essex, said she was “seriously considering” switching to at-home workouts permanently. She said she’s enjoyed the convenience of FaceTime PT sessions. “It is saving me two hours travelling time per week and is cheaper. I don’t feel I’ve lost my fitness level as a result,” she told HuffPost UK.

Meanwhile, Hope Eaton, 50, from Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, doesn’t plan to renew her gym membership, but said she’ll still pay for her teenage son’s swimming club. The money she saved while fees have been frozen enabled her to buy at-home equipment, which the whole family can enjoy.

“I’ve got a Peleton arriving next week, bought weights and battle ropes, and have set the garage up as a gym,” she said, adding that she’d also enjoyed yoga online. “I do not see a gym in my future.”

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Not everyone adapted well to home workouts, though, and dozens of people on Twitter told us they can’t wait to get back to the gym, saying they rely on in-person contact for motivation or can’t access the same equipment at home.

But even those who are desperately missing the gym are worried around safety. Andy Lloyd, 43, from Manchester, is type one diabetic and said he’s longing for the “endorphin buzz” his usual routine provides, but won’t be returning to the gym until there’s a coronavirus vaccine.

“With a compromised immune system it’s not worth the risk. I’m not shielding like I am doing now, only to risk picking it up at a gym visit,” he said.

Lloyd said he’s noticed how few people wipe down equipment after they’ve used it on past trips to the gym and worries our vigilance around hygiene won’t last once gyms reopen. “Also, just supposing I go hypo [experience low blood sugars] whilst in the gym and I need something to eat? I’d worry what my hands touched before popping, say, a banana in my mouth.”

Some people told us they’d be switching gym providers, unimpressed by how slow their gyms were to roll-out social distancing measures. Others said they plan to commence a “half and half” approach post-lockdown, cutting down on the frequency of their gym visits to incorporate new at-home or outdoor exercise into their week.

Many have felt obliged to honour past payments to support the economy, particularly in the case of small gyms or self-employed fitness instructors and PTs.

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Around 10.4 million people in the UK have a gym membership, so it’s unlikely traditional gyms and studios will become obsolete. Some might even attract new clients, who’ve discovered a new (or renewed) love of working out during lockdown.

Puja Kotecha, 26, from Nottingham, said she quit the gym in 2016 during a busy work period and stopped exercising completely. But gyms reopen, she plans to take up the subsidised gym membership offered by her workplace.

Kotecha’s fiancé, who wanted an exercise buddy, convinced her into doing some home workouts during lockdown and to her surprise she’s loved them. “I have not looked back since,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this lockdown, I still wouldn’t have started exercising.”

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Leon French, 25, from Doncaster, also plans to make more of his existing membership post-lockdown. “I was one of those people who got a gym membership and hardly used it,” he admitted. “I’m now pretty used to doing exercise. What I’m hoping is that my confidence will be built up sufficiently from doing the exercise at home that I’ll be happier going to the gym.”

Time will tell if the fitness industry needs to make a major shift post-lockdown to meet our expectations, but there are plenty of positives to look forward to. Sure, we might see a drop in gym membership spend, but the best of both worlds – for fitness workers and gym-goers alike – could be on the horizon.