Going back to the gym for the first time after two months felt like going to a foreign place. Something that was so ingrained in my everyday life stopped immediately with the Covid-19 related closures. It forced me to get creative with what I had at home and while that kept me active, losing eight kilograms of muscle was almost inevitable with the limited workout equipment I had.
So, with many gyms reopening in Dubai since the end of May, it was definitely time to go back to my old daily ritual.
Walking up the halted escalator to my beloved Warehouse Gym at the Springs Souk in Dubai, I was as curious as I was excited to return. I wondered what the , experience might be like now. Which old “gym rats” would I be seeing again, if any? Would I enjoy my workouts in the same way as before?
My trainer pointed a thermometer at my head. “He’s good, let him in!” he said playfully to his mask-wearing colleague. We went in.
Like many places, the gym has been heavily revamped. Half of the cardio machines are gone and the remaining ones are spaced two meters apart. The stacks of towels are gone, replaced with forms recording when each person checks in or checks out, to ensure the 50 percent capacity rule is not exceeded. The old communal dining table is now sealed off behind yellow tape and and the food display area behind it is now empty. Clearly, the gym staff have done a lot of work to ensure people would feel safe returning.
In the private workout room, where I was to have an assessment, gym staff sanitized the equipment after every use as per the strict guidelines. Boxes of sanitary wipes are conveniently spread out everywhere for members to use.
Apart from having muffled conversations behind a face mask and no more high fives after sets, my actual workout hasn’t changed that much. I was surprised at how quickly I got used to training in a surgical face mask and latex gloves (although the latter are optional). Sweating through the mask does make it less effective, however – and certainly less flattering.
The other gym-goers sported a variety of mask options, including the more protective N95, cloth masks and even altitude masks. Masks equipped with breathing valves make things far easier.
If you are wearing a mask during training, I’d recommend using a bottle with a sipper, which doesn’t require you to put your hands around the cap. And you are allowed to remove the mask during strenuous workouts to avoid other adverse health effects.
Although it was reassuring to see how assiduous the dedicated staff are in sanitizing constantly, it’s also a good idea to take matters into your own hands by using the wipes strategically located throughout. The refreshing sight of everyone sanitizing their workout space after use could be one of the long-term positives that Covid-19 leaves with us.
“I think the responsibility of being safe and being cautious is shared between the gym and its members,” says 23-year-old Canadian and Warehouse Gym member, Adam Yousif. “The gym should enforce the rules and the members should abide by them while also taking extra precautionary measures.”
At one point I lay down cautiously on a workout bench surrounded by empty space with stickers reminding us to “stay healthy & stay apart.” Alternating between areas to complete my tri-sets, I noticed that the days of people stealing or sharing my spot are gone; another part of the ‘new normal’ I’m glad we have now. The limited numbers of people all meant a shortage of machines was not an issue.
Although workout times are limited to 60 minutes, it didn’t seem to be a problem for me to extend mine by half an hour due to the low numbers around 8pm. While all gyms vary, it’s best to book in advance.
I was glad that I could still use the changing room and washrooms before leaving, although lockers, showers, and even benches are out of bounds.
If you decide to put the gym back into your life, make sure to also add those necessary safety guidelines, to make sure we can all stay safe and prevent the virus spreading and curtailing our lives again.