Is this the gym of the future? Experts weigh in on working out post-coronavirus

Behind screens, at a safe distance and away from fellow exercisers

With screens between users and equipment, is this an insight into gyms of the future? Roy Cooper / The National

In much of the UAE, it has been more than two months since gyms shut their doors amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As they prepare to reopen, there has been much conversation about the future of fitness studios, and how the way we exercise might change for good.

In the short term, gyms expect to reopen with social distancing measures taken into account, putting space between machines and people working out, and a cap on maximum capacity inside the studios.

However, this week, a photo has gone viral showing people working out in an open gym with screens between the machines, captioned: "Picture of a redesigned gym for social distancing".

There is no suggestion yet that the screened model will be rolled out in gyms here in the UAE. However, we have asked fitness experts one simple question: is this the future of the gym? In short, they aren't convinced.

"I think this method would be extremely difficult to manage from a hygiene standpoint," says Michael Sole, the founder of The Den DXB.

"The difficulty for big commercial gyms is that they will require a large cleaning team to be on the ball all day every day to ensure these machines are kept clean, they can’t simply rely on the member to clean up after themselves.

"The only alternative then being that they limit the number of people in the facility at any given time."

Helle Bachofen von Echt, an indoor cycling coach at Dubai's NRG Fitness echoes Sole, while looking to China for an example of reopened fitness facilities.

"Boutique group fitness exercise studios, including indoor cycling classes, are primarily driven by the community feel and sharing of energy; it would almost defeat the purpose to make such separations between people," says  von Echt.

"The trends from the gyms in China, which are among the first to have re-opened gyms, [show] models of strict cleaning protocols and reduced capacity; we have not yet witnessed actual implementation of plexi-glass separations," she adds.

Helle Bachofen von Echt taking an indoor cycling class at NRG Fitness before the March 2020 closure of Dubai gyms. Courtesy NRG Fitness 

"For a class like an indoor cycling class, it will be fairly simple to control the hygiene and cleaning protocols, as each rider will remain on the same bike and in the same spot for the entire duration of the class," she says. "Deep cleaning and disinfection procedures can be implemented between each session."

She does take into account the fact that an indoor cycling class can be about as sweaty as it gets in terms of workouts, saying that sweat and the spread of sweat "would [be taken] into consideration when designing the reopening cycling studio layout".

Separation on a treadmill, bike or rower in an open gym or cycling studio is one thing, however studio classes and weights areas are another matter all together, almost impossible to manage behind screens.

The Den DXB is a training gym in Dubai Motor City. Courtesy The Den DXB

"As an owner of a micro-gym, we have considered all angles to ensure we can keep everyone safe," says Sole. "The benefit for us is we can tightly control who is coming in and out, what equipment is being used and cleaned thoroughly, whilst also ensuring everyone gets their fair share of class choices and times."