Abu Dhabi fitness enthusiasts happy to be back in the gym

Gyms reopened for the first time in months on Wednesday, with measures in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus

Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi gyms reopen with safety measures

Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi gyms reopen with safety measures
Powered by automated translation

Fitness enthusiasts woke up as early as 5.30am on Wednesday to visit the gym for the first time in three months.

Excited gym-goers donning mandatory face masks streamed into fitness centres and had their temperatures checked on entry.

Gyms do not have set capacity limits, but to prevent the spread of the coronavirus they must limit the number of visitors they admit.

The routine was familiar to most but the layout had changed.

Stickers placed at two-metre intervals on the floor kept people apart, while sanitiser dispensers dotted the walls, with visitors encouraged to frequently disinfect their gloved hands.

The authorities that closed the centres in March to reduce the number of Covid-19 infections said face masks could be lowered slightly during intense exercise.

“All right, we’re back. Good to see you all again,” said Patrick Hegarty, co-owner of Vogue Fitness, as he welcomed members to the Yas Marina branch for the first time since the gym closed 100 days ago.

Before beginning the session, he asked members whether they had trained over the past few months and explained that the routine had been adjusted to avoid certain moves that may involve too much contact with equipment.

I am just so grateful to be here so I don't care. I am willing to wear anything just to be here

Burpees and push-ups were off limits, to prevent people touching the ground with their faces.

Intensity levels were also lowered to ease people’s return to regular exercise.

“We are still giving the required stimulus but now the class is designed to work within your limits,” Mr Hegarty said.

“If you can push harder, the class will allow you to push, but if you are new to fitness the class is designed for all ranges,” he said.

People joining the session said they were pleased to be back in the gym but nervous about regaining their former levels of fitness.

“I’m really scared. I don’t know if I can still do it, it’s been so long,” said Natalie Mullan, 39.

“I’ve been working out harder than I ever have [during quarantine], but being back in the competitive environment [is challenging], because I was doing it alone at home,” she said.

Her sister-in-law, Rebecca, concurred, saying it was good to train in groups again.

“Camaraderie through misery. We suffer together,” said the Irish healthcare worker, 37.

Some struggled to breathe through the mask, pausing occasionally to catch their breath.

Peter Sadek, an investment director from Lebanon, said he kept up with his exercise by weight-training at home and with a two-kilometre run in his living room.

“I also did some outdoor runs with a mask on,” Mr Sadek, 39, said.

The 23 classes scheduled for Wednesday at Vogue Fitness on Yas Marina have already been fully booked, Mr Hegarty said. Each session admits 10 people with the safety measures in place.

Members were briefed on the new guidelines two months ago.

“We don’t want people to worry about what they have to do to the point where they don’t enjoy the exercise,” he said.

The trainers underwent intensive training sessions while wearing face masks to test the new practices.

“It was very difficult to breathe, which is why we are glad that we’ve been advised the mask can be lowered during intense exercises,” he said.

The gym and all its equipment is cleaned every hour after each class and an employee checks the temperature of each person who enters.

At Cobra Fitness, a gym for mixed martial arts, all fight training has been suspended.

“We are an MMA gym, but now functioning as a fitness gym,” said Mathew Dryden, its founder.

“Our fighters can still come and train, but work on functional training, conditioning and cardio. They can’t use punchbags, so there is no contact [between fighters], so no sparring and no boxing,” he said.

As a result, the training space had to be altered.

“Before, we had up to 40 people in a class, but now we have limited them to 20 and we are not doing stations [for circuit training] any more, because that involves too much cross-contamination.”

Instead, the centre has marked out areas of two square metres in the training area to give each person their own spot to work out in.

“We’ve made it 2x2, so there is comfortable space for you to train by yourself,” he said.

Its classes were also fully booked for the day.

Mr Dryden said most people were concerned about the difficulty of training with a mask on. He has advised them to lower it slightly, should it become difficult to breathe.

One fitness enthusiast on Wednesday said she did not mind wearing a mask and gloves at all.

“To be honest, training with the mask feels fine,” said Natalie Novikova, who works as cabin crew.

“I am just so grateful to be here so I don’t care. I am willing to wear anything just to be here.”

While Ms Novikova, 30, from Russia, had been weight training at home over the past few months, she said she missed the heavier weights at Cobra Fitness.

“I am preparing for a fitness competition so I really need heavy weights,” she said.

“I need to have big muscles and a thin waist for a bodybuilding modelling competition.”