Into the gym despite corona virus pandemic?

While strict Corona rules still prevail in other countries, the first fitness studios have reopened in Germany. Good news for the nearly twelve million customers. But there are also doubts.

Germany Cologne | Coronavirus | Fitness studios

Back to the irons: Almost 12 million gym members may gradually return to the machines

Lars Holdorf grimaces. Teeth bared, eyes narrowed, forehead furrowed. Sweat dripping from the chin. One more repetition, one more and then one more. He sits at the biceps machine and gives it his all. His powerful arms keep pulling the machine’s handles upward, his biceps bulging and his head running red. It doesn’t look like fun.

But that’s exactly what it is for Lars Holdorf. "Horny!", he says, beaming and taking a breath after finishing his workout on the biceps machine. "The gym is already very important to me", he tells and you can only guess in his voice how much this "pumps" him was missing from the equipment. As a football player for the Bonn Gamecocks, he needs strength and mass to be able to throw himself into the opponents’ ranks. And fitness is part of everyday life for him.

Germany Cologne | Coronavirus | Fitness studios

Disinfection is a new sporting discipline in the studios

For two months, his gym was closed, just like all the others in Germany. Sweating people close together – that’s exactly what had to be prevented during the Corona lockdown. Since this Monday the first gyms in Germany have opened again. First in the west of the country, like here in the former federal capital Bonn. The other German states will follow in the coming days and weeks. And many neighboring European countries, where the rules of conduct are even stricter, are looking to Germany and asking themselves: Can this work??

42.60 euros a month for fitness

The path of relaxation that Germany has taken is courageous. Because the infection figures have been rising again for a few days and Chancellor Angela Merkel is already warning not to gamble away everything that has been achieved through careless behavior. Germany loosens the reins, people come out of their home refuges – and many go back to the gym.

BdT -McFit training despite coronavirus

With motivation out of the crisis? Many Germans are still skeptical about the loosening of the reins

Almost twelve million Germans more or less regularly visit the 9700 or so fitness studios in the country, according to statistics from the Employers’ Association of German Fitness and Health Facilities (DSSV). By comparison, of the 23 million Catholics in Germany, an average of 2.1 million attend Catholic services in Germany, according to the German Bishops’ Conference. So, for many people, gyms are a fundamental part of their everyday lives. And they pay for it: 42.60 euros was the average monthly premium in 2019. This gives the industry in Germany a turnover of 5.5 billion euros – and thus also political clout. The DSSV lobbied for the fitness industry, which was and is hard hit by the restrictions on social life.

Some are happy, many remain skeptical

"That was a hard impact," remembers Max Walter. Tall, strong build, short head of hair, many tattoos. He runs the Fivestar Fitness Studio in Bonn, one of 13 studios in the fitness chain. "Sunday came the message that we have to close Tuesday. We had to keep our costs to a minimum, it was a tough time." This applied not only to customers, but also to staff: twelve of the studio’s 19 employees lost their jobs. Almost all of them are students, who finance their studies by working in the muckibude. After about two months off, the Bonn gym is one of the first in Germany to be allowed to reopen. A big relief for Max Walter, who had to accept some cancellations from members during the closure.

The restart is now only allowed under strict conditions. The fitness studios have to provide space, seven square meters per customer is the rule of thumb for the staff at the entrance. Nevertheless, long lines do not form in front of the studio in Bonn on this first opening day. Probably also because many customers are still reluctant to do so. 72 percent of respondents to a recent YouGov survey in Germany said they wouldn’t immediately go back to their gym when it opened. A DW poll on Twitter led to a similar result.

That’s why Max Walter knows he has to convince his customers: "We ask every member to wash or disinfect their hands when they enter the building. The members are asked to disinfect the equipment, in addition, our employees do it as well. And we have been given the requirement that each piece of equipment must be at least three meters away from the next one", explains.

This works well on the first day, customers take the hygiene measures seriously. For example Melanie Meger. The student came to the gym with her mother on the first day it was open because she "really missed the gym" have. At home, she had lost her focus for training, but the atmosphere in the gym motivated her a lot. She was a little afraid of getting infected, she says. "But I just try to follow all the rules: I put on a mouthguard where necessary, disinfect my hands and also the equipment I use." She knows that high-intensity workouts such as maximal strength exercises or spinning are prohibited here, as they make you sweat and breathe too much.

Training only under strict rules

Germany Cologne | Coronavirus | Fitness studios

The regulatory office checks the hygiene measures in the studios

The operators of the gyms are aware: only with these restrictions can they continue their business in times of the pandemic. As soon as a new outbreak of COVID-19 should be traced back by the health authorities to infections in fitness studios, it could be quickly over again with the sporty loosening exercises. In an interview with DW, the sports physician Wilhelm Bloch makes it clear that he can only imagine the operation of gyms "under strict rules, equipment disinfection and with a limited number of visitors, so that minimum distances are maintained without any problems, as well as a well-functioning ventilation system that prevents aerosols from remaining in the room for longer periods of time", can present.

Amateur football player Lars Holdorf takes this for granted. He has long since become accustomed to the restrictions and hygiene rules in his everyday life. And: "The infection figures in Germany show that we can now take this step.", find. "I meet the others here in the gym with respectful distance. If you stick to it, the risk here is no greater than when shopping at the supermarket."

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