Local gyms strive to rebound after COVID lockdown

By Spencer Butler / NM News Port

As New Mexico’s COVID-19 restrictions continue, issues persist for local gyms who are trying to balance public health guidelines while providing customers with a valuable workout space.

As of August 28, The New Mexico Department Of Health has stated that Gyms are classified as “close contact businesses” meaning that gyms can only operate at 25% capacity.

Some gyms, like Defined Fitness — one of the largest local gyms in the state – have added safety measures in an attempt to ease customer concerns.

Parker Smith, an employee of Defined Fitness, emphasized the new safety and sanitization measures they were taking.

A mostly-empty exercise area in an Albuquerque Defined Fitness gym. Photo by Spencer Butler / New Mexico News Port.

“Making sure that people are wearing masks at all times, as well as making sure that we have two fitness monitors walking around and cleaning the facility nearly all throughout the day,” Smith said.

While their group exercise classes have moved to Facebook and Instagram for the time being, the gym reports seeing only a slight drop in returning customers since the onset of the shutdown. 

Smaller gyms, though, are facing a deepening crisis as patrons refrain from returning to gyms, citing concerns about contracting the virus from breathing droplets or coming into contact with shared equipment.

Brian Long, a personal trainer at Liberty Gym said their patronage is down a staggering 50% from pre-COVID levels. That amounts to roughly  800 fewer people coming to the Liberty Gym. 

Long added that those that have returned to the gym have enjoyed their experience, some complain about the requirement to wear a mask.

“I would say that some are overly cautious, and some just don’t care,” Long said. “So, obviously the ones that don’t care, we have to deal with and make them understand why they need to wear [a mask].” 

Long said attendants report a steady stream of customer concerns, namely that masks are “uncomfortable” or that gym-goers are lowering their masks or not wearing them properly.

“It’s just like a nonstop nitpicking fest,” Long said. 

Other gyms, like the Open Gym, have limited its access to members only and have reduced their hours of operation in attempts to prevent the virus’ spread.

The Open Gym has also moved its group exercises to Zoom classes and Facebook live streams.

It remains to be decided how long the 25% capacity rule will remain in effect.

While NMDOH and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham have not yet revealed new guidelines for businesses, a press conference will be held on September 19 to announce if there will be new guidelines.

Fortunately, recent COVID data shows that case growth in New Mexico is on a downward trend. 

This means that the governor could attempt to ease restrictions on gyms and other “close contact businesses”.

Long said he’d like to see gyms reopened at 50% capacity next, which will help more people get back to the gym.

Spencer Butler is a journalism student and reporter for New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @SpencerButler48.