Reopening Fitness & Recreation Centers

Follow these steps for keeping gyms and fitness equipment clean in the COVID-19 environment.

by Ruben Mejia

As states begin lifting stay-at-home orders and allowing facilities to reopen, facility managers will need to plan for how to safely and sustainably reopen public spaces such as fitness and recreation centers. Safety policies and protocols for these areas will need to be implemented to keep these environments safe for all staff and facility users.

fitnessRecreation centers and facility fitness areas have many “moving parts”, and present some unique challenges for maintaining a safe and clean facility. For facility managers in the planning stages of reopening fitness centers and recreational facilities, the following actionable steps can help them navigate the reopening process in the COVID-19 environment:

  1. Remain up to date and follow guidelines

Remain up to date on state and local guidelines for reopening, and follow CDC recommendations for protecting all facility users.

  1. Establish proper procedures for cleaning and disinfecting

The CDC notes that “cleaning and disinfecting are important steps to reopening public spaces that will require careful planning.” Facility operators should follow CDC recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces by using EPA-approved disinfectants to eliminate COVID-19 on surfaces. Facility services should be sure to carefully read and follow instructions on these disinfectants to ensure maximum effectiveness of these cleaners. The CDC also stresses that frequent disinfection of high-touch surfaces—such as doorknobs, counters, toilets, faucets, and sinks—is important for helping reduce transmission of the virus.

Facility managers should also:

  • Consider establishing set times for closing the facility to complete deep cleans between uses
  • If budgets allow, consider electrostatic sprayers to quickly and effectively clean every surface of an area and the equipment within it
  • Deep clean everything. Don’t overlook things like functional trainer attachments, bands, mats, weight pins, and grips
  • Train facility staff responsible for regular cleaning of the facility and equipment in proper cleaning and disinfection procedures and protocols
  1. Develop facility use policies and procedures

Establishing facility usage policies and procedures is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy facility during COVID-19. Procedures that can help safeguard staff and facility users include:

  • Providing personal protective gear like face masks and gloves for staff to wear
  • Setting capacity limits on the number of people that can be in the fitness center or recreational facility at one time to adhere to social distancing guidelines. To determine capacity limits, facility operators can reference the U.S. Fire Administration’s advice for calculating social distancing occupant loads
  • Develop a reservation system for workout spots, strength and conditioning room and fitness classes
  • Training staff on all safety protocols, including how to look for and identify COVID-19 symptoms
  • Posting signage throughout the facility on all recreation and fitness center policies and procedures
  1. Establish safety protocols for each area of the fitness or recreation facility

Each area of the recreation facility will present challenges for maintaining social distancing and keeping up regular cleaning and sanitation. Outlined below are cleaning recommendations for each of these areas (click here to view a full checklist).

  • Cardio area
    • Space cardio equipment at least 6′ apart. If there is not space to do so, turn every other piece of cardio equipment over and place a not-in-use signs on the consoles of the equipment
    • Instruct facility users to follow traditional gym etiquette and wipe down machines after use. This will keep them safe and help protect recreation center staff
    • Provide an abundance of wipe stations and antibacterial wipes that will not hurt the equipment that facility users can easily access to clean their workout stations
  • Strength Area
    • Encourage lifts that do not require spotters, or suggest the utilization of a smith machine where applicable
    • Space benches, weight racks, and other commonly used stations at least 6′ apart for proper social distancing
    • Assign staff to clean areas after every use
    • Provide instructions for fitness center users to clean their stations after use, including cleaning benches, barbells, and weights when finished
    • Set a schedule for staff to deep clean the strength area, post the schedule for facility users to see, and make sure to follow it
  • Group Areas
    • Avoid station rotations during classes
    • Limit the number of people in each class to ensure proper social distancing measures
    • Create a procedure script for instructors to go over before every class to ensure each fitness center user is aware of the new normal and behaves appropriately
    • If needed, provide each instructor with their own headset, and clean it thoroughly after each use
    • Clean mats, weights, and anything else used or touched during the class once finished
    • Provide cleaning supplies for class participants and post clear directions on how to use these supplies to properly disinfect their used items at the end of the class
  • Other areas
    • Establish one-way entrances and exits if possible
    • Establish one-way traffic flow patterns throughout the facility
    • Set a locker room use plan. Ensure there are proper social distancing guidelines in place and use tape on the floor to indicate where people should stand
    • Increase the availability of hand sanitizing stations (60% alcohol-based rub/hand sanitizer) throughout the facility, especially in high touch areas (e.g., elevators and stair rails)

Facility managers and operators can open fitness and recreational areas safely and sustainably by following federal, state, and local guidelines and implementing policies, procedures, and protocols designed to inhibit the transmission of the virus.


fitnessMejia is Executive Vice President for SportsArt Americas and has five years of experience in the fitness industry, previously holding the title of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at SportsArt. Prior to his work at the company, Ruben held leadership roles within the technology and ecommerce spaces. In 2000, after serving four years of active duty in the Army, he began working in the corporate IT and Telecommunications fields for the Department of Defense, launching his career and interest in the technology industry as a whole.

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