‘I cannot wait’: England’s gym-goers and swimmers react to reopenings

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The closure of gyms and imposition of lockdown measures dictating that people could only exercise outside of their homes by jogging or cycling wreaked havoc with workout routines across England.

But with the reopening of indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports halls on Saturday, following more than four months of hibernation, many people’s lives will be able to continue to edge back to normal.

Oliver Mason, 22, junior doctor, Worcestershire

Mason will be eagerly heading back to his gym in Malvern as soon as possible after sorely missing being able to swim and use the squat rack.

Perhaps even more so, he has missed socialising with fellow gym-goers, although he is also slightly apprehensive because of the absence of a proper coronavirus contact tracing system.

Mason exercised in his local park most days after lockdown began but he found it increasingly difficult to motivate himself because “there is only so much variation you can achieve without equipment” and he did not want to “shell out” on sets of weights.

“A pool adds so much variety to workouts,” he added. “Not just to the muscles exercised but to the entire experience of being in contact with the world.”

Anna Mackenzie, 33, higher education professional, Lancashire

Mackenzie is also excited to return to her gym at the earliest opportunity, after leading what she described as a rather sedentary existence in recent months despite taking up horseriding again.

“Mental health has been one of the biggest casualties of this pandemic and I know that swimming, exercising on cardio machines and using free weights helps me to manage mine,” she said.

“I can’t afford to buy the equipment and machines myself and I am recovering from an ankle injury, which means that I cannot currently run, and the gym and pool have been incredibly important for my physical rehab, too.”

She has been assured by the efforts of her gym, which was used by a local food bank during its closure, to keep its members updated with developments.

“Of course I’ve got concerns but everything I’ve heard from my gym shows they’re taking it very seriously and are putting all the guidelines into place to ensure we can return safely,” she said.

“I cannot wait, it’s a little bit of normality, but if I go there and it doesn’t look great I might reconsider.”

Guy Bullock, 48, former local authority officer, Northumberland

Bullock is planning to do cardiovascular exercise on Saturday, weights on Sunday and swimming on Monday, after pre-booking a maximum three sessions. But he is frustrated it has taken this long to sanction the reopening of the gyms.

“While an obvious need existed to close gyms, pools and sports halls during the initial several weeks of the lockdown, it is absurd that they have remained closed for a period in excess of four months.”

A keen cyclist, he has been riding up to 200 miles a week, along with hundreds of sit-ups, press-ups and star jumps at home to keep fit. But because of the measures taken by his gym, he will still have to do part of his routine at home.

“We’re only going to be allowed to use the gym and pool for 45 minutes in total, which is more than a nuisance,” he said.

“Its a very short time. But it’s better than nothing. Still, I’ll be speaking to people on Saturday and we’ll try to persuade them to let us use it for an hour and a half.”

Carole Burgess, 62, retired third sector chief executive

Some people, such as Burgess, remain anxious. “I have just cancelled my gym membership,” she said on Wednesday, after it became active again following the lockdown period when it was frozen.

While her concerns have eased over the virus, which she found “very scary” at the beginning of the pandemic since her husband has an underlying heart condition, she believes that a return to the gym would currently be premature for her. Perhaps within a few months she may feel it is the right time, she said.

“I was mainly using it for yoga and fitness classes but I just don’t feel ready to be in that sort of space with no windows or access to open air yet. It would just feel very claustrophobic and sterile.”

Burgess has throughout lockdown continued with her own yoga practice of 40-minute sessions around five times a week either in her living room or her garden, plus an hour’s walk.

“I’m probably as fit as I’ve ever been in my life,” she added. “But it is harder without a teacher there to observe and correct, and it’s just not the same without the social aspect – practising with others and chatting after class. It’s a pity not to be having that.”

Keane Robinson, 27, data strategist and DJ, London

Robinson also cancelled his gym membership, at the beginning of lockdown, but does not intend to return at any stage after repurposing his bedroom into a personal workout space by erecting a calisthenics station.

“I definitely won’t be going back,” he said. “I just don’t feel like the gym any more, I’ve been drawn to other stuff during lockdown. Plus, I turned my lockdown prison into a gym and a yoga studio.

“Not having access to gym equipment and weights has forced me to do bodyweight workouts and I’ve become much stronger than I’ve ever been from lifting barbells.”

Plus, he saves on the costs of the gym, after an initial outlay on equipment, which he said cost him the equivalent of three months of gym fees.

“I’m just going to keep adding to what I’ve got here,” he said, conceding that he has fears over what the vibe might be like in his old gym.

“I imagine it might be a bit weird and potentially hostile. People have different hygiene standards, some breathe more deeply and sweat more than others. I do miss the sauna though.”

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