As new limits on gyms and fitness studios in Colorado’s most populous areas take effect, owners of these facilities are trying to assess what it will mean.
Many have already been struggling financially due to closures this spring and subsequent capacity limits, and owners said the new rules are an added setback.
Perrin Kringel, who owns Yoga Pod Denver West at the Colorado Mills mall in Lakewood, said she first heard about the latest restrictions through multiple text messages from her staff. At first, she couldn’t face the news.
“I ended up watching four episodes of 'The Crown' and turning my phone off,” she said.
Kringel said she came back to the studio the next morning determined to make things work, but it will be a tough slog. Already, she’s lost half her membership base since she had to close in the spring. Even when she reopened, she had to limit her classes to less than half their normal size. Now, she has to limit them even further.
Last week, Gov. Jared Polis announced that gyms in the highest risk “red” counties would have to have to limit capacity to 10 percent or 10 people per class beginning Friday. Currently, at least 21 Colorado counties are at level red.
“It's good to be healthy. It's good to work out,” Polis said. “But we don't want that to be a social environment where the virus will spread.”
But there’s no evidence gyms have driven infections in Colorado. So far, there has been one documented outbreak in the state linked to a gym in Montezuma County. Kringel thinks the benefits of group exercise and yoga practice outweigh the risks of transmission, especially given how careful she and other businesses are to limit the health risks. She said her industry has been unfairly singled out for restrictions while other businesses have been allowed to thrive.
“I've been in recovery for 16 years. I don't drink or smoke pot, but those are considered essential businesses,” Kringel said. “Yet for many of us, this is essential. Yoga is part of how we survive.”
In Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, Courtney Samuel said he feels a duty to keep his clients exercising despite all the new limits. Samuel owns Bodies by Perseverance, a gym with a boxing ring, workout equipment, exercise classes and personal training.
Samuel said he spends a lot of time these days making sure his employees and clients are safe, which means, among other things, enforcing the mask requirement and frequently disinfecting equipment. Like Kringel, Samuel sees his business as essential.
“People are losing their minds,” Samuel Said. “So, you know, hitting mitts for 20 minutes is one of the biggest stress relievers.”
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Veronica Figoli, who works out at Samuel's gym, said she misses the pre-pandemic exercise classes and the people.
“We [would] come every Saturday and we used to do classes,” Figoli said. “It was actually our place of gathering. And our place of being together and forming community.”
Figoli, who went to the gym this weekend with her husband David Fleischer and their son Mateo, said the classes are much smaller and they have to make an appointment now to be allowed to work out there. The couple jumped rope while they watched Mateo’s boxing lesson in the ring.
Figoli said she’s happy her family still gets to exercise but it’s not the same as being with a large group.
“When you're together, you feel the human energy,” she said. “We burn calories by being with each other.”
Despite the lack of documented outbreaks in gyms, some public health researchers said they can be more dangerous than other public places because of all the heavy breathing, especially if they lack good ventilation.
Jose-Luis Jimenez, a chemistry and environmental sciences professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies how COVID-19 travels through the air, said he believes the tighter restrictions on Colorado gyms right now are justified and that he might go even further — temporarily.
“I think it'd be better to do a more aggressive closure … try to lower the virus to much lower levels and then try to reopen more smartly,” Jimenez said.
But that would likely mean more closures on top of the handful of Colorado gyms and studios that have already shut down permanently due to the pandemic.
Samuel at Bodies by Perseverance said public health orders have hurt his bottom line for a while now, even before the latest restrictions.
“We have to offer more classes so my payroll is increased,” said Samuel. “But my membership hasn't increased, so we can’t generate as much revenue.”
Still, Samuel and Kringel, of Yoga Pod Denver West in Lakewood, said they remain committed and see their work as critical to the well-being of their members, especially now.
“There are a lot of people struggling with anxiety and depression. There's rates of suicides going up, depression, substance abuse,” Kringel said. “And this is a place where people can calm down and relax.”
Gym and studio owners dream of the day when their classes will once again be full of happy, sweaty students working out together. Even Brett Cortese, who just opened TruFusion studios in Denver in September, expects to see his decked out, ultramodern exercise studios at capacity at some point soon.
“We're excited for the day when we can have 70 people in one classroom enjoying it and feeling like [they’re in an] amazing, healthy nightclub, and that day is coming,” Cortese said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Mateo Fleischer's name.