Gym looks to pivot under reopening limits; Edmonton doctor relieved further openings delayed

A man leaves the GoodLife Fitness facility in southwest Edmonton on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.A man leaves the GoodLife Fitness facility in southwest Edmonton on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

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Bre Schabert hasn’t been able to hold in-person group fitness classes at Edmonton’s Hive Fit Co. since mid-November, and is now looking to adapt her business model.

Most of the studio’s classes, including rowing and cycling, are considered high-intensity fitness activities by the province and therefore remain prohibited.

“We’re planning to hopefully find a style of class that doesn’t include any high-intensity elements,” said Schabert.

Schabert is among the many Alberta gym and fitness studio owners who had hoped they would be able to open but were trying to figure out what Step 2 of Alberta’s reopening plan meant for them Tuesday.

On Monday, the government announced that gyms can now hold low-intensity group activities like pilates and yoga indoors with masking. Running on a treadmill or heavy weight-lifting are considered high-intensity activities, so can only be done in one-on-one training with a masked trainer.

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Schabert said not knowing more information about the province’s plan made many in the fitness industry feel like they had not been heard.

Staying closed is no longer an option for her business, she added.

“It’s been so long and if this is what the restrictions are, then we have to find a way to fit them in and stay relevant,” she said.

Michelle Hynes-Dawson, vice-president of community and digital engagement at YMCA of Northern Alberta, said the organization was also thrown off by the announcement and is trying to figure out what programming it can offer if their gyms reopen.

“We understand it from a health perspective, but from an operational perspective it certainly complicates things in terms of actually making that doable,” said Hynes-Dawson.

Hynes-Dawson said a lot of the YMCA’s adult members come for cardio classes, which are still prohibited under the new guidelines along with children’s fitness programs and swimming.

“We want to understand that if we’re going to open, we are serving a broad spectrum of our audience and our members, and quite frankly right now we know we’re not,” said Hynes-Dawson, adding the requirement for one-on-one trainers for some activities could be a financial barrier for members to access the gym.

The new measures could present an added challenge for gym staff to enforce, she said.

“Whenever there is grey, or more interpretation, it becomes more difficult,” said Hynes-Dawson.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at a Tuesday news conference the difference between high-intensity and low-intensity fitness is based on an individual’s level of exertion.

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“If you’re out of breath, it’s high-intensity. If you’re not out of breath, it’s low-intensity,” he said.

Shandro said at another briefing the plan relies on gym and patrons to show good judgment and apply the rules, and was developed after consultation with the industry.

The government was scheduled to host a telephone town hall with fitness operators Tuesday night.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the fitness guidelines were adopted based on the success of British Columbia’s.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads in droplets, and when we are engaged in high-intensity activities where our breathing rates get faster, we know that we produce more droplets and increase the risk of virus spread,” said Hinshaw.

Relief the province didn’t open up further

Dr. Tehseen Ladha, an Edmonton pediatrician and assistant professor at the University of Alberta with a background in public health, said she’s relieved the province didn’t follow through with its Step 2 plan to open large banquet halls and conference centres.

However, Ladha said she is concerned that COVID-19 cases are rising, including highly-transmissible variant cases, and projections show Alberta could hit 1,000 cases per day before the end of the month.

She said unclear guidelines for fitness studios and a lack of enforcement will result in increasing case numbers.

“It’s inevitable that opening up further will make our curve rise even more steeply.”

Fitness activities such as hot yoga, using a treadmill or lifting light weights can be high-intensity for a lot of people, but were not subject to specific restrictions, she said.

lijohnson@postmedia.com

twitter.com/reportrix

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