Should you throw in the towel? To gym or not to gym in the time of Covid-19

SA's major gyms detail the safety precautions they'll be putting in place during the coronavirus pandemic

19 March 2020 - 09:03 By Busang Senne
Major gym chains says they will be conducting additional cleaning of their equipment and facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Major gym chains says they will be conducting additional cleaning of their equipment and facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Image: 123RF
The coronavirus had infected at least 116 people in SA by Wednesday. Public gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited. Panic buying has cleared provisions off the shelves. The future of businesses, transport services, marginalised communities without access to health care, water or sanitation, and an imminent lockdown seems unclear.

But still, in these trying times, maintaining sanity in the form of self-care is crucial and for many includes hitting the gym: a technically confined public space rife with potential infection by virtue of everyone sweating on everything.

Going to gym wouldn’t ordinarily compromise your average immune system, but the contagious coronavirus, self-isolation to protect the immunocompromised and the nature of modern disease control puts that causal notion into perspective.
So is it time to throw in the towel or can fitness fanatics continue to exercise without fear? A few of SA's major gyms attempt to set the record straight:


Virgin Active has rolled out a social media campaign with coronavirus safety tips, including the safety measures that will be put into place at its gyms. 

Virgin Active is keeping member safe by supplying hand sanitiser in clubs and specialised cleaning staff will be using G-cide spray (the active ingredient in hospital-grade disinfectant) to clean the facilities. Paper towels will also be provided for wiping down equipment.

"We use a specialist outsourced cleaning service provider who have extensive experience in healthcare facility cleaning. They clean on the chemical’s half-life i.e. if a chemical is active for 8 hours, we use it every 4 hours for absolute sanitisation," said the gym.

WHAT IS VIRGIN ACTIVE DOING? (**Updated sections) President Ramaphosa has called on all businesses such as "the...

Posted by Virgin Active SA on Monday, March 16, 2020

Virgin Active said on Twitter that a gym does not fit into the definition of a gathering. Rather, it is “a place frequented by a large number of people”. Group exercise classes will take place, but reduced to 50% of the normal capacity. The gym is also investigating online classes as well as outdoor workout options with the introduction of a Virgin Active Run Club, limited to eight to ten members. 

If members want to freeze their accounts, they're welcome to do so free of charge. 

"Members may freeze their contracts FREE OF CHARGE. We understand that members may be reluctant to train in a club given fears about Coronavirus. We will waiver our 50% freeze fee, and we will freeze (pause) a member’s contract for 30 days at a time. A member does need to request this by phoning 0860 200 911," said Virgin Active. 


Planet Fitness' clubs will open earlier and close at midday for an interval of deep cleaning. Head of marketing Gillian Elson added: “We have taken additional measures by having more staff on the floor to sanitise the equipment throughout the day and particularly after use.”

According to a press release, other safety precautions that will be put in place include temperature-testing of staff and members, and the provision of sanitising stations throughout clubs and at the entrances.

Don’t let the Coronavirus stop your workout. We have taken proactive steps, in the interest of Public Health to ensure...

Posted by Planet Fitness on Tuesday, March 17, 2020

You'd imagine it would be difficult to practice social distancing at a gym, but Planet Fitness has a plan:

  • They have reduced the numbers of attendees at their group classes;
  • They're limiting numbers to 100 members in the club per hour on a first come, first served basis; and
  • They are moving equipment out of clubs to ensure the required distance between members who are training can be maintained

Planet Fitness also included tips on how members can protect themselves while using the facilities. This includes using training gloves and making sure to only touch one's own water bottle.

Want to freeze your membership in an attempt to help flatten the curve? “Should members wish to put a freeze on their membership, we do have policies in place as per their contracts. This is dealt with case by case.”


Attempts to contact Viva Gyms' communications head, Roddy Williams, were unsuccessful. Instead, it has issued a social media post as its official statement regarding its position on gym safety.

A social media user responded to this statement with a request to freeze their membership. Viva Gyms agreed, but said that this could only be done “for medical or travel reasons”, that they'd need to provide proof of this and would be charged R100.

Please read our official statement regarding COVID-19. At Viva Gym we have always put your fitness and health first,...

Posted by Viva Gym SA on Monday, March 16, 2020


Bodytec, which offers Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) training, told Sunday Times that its studios were organised in such a way that no more than two to four people were present simultaneously. It added that its studios do not use additional gym equipment, “minimising the risk of potential contamination and exposure”

“Bodytec continues to offer its ... services for the time being, striving to serve members and continuing to strengthen their muscles, as well as their immune systems, since regular exercise is crucial for a healthy mind and body, and should continue as much as possible, within a sanitised, controlled environment,” said Bodytec founder Boris Leyck.

“Our personal trainers are under strict instructions to follow all standard World Health Organisation (WHO) practices ... such as regular handwashing, minimising personal contact, [following] best practices [if] sneezing and coughing, as well as to self-isolate as soon as they show any signs of potential infection,” Leyck added.

Studio deep cleaning with a chlorine-based disinfectant will increase, hand sanitisers will be provided at entrances, and amenities and training gear will be disinfected regularly.

In terms of freezing membership until the coronavirus stabilises, Leyck said the gym offered “a free extension of membership for the period of the state of emergency duration”.