Back in the gym

Liam Durkin

LOCAL gym junkies and fitness freaks will be able to walk back into their favourite steel yard from Monday, after restrictions were lifted by the state government.

With gyms seemingly last in line on the list of industries to reopen, there is an undeniable sense of excitement from users and personal trainers as they count down the days until they are back on board.

Under the first easing of restrictions, a maximum of 20 people will be permitted within gyms per separate space, subject to the four square metre rule, with up to 10 people per group or class.

The use of towels will be mandatory and hand sanitising stations will be set up.

In the interim, people have made do with what they have, with some innovative ideas being conjured up such as rocks substituting weights and roof beams acting as pull up bars.

A number of local football club gyms have also loaned equipment to players in the past few months.

After a long lay off, Dee Barbas from Sale Health and Fitness said all were chomping at the bit to get going again.

“We are so excited to be able to open our doors back up to our big fitness family, we’ve really missed them,” she said.

“We had a feeling a shutdown was on the cards but thought we had a bit more time. We were definitely shocked to find out Sunday night on March 22 that we had to shut by 12pm the next day.

“Turning off the access to our gym as we walked out was incredibly emotional, to be honest there was a real fear that we may not be able to open the door again.”

With the bombshell dropping overnight, gyms across the state were faced with a number of challenges, including the daunting task of having to deliver the news to members.

“Our first concern was our members, clients and personal trainers,” Barbas said.

“Letting them know that we were not able to provide a place for them to train was absolutely heartbreaking.”

Fortunately, Sale Health and Fitness found a great outpouring of support during its time of need.

Barbas said the well wishes had been incredible.

“The support we have received in the last few months is nothing short of astonishing,” she said.

“We had quite a few people contact us asking to continue taking out their membership payments even though we were not able to provide them a place to train, which was so overwhelming and really made us stop feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Sale Health and Fitness continued to operate virtually, allowing people to stay connected.

“We created a Facebook group for those who opted to continue their membership and provided four at home training sessions delivered via the group every week. Our members and clients can’t get away from us that easy!” Barbas said.

“To quote Rocky ‘it ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward’, and that’s what we did, we moved forward.”

Sale Health and Fitness operates as a 24-hour gym accessible to members, and interestingly, is located in the old Gippsland Times building.

Remnants of a time past are clearly visible, in what is a nice ode to history upon entry.

The walls of the gym are decked out with a number of frames and banners to various local players, including former Sale Football-Netball Club games record holder Kane Fraser.

Barbas, who owns the gym with husband Rod, said gym users would notice a few differences on the return.

“We have removed our boxing gloves that are normally available for use by members and have marked out areas to assist everyone to abide by the social distancing rules,” she explained.

“Hand sanitiser will be provided at the front gate as well as throughout the gym and your own towel is the newest gym accessory must have.

“We are fortunate to have such a large space which means that we are able to have the full current limit of 20 people in our gym area, as well as use our personal training area for PT sessions and group classes and still comply with the one person per four square metre rule.”

There is equal excitement in Maffra, as the sports crazy town looks to embrace the grind once again.

Like all gym owners, Jesse Sikacek from R3 Fitness, Maffra, said he was looking forward to reopening the doors.

“We are definitely excited. We were just getting into it pre-corona so it’s really exciting to pick up where we were leaving off,” he said.

Having only taken up the owners role in January, the news hit Sikacek like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Once the shutdown became a reality, Sikacek said he had a restless night on the Sunday of the announcement.

“I didn’t really go to bed on the Sunday night because it was a big rush to work out what the hell to do with the gym as we had to close the next day,” he said.

“It was a shock. I had heard about corona and honestly thought ‘oh yeah whatever, it shouldn’t affect us’.”

While initially fearing the worst, Sikacek said the situation had allowed those in the business to think outside the square and potentially come out the other end with some ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise eventuated.

“After we got our head around it, the first week was terrible, and then after that it was a matter of putting plans into place to actually run the gym without the gym,” he said.

“We were looking literally a year to two years ahead planning for the worst case, not knowing what that would be.

“When it got shut it was a rush to contact as many members in the short amount of time you had to do it. From there we had to offer an alternative service so people could still get some sort of service without the physical location of the gym so we went down the road of an online set-up.

“I think a lot of gyms jumped on the live classes bandwagon, it was sort of the main thing we could do to keep members moving without the physical location.

“There were a lot of hidden benefits that came from it in terms of learning and flexibility.”

Sikacek said other challenges arose from the period of uncertainty, but also said there was comfort in the level of compassion shown to the business by local residents.

“I was really frustrated by the level of essentiality they (the government) put on it,” he said.

“I do believe it is an essential business when you see the benefits that everyone gets out of their training and health and fitness.

“We had a large chunk of members that wanted to support the gym even thought they couldn’t use it by paying their memberships which was really nice. It blew us away.”

R3 Fitness has been operating for a few years now, and its current location is where Everyday Elite was previously.

Smaller gyms such as HC Fitness, Stratford, will also be able to operate. HC Fitness director Heath Curtis said the last few months had been tough on all in the industry.

“As a relatively new business in the growing town of Stratford, to have to close for three months was devastating,” he said.

“Fortunately we have built a great community hub and even during times of uncertainty, our members supported us by either hiring equipment, or just retaining their membership payment out of good will.

“We could not perform a service to them, yet they were appreciative of our work in the community and were happy to continue payment which was remarkable.”

On a positive, Curtis said a silver lining from the shutdown had allowed his business the time to upgrade its facilities.

“We took the opportunity to improve flooring, mirrors and roofing, all tasks that would otherwise be extremely difficult in a 24-hour facility,” he explained.

“Improving the facility would have been so difficult under constant foot traffic. Under normal operation, we would have forced closure to carry out work. That work would also need to conform to a strict timeline.

“So the benefit for us was not dealing with foot traffic and timelines.”

With the doors to gyms reopening on Monday, protein shakes are sure to be back out in force while youngsters will be gunning to shred for the next lit music festival.

Mirrors and phone cameras are also tipped to get a decent run.