Role of the Health Club in the Community
The health club, or gym, serves an important role in individual’s lives, but also for the community as a whole. Gyms provide a common place where the goal for everyone is the same—to learn the body through physical exercise and improve one’s health. The health club is a tool for self-discovery and self-improvement. The health club is an air-conditioned environment for health-oriented individuals to assemble and exchange knowledge, ideas, and stories, and freely engage with other people from a diverse group of economic, social classes and backgrounds. The ability to freely exercise and train around others with similar goals has been a staple of a healthy society dating back to ancient Greece and the first Gymnasiums and Olympic Games. Nowadays, we teach our children from a very young age how important physical exercise and health is. There is a reason why high school gyms across the country have their own workout rooms. The gym gives anyone an outlet for extra energy and aggression. Without the gym, many people have no identity. For me, it was the gym that helped me develop a sense of who I was and what my body could do. At age 19 I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a reactive-arthritis condition in my spine. The thought of a future with incredible pain and physical limitation had a severely negative impact on my idea of who I was, my identity as a young man. The gym helped me realize a much different future, one without the pain and physical limitations I thought were inevitable.
For decades in the United States, publications have ranked the healthiest cities in America, based on factors such as the overall health of its population, attitude toward overall wellness, and access to local wellness businesses (gyms, spas). The health of the community is the safety of the community. Now, most of that has been taken away. Gyms have been closed for months; parks are marked off with caution tape; basketball hoops have been removed from public courts. It is no surprise to us why we have been seeing an increase in anger, violence and destruction in our communities.
Recently, throughout the course of the lockdown, we have received countless messages from clients recounting their mental stress, some with severe depression, and relating to us that the gym is the only outlet they have for stress-relief and mental health. The fitness community has lost several athletes to suicide very recently, and the suicide rate in the areas where we operate has spiked significantly in Northern California. Exercise has also been shown in numerous clinical studies to be an effective (for some the most effective) form of relief from depression and anxiety. This is something that individuals instinctually know—when we exercise, we feel better.
In addition, the CDC recommends 150 minutes of “vigorous” exercise weekly as essential for health. It’s very clear now, that Covid-19 has been particularly damaging and deadly in people with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. These co-morbidity factors are all metabolic disorders, which exercise has been shown to be effective in reducing and eliminating,. The inability of the public to exercise has and will exacerbate these underlying conditions. Moreover, physical exercise and its role in strengthening immune systems cannot be overlooked. Strengthening of the collective immune system of a community is crucial in preventing the spread of communicable diseases among that population.
The damage of this lockdown to the fitness industry has been absolutely devastating and destructive. By declaring the industry non-essential, despite the long and storied role of the importance of the health club to society and despite the understanding that exercise is essential for a healthy and fulfilled life, people are now afraid to frequent businesses that have been negatively portrayed by politicians and the media.
Once restrictions are put in place on health clubs, there will be significant demand destruction—current economic factors compounded with the media narrative that businesses that house large groups of people are unsafe to the public during this era,—more so than what we have already experienced. Given the current economic situation and the fact that gyms have been closed for so long, the industry is suffering as it is. (For example, the amount of pending cancelations year over year for June is already at 30% increase in our business. Our first and second quarters of 2020 have been obliterated, and we will absolutely be unable to recoup the loss in revenue for the rest of the year. We estimate a 20%-25% decline in revenue year over year.) There is a great deal of uncertainty in the fitness industry at this moment in time. National-level firms have already declared they have filed, or are preparing to file, for bankruptcy, as their boards’ analysts foresee significant economic damages and a loss of demand in the fitness industry after the lockdown.
Given that we have made very minimal income for the past 11 weeks, and our current losses (estimated at this point in time to be over $1 million) due to the forced shutdown, any further restrictions placed on businesses will make it increasingly difficult for health clubs to survive. Increased regulations will result in increased payroll cost in order to have additional staff members monitoring social distancing and ensuring everyone is sanitizing, per the recommendations by the CDC.
Any further restrictions beyond the original social distancing guidelines and the sanitization and disinfecting of surfaces would cause undo harm, and simply make it unsustainable to continue;
Capacity Restrictions–To put an additional capacity restriction on health clubs would be extremely detrimental to our business. By curtailing the number of people allowed inside the facility, we are losing a significant amount of revenue. We have already increased our expenditure toward payroll to comply with the social distancing and sanitization requirements. As tenants, we have to pay for the entire space; increased social distancing reduces the number of members that we can serve, and of course results in less revenue, while simultaneously increasing payroll costs in order to comply with new regulations. Social distancing itself reduces class size when participants move in a greater area of space (yoga, kickboxing, cross training, etc.). Some members only join health clubs because of the group fitness classes. They enjoy the variety and the social aspect of the classes.
Masks—Staff, and members, have expressed concerns with wearing masks for extended periods of time, especially in a fitness environment where our bodies are expelling CO2 at a rapid rate. Wearing a mask while working out could potentially lead to overheating or fainting.
Appointment System—This can be inconvenient for people to plan in advance. Oftentimes people need to work out at a spur of the moment to improve their mood.
Temperature Screenings—These are not always accurate and it will cost our business money for supplies and training for our staff. Additionally, inaccurate readings could cause customers to become angry, leading to unnecessary conflict between employees and customers. We value the safety of our employees.
The health club (gym) is fundamental to the fitness, health and safety of a community. Our aim is to help as many people as possible become stronger and healthier. We are concerned that a significant increase in restrictions upon businesses such as ours, will reduce our ability to serve the community to our full potential. It is imperative that we open these pillars of community fully, so our community population can become healthier and happier.
CEO, Fitness System Health Clubs
Direct Messages to the Fitness System/Sean Covell Instagram/Facebook Pages
 See Exhibit A