Many of us are experiencing new layers of body tissue under our skin after staying cooped up at home for more than a year.
Not being self-motivated enough, I was getting very little exercise on my own and had been yearning to return to instructor-led burnout sessions with Orange Theory Fitness.
Many people felt a similar void when our gyms and fitness studios shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact to the fitness industry was severe. According to International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, 17% of fitness clubs in the U.S. permanently closed by the end of 2020, and industry revenue plummeted by 58%.
Anxious about the fate of Orange Theory, I was thrilled when I read their reopening announcement of March 31. I signed up for a session on opening day. Having been fully vaccinated by that point, I was less worried about catching COVID-19 at the studio.
When I went for the first session, the experience did feel different than before. Safety protocols impact every aspect of my visit, starting from entry.
In the old days, patrons would walk into the studio and engage in friendly conversations in the lobby. This time, I was surprised to find the doors locked and waited outside, soaking in the sun.
Class sizes are now smaller, and waitlists get full much faster. One-hour classes are now reduced to 45 minutes, with a time buffer before the next session to reduce crowding and allow for equipment cleaning. Prospective members are onboarded for their trial class over the phone, instead of in the lobby.
Orange Theory workouts are typically divided into three sections with different equipment — cardio on treadmills, full body exercise on rowers, and strength training at a weight station. Pre-pandemic, patrons were typically divided into two groups, and rotated through all three sections. All classes that I have attended this year have been divided into three groups, which increases social distancing.
Patrons are now assigned to every third rower, treadmill or weight station, based on the individual’s preference and station availability. This distribution pattern ensures that no station is occupied by more than one individual during a single class.
There are now additional cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Disinfectant wipes are more abundantly used by staff and attendees alike. Studio staff also bring out an electrostatic sprayer for extra cleaning power.
“We spray it twice every day on every surface, weight, ground, anything that could be touched in the studio,” said Kristen Luehmann, a sales associate at Orange Theory.
We can no longer congregate in the lobby and must line up on marked spots outside. Five minutes before a class starts, a staff member opens the doors and keeps it open with a doorstop. All patrons must wear a mask, and verbally attest to not having any COVID-19 symptoms before entering. We then get zapped by a temperature gun, and the staff reminds us to sanitize our hands.
“Dealing with someone face to face makes you feel more accountable,” said Luehmann after I coyly suggested online attestation to make the sign-in process go faster.
Gym amenities have been dramatically scaled back. Lockers are for keeping our personal belongings, but the staff now encourages us to throw items in and quickly walk away to avoid crowding. When leaving, we keep the locker doors open so they can be deep cleaned before the next session.
I now must remember to carry my hair-tie. Personal grooming essentials like a hair dryer, hair-tie, deodorants and hand cream have all been removed from the restrooms. Showers are no longer operable, and restroom fixtures are sanitized after each use.
“We are doing everything in our power to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable coming back,” said Zachery Brooks, a coach at Sammamish Orange Theory. “Taking a year off wasn’t the greatest for me. Getting back to work and maintaining a schedule has been a huge help to my physical and mental health.”
I could not agree more. Even though exercising with masks is not easy and dealing with all these new protocols takes getting used to, I pushed myself even harder under heavy breaths to burn as many calories as possible, and within 15 fewer minutes of class time.
I am now going about four times a week. Personally, I feel safe after seeing their diligent safety protocols. I also see a lot of familiar faces behind the mask, indicating that others are also returning regularly, and finally getting back on the path to fitness and good health.
Orange Theory Fitness is located at 22840 NE 8th St, #103, in Sammamish, Washington. If you are interested in scheduling a trial class, please call (425) 659-3414.