Some Big UWS Gyms Are Reopening; Here’s What To Expect

New equipment and rules.

By A. Campbell

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that gyms throughout New York State would begin reopening in late August and early September. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the city in mid-March, Upper West Siders have managed to get exercise through a variety of means including virtual programs, private training sessions, and outdoor group fitness classes. In lieu of gyms, Central Park and Riverside Park have welcomed an increasing number of runners, cyclists, rollerbladers, yogis, and others.

As infection rates have continued to decline and outdoor fitness enthusiasts begin to wonder what they’ll do during the coming cold winter months, the reopening of gyms has prompted questions about what safety measures and precautions businesses are taking on behalf of their members. Under the current guidelines, gyms are limited to 33 percent of their total capacity. Members and staff are required to wear masks at all times and gyms must undergo inspections by local authorities to ensure that air filtration systems and sanitization techniques are in accordance with CDC recommendations.

For now, Mayor Bill de Blasio has allowed gyms like New York Sports Club, Equinox, and the Marlene Meyerson JCC health club to move forward, but he has not yet approved the reopening of some boutique fitness studios, indoor pools, or group classes within gyms. A group of smaller fitness businesses have sued the city.

With these changes in mind, the West Side Rag decided to investigate what Upper West Siders can expect as they return to fitness facilities around the neighborhood.

New York Sports Club West 73rd Street
On a recent Saturday afternoon, approximately a dozen members could be seen working out on the first floor of the New York Sports Club on West 73rd Street. According to the gym’s Fitness Manager, Jimmy Chen, the club’s capacity – in adherence to the official 33 percent limit – is 55 people. In recent days, Chen said the gym occupancy tends to hover around 40 – 45 members inside at one time. Upon entry, members  undergo a touch-less temperature check as well as a brief survey with questions about their recent travel history, contact with others, and whether they have experienced any Covid-19 symptoms.

In order to ensure that the gym does not exceed it’s 33 percent capacity limit, Chen explained that staff members require each member to check in and check out at the front desk, allowing the NYSC personnel to maintain a real-time tally of how many individuals are inside the facility. He confirmed the gym had passed a ventilation test administered by the city and that staff members were maintaining rigorous cleaning and sanitation practices every two hours by completing a disinfection checklist of all equipment, locker rooms, and high-touch surfaces such as door handles and faucets. In adherence to the new guidelines, showers, steam rooms, and saunas remain off limits. Chen noted the gym’s reopening has received an enthusiastic response from members and newcomers alike. “I expected a lot of people to be scared to come back to the gym, but we actually signed up about 35 people for new memberships in the first two days we were open,” he said.

As of Monday, September 14th, Town Sports International, the parent company of New York Sports Club and other gym chains, filed for bankruptcy.

Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan
JCC members can look forward to the facility reopening on September 21st. According to Melissa Donovan, Chief Operating Officer, Health and Wellness, the facility has gone to great lengths to ensure members will benefit from thoughtful and efficient safety measures. “One thing we’ve done is to focus on our values,” Donovan said. “Taking responsibility for the health and wellness of our community is a core value at the JCC. We have taken reopening very seriously by establishing new protocols, developing an online reservation system, and remapping our spaces to support social distancing.”

Members will be asked to make a reservation during 90-minute exercise blocks throughout the day using the JCC website or the JCC/MindBody app on their phones. Following each 90-minute workout block, all members will exit the floor and the JCC will close for 30 minutes to conduct a deep cleaning before the next 90-minute workout block opens to the following group. Members can expect touch-less temperature checks and enhanced cleaning and sanitization procedures which incorporate the use of electrostatic spray disinfection.

JCC visitors will also notice updated entry and exit protocols which are meant to reduce traffic crossover between children and adults. The JCC nursery school will utilize one entrance while fitness members use another. Timed workout reservations and health declarations will be required of each individual in advance of their visit to the JCC health club. “We have the greatest members,” Donovan said. “Of course, they are asking lots of questions about reopening timelines and what to expect when they arrive at the building, but by and large, our members are expressing confidence and excitement to return to the JCC.”

Margo McCann in the Pure Barre studio.

Pure Barre – Columbus Avenue
While large gyms like New York Sports Club, Equinox, and the JCC have been granted approval to begin reopening, boutique fitness studios like Pure Barre on Columbus Avenue between W. 79th and W. 80th Streets have not. Margo McCann, Franchise Owner of Pure Barre Columbus Avenue remarked that she and other boutique fitness studio owners are anxiously awaiting the green light from city authorities.

McCann felt that the delay in reopening boutique fitness studios like hers was based on a misconception of what a Pure Barre class entails. “I think what a lot of government officials don’t seem to understand about indoor classes is that they aren’t all highly aerobic, deep breathing, sweaty classes,” McCann said. “Classic barre is low impact. There’s no jumping. You’re working to your own ability and focusing on small, isometric movements to create muscle tone. I think that’s where the frustration comes from that you might hear from [fitness studio owners] versus the gym. The fact that you can come into a space without touching anything but your own shoes to me seems safe, or just as safe if not safer, than getting on a treadmill at the gym where you are getting hot and sweaty and you are breathing deeply.”

McCann has made adjustments to the studio in recent months and is prepared to move forward as soon as boutique fitness studios are permitted to reopen. Pure Barre clients will check themselves in to a class using an app on their phones. The check in process will include a Covid health survey and waiver that students must complete, as well as an in-person contactless temperature check. McCann has remapped the studio space by placing tape on the floor to mark the boundaries of nine separate 7×7 foot squares. “No one is going to be in that block but you,” she said. Each block will include a plastic bin with hand sanitizer, weights, balls, and other workout accessories where students can also store personal items during class. All equipment, as well as the barre and high-touch surfaces, will be cleaned before and after each class.

Other Upper West Side Gyms
While other large health clubs around the Upper West Side including the West Side YMCA and Equinox on Columbus Avenue and W. 67th Street did not respond to inquiries for comment for this article, both have updated their respective websites to provide information about new safety and sanitization procedures. The West Side YMCA reopened on Tuesday, September 15th with updated hours for routine cleanings. Equinox has published new “house rules” for all members.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 17 comments | permalink
    1. Ryo says:

      Without even as much as an email my gym in the UWS charged my card the first day they were allowed to be open. Didn’t say what the new procedures would be or anything. At limited capacity would I be turned away if I go? Just felt like I had money stolen heh. The terms changed on their end and I didn’t agree to the new terms of membership. At least an email a few days prior to opening with the new procedures would’ve been nice so we could make our decision.

      • lynn says:

        Go online or call your credit card company and dispute the charge. It’s that simple.

        • John says:

          Is anyone here an Equinox gym member?

          Are you staying away from the gym
          because asymptomatic people spread the virus
          &
          most masks don’t prevent it?

          And are you aware that Asymptomatic people
          have No symptoms,
          therefore Asymptomatic people pass the Temperature Check because they have a normal temperature?

          Is there an online group of Equinox members
          who refuse to return to the gym
          because
          the gym is the most dangerous indoor place
          with airborne particles coming from heavy breathing during exercise?

          • Lisa says:

            I’m an Equinox member (67th and Columbus) and my friends who’ve returned say it’s well spaced, everyone is masked and they feel comfortable. However, Equinox continues to charge the full rate even though the pool and group exercise classes are not available. I will not be returning until (a) every service I agreed to pay for has been restored or (b) the price is reduced accordingly.

          • Covid Jones says:

            There is no evidence that gyms are dangerous. In fact, a randomized controlled trial out of Norway showed that gyms are of little risk in areas where the spread of the virus is under control — as it is here:

            https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/it-s-safe-go-back-gym-if-there-s-little-covid-19-around-study-suggests

            On top of this, we have seen no movement in case counts in the two weeks since gyms have re-opened.

          • your_neighbor says:

            If you are so fearful of being near people with no symptoms I suggest you cancel your membership and return after you feel more comfortable about going to a gym.

          • Arnold Adlin says:

            You can put your membership oh freeze and go back when you are comfortable. Equinox at 76th Street is not very busy so it is easy to be distant.

          • UWSideChick says:

            I’m not returning to equinox because I purchased weight equipment for home use and I don’t want to do cardio with a mask on so I will continue to walk/run outside until restrictions are lifted. My work schedule is also unpredictable and I don’t want to schedule my work-outs. Not scared of covid.

      • Jennifer says:

        To Ryo–I assume you are talking about NYSC, because the same thing happened to me. They have handled the entire pandemic really, really poorly. Anyway, my branch has not yet reopened, so I filled out an online contact form and got an email from someone and ended up freezing my membership for now while I figure out what I want to do. You can freeze for up to one year. Good luck!

    2. Barbara Litt says:

      POOLS REOPEN SEPTEMBER 30!!

    3. Tamara Litt says:

      Otf is reopening too!

    4. Larry says:

      Crunch on West 83rd is open for business

    5. Jay says:

      “The West Side YMCA reopened on Tuesday, September 15th with updated hours for routine cleanings.”

      The West Side Y opened the gym but not the pools, basket ball courts, racquet ball courts, or the saunas and steam rooms.

    6. Rick says:

      Has the Gertrude Ederle Rec Center on W60 reopened?

    7. Steevie says:

      I belong to the NYSC. The club I always used was the one on W. 80th between Broadway and West End. This is still closed, but is supposed to open soon. In the meantime I have been going to the NYSC on W. 73rd between CPW and and Columbus. The first time I arrived I spoke to the girl at the desk. She said that whatever I want to do is fine with her. If I want to suspend my membership for a few weeks or even until January she will do it for me and will waive the suspension charges. She also said I could come in and work out and if not happy she will suspend my membership without charge right there. The club is seriously impaired with the showers, steam and sauna off limits. Adjacent exercise machines are taped off. They have even put the water fountains and scale off limits. But it is still possible to get a good workout.