Back to the gym: What it’s like to workout in Charlotte during the pandemic

Back to the gym: What it’s like to workout in Charlotte during the pandemic
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After five long months of being closed due to coronavirus restrictions, North Carolina’s gyms are now able to be open at 30 percent capacity.

There is no consensus on what’s right when it comes to going back to the gym. Some folks don’t feel safe; others do. And some have been back for a while now, thanks to a loophole that allowed gyms to open for folks with doctor’s notes saying they needed to exercise for health reasons.

[Related Agenda story: Charlotte’s gyms are barely hanging on]

Over the past week, we (Emma and Paige) went to four gyms in Charlotte to see what exercising during a pandemic is like.

We paid special attention to safety measures and cleaning procedures. But, bear in mind, our experiences are just a snapshot of the city’s large gym scene and only show short moments in time from the gyms we visited. We intentionally chose gyms and fitness studios with large client bases that offer different types of workouts.

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Dowd YMCA

Hey, it’s Emma. I joined the Y about 10 days before coronavirus arrived in Charlotte, but in those 10 days, I really loved this location. Most of the city loves it, too. It’s one of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s most popular branches. I visited the Dowd at one of the busiest times of the day — 5:45 p.m. on a weekday.

First impressions: Before you enter, there’s a staff member standing by the door with a contactless thermometer. Everyone walking in gets their temperature taken, and I didn’t see a single person not wearing a mask. A good sign. After that, I walked in as normal, scanned my Y card, and headed to the locker room. Road block: locker rooms are closed. Bummer, but there are still a limited number of lockers available for use near the cardio machines.

The workout: I’m really out of shape. Like I said, I only had this Y membership for 10 days. So in all of 2020, that’s about all I’ve worked out. I head straight to the elliptical machine, which is both my comfort zone and a great spot to observe the gym floor happenings. Every other machine is blocked off, and all pathways around the gym are marked with arrows so that paths don’t get too crowded.

Pros: Masks are required in all common areas, so basically anytime you’re not at a machine. Nearly everyone abided by this. There was at least one staff member pacing around the gym at all times doing head counts and ensuring individuals were wearing masks. Despite the gym being pretty busy, I felt safe.

Cons: When I peered over at the weight lifting area, very few people were wearing masks as they moved from machine to machine. And frankly, I get it. You’re sweaty, maybe taking a sip of water. It’s hard to enforce. Beyond the weights area, I saw four people without a mask in a common area. Not perfect, but pretty good.

dowd ymca mask sign

dowd ymca arrows


Charlotte Yoga Studio

Paige, here. I visited this popular yoga studio for an early evening class. Most of my pandemic-era workouts haven’t included anything more vigorous than neighborhood walks so I was a little nervous but excited, too.

First impression: Walking in I noticed that the woman behind the front desk wasn’t wearing a mask, but we were able to stay six feet apart while I checked in. During the check-in I signed what she called a “Covid waiver.” The waiver included a lot of legalese, and questions to make sure yogis weren’t exhibiting symptoms and hadn’t come into contact with anyone who had a positive Covid-19 test result.

The studio: The space was very clean and most doors stayed open to circulate fresh air. In the bathroom, showers were closed but there was plenty of space to wash hands/sanitize before and after class.

Once inside the studio, tape on the floor mapped where students should put their mats in order to maintain six feet between each other. Students also have the option to practice just outside the studio on a large patio where they can still see and hear the instructor.

[Related Agenda guide: 20+ Charlotte spots offering social distance-friendly workouts right now]

In person classes are limited to allow for additional cleaning time between classes.

The class: I was a little early for class so I was the first person inside the studio. As the other students entered, I noticed that I was one of two people who was wearing a mask. We both removed our masks once class started.

The class was small; there were only six of us, including the instructor. Once class started everything felt normal, aside from the fact that the instructor was also teaching students who joined the class online.

I felt safe throughout the class even without a mask. Yoga by nature encourages social distancing because students stay on their mats for the entire class. When the hour-long class ended, I put my mask back on and exited the studio. The only other person to leave with a mask on was the same student who walked into the class with one earlier.

Charlotte Yoga studio


Barry’s Charlotte

Alright, it’s Emma again. I’m a little jealous of Paige’s yoga workout because my class at Barry’s was hard. I went to the South End “Red Room” during my lunch break on a weekday.

First impressions: When I arrived a few minutes before my 12:30 p.m. class, it was just me and a couple staff members, all wearing masks. First, I got my temperature taken and signed a waiver, as it was my first time at Barry’s. The whole space was clean.

The workout: Three people were in my class. We spread out in the Red Room, which could hold 50 in pre-corona times. Now, the maximum capacity is 16. Once we got to our stations, we took off our mask. The first half of our class (about 20 minutes) was a mix of jogging and sprinting on the treadmill. Then we all exited the studio for a mid-class cleaning before we moved to the floor. Next, there was another 20 minutes or so of squats and planks and other moves my body was too out of shape to do.

Pros: The instructor, Chelsea, kept her mask on the entire time — even as she shouted encouragements and directions. The class was small so there was way more than six feet between us at a time.

Cons: Besides the workout just being plain difficult, Barry’s safety measures were impeccable. But I don’t know if I’d feel differently with a full class (16 people).

barrys red room

The Red Room at Barry’s. Normally it could hold up to 50 people. Now classes are capped at 16. When I went, I was one of three.

barrys temperature check

Getting my temperature checked at Barry’s.


Anytime Fitness Providence Road

It’s Paige again. The nationwide chain open anytime has all the gym basics. I was a little sore after yoga so I was glad to have a chance to set my own pace (read: do the bare minimum).

First impression: I went at around noon and was glad to see the gym empty. All doors were open to allow for fresh air flow. And all gym goers are told to grab a personal cleaning kit when they arrive so they can spray and wipe each machine, before and after using.

The gym: The space was very clean and the staff member inside was wearing a mask. Most gym members kept their masks off while moving to and from different machines, though they were still able to social distance.

About every other machine was either blocked off or moved to allow for more social distancing. Some of the cardio equipment was moved into the gym’s studio space for those who wanted even more space between themself and everyone else.

There were also signs up reminding everyone to social distance and to clean their equipment.

The workout: I stuck to the cardio area. It was nice and empty but also I’m not big into lifting weights. I kept my mask on until I started jogging, which felt fine for me since no one else was around.

After the cardio session I was able to check out a few other machines. Everything went smoothly, and I never had to come within six feet of another member.

Anytime Fitness machine


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