Indoor gyms reopen with limited capacity
Fitness fans hit the gym indoors for the first time in months on Wednesday as red tier restrictions allowed fitness centers to open indoors at a limited capacity.
Santa Barbara County’s updated tier status went into full effect Wednesday morning, prompting indoor reopenings at local businesses, restaurants and gyms, unlocking previous restrictions that barred operations in hard-hit business sectors. According to red tier restrictions, gyms in the county can now operate at 10% capacity indoors.
For Stephen Stowe, owner of Bond Fitness on Carrillo Street, the return to indoor exercise is a welcome change after a tumultuous pandemic year.
When the Santa Barbara gym shut its doors for months last spring, Bond Fitness trainers took to Instagram Live to broadcast workouts and keep members engaged.
When they were allowed to meet in person again last summer, Bond Fitness staff moved equipment outdoors in the gym parking lot and out to East Beach to provide members a safe place to get their workout in.
Though this provided members a safe opportunity to exercise, Mr. Stowe said the move indoors is a “game-changer.” The gym’s phone was ringing off the hook Wednesday with new and returning members “ecstatic” to exercise indoors after having outdoor-only options for most of the pandemic, Mr. Stowe said.
“The outdoor workouts we’ve been providing have been exceptional, but there’s nothing like being indoors and having access to all the equipment,” Mr. Stowe told the News-Press.
Small indoor workout classes and access to equipment resumed at Bond Fitness on Wednesday, but the gym will still offer outdoor workout options for those who do not feel comfortable going indoors, Mr. Stowe said.
“We’re meeting everybody wherever they’re at,” Mr. Stowe said.
Other area gyms, such as Santa Barbara StarCycle, are following this same approach and plan to offer hybrid options despite the ease in restrictions.
During the pandemic, StarCycle in La Cumbre Plaza moved their spin classes from the studio into their outdoor courtyard. While this worked for members, co-owner Kayla Neal said both instructors and members alike are excited to make the move indoors. The gym plans to begin offering both indoor and outdoor classes on Monday.
StarCycle’s indoor studio is dark and candlelit, providing more privacy for members during their workout, Ms. Neal told the News-Press. This level of privacy was not available during outdoor workouts and will be a welcome return when indoor workouts resume.
“We do have members that really missed the anonymity in the dark room because we are so exposed outside,” Ms. Neal said.
The start of the pandemic had a “borderline catastrophic” effect on StarCycle as the gym lost many memberships in the first few weeks of lockdown, Ms. Neal said. Yet, the gym bounced back quickly, as memberships rose in the middle of the pandemic.
“The fact that we’re still standing is a real testament to the support we have from our membership base,” Ms. Neal said.
For so many people, the pandemic robbed any sense of normalcy and wiped out future plans. It’s for this reason Ms. Neal believes people turned to the gym for comfort.
“It became people’s social outlet, not just a workout,” she said.
While a number of gyms are embracing the ability to move back indoors with open arms, some owners remain hesitant.
Kyle Visin, co-owner of Rise Up Fitness at 2273 Las Positas Road, has no plans to change any of the gym’s protocols despite the county’s tier shift into red.
When the pandemic started, Mr. Visin and his staff created an outdoor workout area with equipment spread out to accommodate members wary of working out indoors.
Thus far, gym members are pleased with Rise Up’s outdoor accommodations and were relieved to learn they would be here to stay, Mr. Visin said. He added that the Santa Barbara gym’s membership even grew past its pre-pandemic numbers because of the unique outdoor workout space.
“Even though we are allowed to operate indoors, most people still feel much more comfortable outdoors,” Mr. Visin said.
He later added, “I would say we will try to remain outside until mask mandates are fully lifted across the county and California and life has returned to how it felt pre-COVID.”