Keeping fit in a pandemic: How a new Highgate gym is tackling the coronavirus crisis
PUBLISHED: 13:19 02 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:21 02 September 2020
Fitness fanatics around the UK would have seized the opportunity to pump some iron as soon as the government gave the green light for gyms to reopen.
I think they did, anyway - but I’d also take a guess there were a lot of people unsure about what that meant for safety in a partially locked-down world and with the global pandemic still hitting headlines on a daily basis.
That’s why, when the Ham&High was offered a free fitness class with F45 Highgate in order to see its stringent cleaning regime first-hand and write a review, I jumped right in.
The Gordon House Road gym hoped to open in January, but planning delays and the Covid-19 lockdown meant it had only been open for about two weeks when I joined on a Thursday evening for a class called Red Diamond.
READ MORE: How a coding school, gym and skincare company have adapted to the pandemic
It is a resistance-based workout with a key on an exaggerated overload - yikes.
Attendees are asked to turn up ready to work out to reduce contact in the changing rooms, have their temperatures taken and shoe-soles sanitised on arrival.
Every workstation is taped off, with individual weights, to ensure only one person touches the equipment during the workout.
The classes are also reduced to 18 participants to allow for proper social distancing.
This all seems sensible - back when the coronavirus lockdown came into force, immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi told Sky News gyms are a “high-risk” location for spreading Covid-19, due to all the panting and sweating.
At the same time, keeping fit is important, with Public Health England reporting obesity or excessive weight increases the risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19.
Additionally, a study of 1,300 UKActive’s member sites found the infection risk to be low - since they reopened on July 25 only 17 out of eight million visitors tested positive for the virus.
In F45, which uses a group exercise combined with personal training model, we are following a screen - one to each pair - to see what exercise to do next, while trainers circle around to check form, be motivational and attend to each person’s needs.
The class is taken by head trainer David Templer, who was hired in December 2019 to help set up the gym and runs many of the classes. He is also a top gymnast who has competed for Team GB and a former marketing employee at O2.
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“I hated corporate life, I really didn’t like it,” David explained. “I had a fitness background but I just thought I was doing what I had to do.”
During lockdown, he was filming regular online fitness classes for the gym’s early-bird members - people who had signed up before opening.
But David is glad to be back: “There are such strict rules, which is good for the members because they feel safe and secure coming in here, and it’s good for me because I couldn’t do Zoom anymore.
“I got into PT (personal training) to PT people face-to-face.”
F45 is an Australian franchise which stands for functional training in 45 mins - David tells me F45 Highgate is even planning on hiring a live DJ on Saturdays when social distancing measures are reduced.
“It’s about helping people to achieve their life goals,” David added. “That’s what we do.”
He points out there are no mirrors in the floor because it is a “no-ego” space, which is big enough for a 32 people in normal times.
Now with nearly 100 members, owner Paul McGrory has lots of ideas for the gym, including starting a class for teenagers.
He said: “It would be good to educate them about proper exercise and teach them how exercise and fitness fits into your schedule, proper nutrition, how we rest and recover and particularly how you benefit from that.”
Paul, who also gives NHS workers a 20 per cent discount on ongoing membership to thank them for working on the frontline during the pandemic, is also hoping to raise cash for charity Guide Dogs with fundraising in the future.
David is also running the London Marathon, now postponed for amateurs until next year, to fundraise for Children with Cancer UK.
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He has also agreed to take on a marathon in Kenya for the Tusk Trust, a wildlife conservation charity for Africa.
I come out of the class feeling sore - I think that means I worked hard enough. I also came out impressed with all the measures put in place for safety in this strange new world we are living in.
Membership at F45 Highgate costs £220 a month, a 10-class pack is £200, or a single class is £25.
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