By Darren Doak, National Field Manager for The Training Room
As we prepare for gyms to reopen across the UK, starting from the 4th July, there are many practical tasks to undertake, such as reorganising equipment on the gym floor to enable social distancing regulations to be met, implementing new, ramped up cleaning procedures to create and maintain the most hygienic environments possible, and ensuring staff members have the necessary equipment to protect themselves and members at all times. Of course, there are many more.
For Personal Trainers (PTs) re-entering facilities after months of operating remotely through virtual platforms, and more recently outdoor sessions, these practical measures will be of utmost importance and a large part of the ‘new normal.’ But what about the emotional side of stepping back into the gym? What needs to be considered from both the client’s and PT’s perspective to ensure a successful return for both parties?
While some people will be bursting to reunite with their gyms, trainers, and fellow members, others will be more apprehensive. Research by YouGov shows that just 30% would feel comfortable going back. In contrast, a survey by Savanta ComRes, in conjunction with Sport England, found that 87 per cent of current gym members are likely to resume their memberships and 27 per cent of people without health club memberships are likely to join.
It’s important to recognise that even those who appear confident about making their return may still have hidden concerns. As PTs, we need to be thinking about the assurances we can give to all our clients. How can we show them that we’ve taken the situation seriously, placing their safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything we’ve done, and will do?
A great way to demonstrate this is by completing a training course on Covid-19 awareness, such as the one offered by the Virtual College. Many of these courses are free and can be completed online. You’ll learn about the signs and symptoms of Covid-19 and how to stop the spread of infection to ensure the safety of your clients and other gym-goers.
Taking this a step further, you may also like to take a disease and prevention or Mental Health First Aider certification to further enhance your knowledge and credentials. By highlighting that you are ‘Covid safe’ and someone who is focused on the holistic (mental and physical) health of your clients, it will prove that you are not only following the recommended hygiene procedures, but also someone that cares about their all-round wellbeing – offering them further reassurance.
When gyms reopen, we need to be thinking about the emotional wellbeing of our clients and their varying personalities, fears, and confidences.
Other than lockdown, which we’ve all had to endure, some clients may not have been directly affected by Covid-19, remaining in good health and eager to return to their facilities. However, some clients may be heading back with a strong sense of fear after suffering from the virus, having lost someone close to them or simply being concerned about their health and the health of others around them. We need to be emotionally equipped to offer support, using our skills of emotional intelligence – such as listening, empathy, and recognising body language – to understand each person’s situation and to handle this in the right way.
The internet has been awash with information and advice for gyms and fitness professionals throughout this period of gym closures. It’s tempting to put on the blinkers and ignore the whole lot (I’m guessing you’re not one of those if you’re reading this), but doing so could be to your detriment, giving your competition a leg up. Therefore, if you haven’t already done so, what articles could you read, webinars could you watch/attend, or online training could you take in these final few weeks before reopening to put yourself in the best position possible to bounce back?
For example, could you look at nutrition for people with compromised immune systems, or how to train people outdoors or with limited equipment?
Another aspect of preparing yourself academically is keeping yourself in the know with regards to the developments around Covid-19. Have you signed up to receive the latest news and notifications to keep up to date with the regulations and recommendations being shared by the government and key industry bodies, such as ukactive, CIMSPA, and Sport England? Knowledge is power, and by taking a proactive approach to prepare yourself academically, you’ll be sure to stand out from the other PTs who haven’t put in the same effort.
During lockdown, many people have become accustomed to using technology at home to feed their fitness appetites, from workout classes on Instagram Live and Zoom to connected fitness equipment boasting ever-expanding libraries of on-demand content. Technology has become part of the ‘new normal’ and should remain a focus for PTs moving forwards. Ignoring it could result in being left behind.
With that in mind, the day of the ‘traditional PT’ has almost certainly gone. When gyms reopen, they will welcome back thousands of ‘hybrid PTs’ – those who took themselves online during lockdown and are now more than comfortable operating both in the real and virtual worlds. Half face-to-face, half online. But, why is this so important?
It goes back to my earlier point about people having different comfort levels. Some clients may not be ready to jump straight back into their ‘pre-lockdown lives’ and may wish to do this more gradually. Using technology, such as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or your facility’s virtual hub, can help you to stay in contact with these more cautious members, continue providing them with a service, and ease them back into the gym environment at their own pace. These clients will appreciate the care you’ve shown towards them throughout the process of reintegration and, consequently, will be more likely to stick with you longer term.
Therefore, my advice would be to keep building on the digital skills you’ve acquired during lockdown and use them to good effect to link home and gym and keep your members engaged.
A phased return?
The UK government has enforced a phased reopening of schools. Are you going to take a similar approach with a phased return to gyms? If so, what will that look like? How will you integrate your face-to-face sessions with your virtual sessions?
Of course, every PT’s situation is different and each gym will have its own plans and protocols for reopening, so how will that affect you? Will you be able to go back full throttle straight away, or will there be specific rules and timescales you must follow?
Health and safety
We all know that health and safety is a bit of a dry topic, but it’s now more important than ever and needs careful attention.
Before you re-enter the gym and start training clients, make sure you’ve done a health check on your business and new risk assessments to counter for Covid-19.
Talk to the gyms you work in to understand the risks to you and your clients and the procedures in place to safeguard everyone’s health and wellbeing. Where does the duty of care for you – as the trainer – end, and the gym begin? Do you need to invest in equipment – masks, gloves, antibacterial spray – or at what point do you need to start supplying your own PPE?
If you haven’t heard from your venues (which, by now, is probably highly unlikely), don’t wait around. Ask them if there is an action plan for reopening and your return to work. Preparation takes time, so you want as much of it as possible!
If you work at your own facility, you’ll need to prepare a health and safety policy, plus a statement or information sheet for your members/clients to establish clear expectations so that everyone understands their responsibilities in maintaining a safe environment. If you need support with this, there are some great organisations that can help, such as The IFBA.
Lastly, could you do some extra studying around health and safety to bring yourself up to speed on the latest guidelines – linking back to preparing yourself academically? Remember that it’s just as important to protect your own health as it is your clients, and the more you know the better.
We often think about self-care – one of the industry’s current buzzwords – as teaching our clients how to look after themselves holistically by enhancing their physical and mental wellbeing, which is going to be really important as gyms reopen.
From a PT’s perspective, returning to work is the cause for much excitement, but it is likely to be physically and mentally challenging for the reasons covered. Often we’re seen as immovable objects, fonts of all knowledge, and ‘rocks’ for other people (I see you nodding along), but we must remember to practise what we preach, especially now. PTs need self-care too!
The reopening of the UK’s gyms can’t come soon enough! But when this happens, it’s essential to remain mindful of the effects this pandemic has had on people’s lives and the way it has shaped their behaviours, expectations, and fears – both in terms of the way they consume fitness, and feel about the world in general. It’s the PTs who focus both on the physical and mental health/emotional sides of reopening that will be in the best positions to succeed.
For more information about The Training Room’s Personal Training qualifications, CPD courses, and tutors, visit: www.thetrainingroom.com