Gym owners responsible for Alberta’s COVID-19 high-intensity rules, no ‘out-of-breath’ workouts

Click to play video: 'Alberta gym owners confused over eased COVID-19 restrictions'
Alberta gym owners confused over eased COVID-19 restrictions
The province has allowed gyms to hold low-intensity group activities, but many owners say they don't know what that actually means. They say the new rules are subjective and they want more clarity. Fletcher Kent has more – Mar 2, 2021

On Tuesday, Alberta officials clarified new rules in Stage 2 of the province’s relaunch plan, which allowed gyms to reopen for low-intensity group and independent workouts. Stage 2 rules went into place immediately after the announcement was made on Monday.

According to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, those who run fitness facilities in the province will be primarily responsible for ensuring their patrons and trainers are following the new guidelines.

“It is going to be the gym owners who are going to be able to work with the patrons and be able to interpret (the rules),” Shandro said.

“The definition for intensity  — high intensity, low intensity… (is) whether there’s a significant increase in your respiration.

“Here’s how I interpret it: If you’re out of breath it’s high intensity, if you’re not out of breath, it’s low intensity.”

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Click to play video: '‘If you’re out of breath, it’s high-intensity’: Alberta health minister on COVID-19 fitness restrictions'
‘If you’re out of breath, it’s high-intensity’: Alberta health minister on COVID-19 fitness restrictions

The new gym rules in Alberta mean group classes like yoga, Pilates and dance can be held by appointment or pre-registration only. Physical distancing must be in place. Weightlifting and low-intensity use of treadmills and ellipticals will also be allowed.

The only circumstance where high-intensity activities are permitted in gyms will be one-on-one with a trainer.

“This is an important step forward that allows gyms and fitness businesses… to reopen and offer many of their services,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

“(The new rules) have imposed some responsibility on gym owners, to carefully monitor their businesses and make sure that folks are are staying COVID safe.”

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Click to play video: 'Hinshaw clarifies COVID-19 restrictions for fitness facilities in Step 2'
Hinshaw clarifies COVID-19 restrictions for fitness facilities in Step 2

Rather than set a numbered capacity limit for facilities, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said having physical distancing standards — three meters between individuals — is “more flexible and responsive to the spacing and configuration of individual workout areas.”

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“Our current health measures still allow for outdoor physical activity in groups of up to 10 individuals distance by two meters, no matter the intensity,” she said. “This remains a great alternative for those who don’t want to work out indoors or who may not be able to book an appointment at a time that works for them at their nearest gym.”

Hinshaw and Shandro said the goal is compliance, providing education and support for businesses to operate within the public health orders.

“Penalties would only be used when there are intentional and repeated violations of safety rules,” Hinshaw said.

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Gym owners worried about ‘confusion’ around rules

Emily Slaneff, the owner of CrushCamp in Calgary, said Tuesday she is worried the new rules are confusing because they could be different depending on the person.

“What’s high intensity for me might be low intensity for you,” Slaneff said. “You can have two people doing the same workout side by side, and have very different experiences between the two of them.

“The problem with asking business owners to enforce unclear guidelines is that it creates an unclear playing field,” she said. “Then, when public health inspectors come along to ask questions or try to keep the businesses accountable as they should… No one really knows what that means.”

Laurie Plouffe, who owns Propel Performance Institute in Edmonton, said she agrees the guidelines leave a lot of questions.

“It’s very confusing because high intensity and low intensity is also very subjective,” Plouffe said. “As is heavy weightlifting and light weightlifting. It depends on the person. It depends on their skill level.

“It’ll just be really making sure (the clients are) doing things properly — doing things slow, and being really clear with communication with clients.”

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GoodLife Fitness, which runs dozens of clubs in the province, said in a memo that it would be keeping an eye on those who use the equipment in its Alberta facilities.

“Our associates will be monitoring the cardio and free weights area to ensure that members are not engaging in high-intensity activities,” its statement said. “We kindly ask that you use your best judgement to respect these guidelines and treat associates with kindness and respect if they ask you to adjust your workout accordingly.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Confusion and questions after Alberta eases restrictions on gyms'
COVID-19: Confusion and questions after Alberta eases restrictions on gyms

Decision was made after consultations, B.C. success

Alberta’s top doctor said the decision to allow for gyms and other facilities to open for by-appointment, low-intensity activities follows the success B.C. has seen with a similar COVID-19 rules around types of physical exercise.

“We know that COVID-19 spreads in droplets and when we are engaged in high intensity activities… our breathing rate gets faster — we know that we produce more droplets and increase the risk of virus spread,” Hinshaw said Tuesday.

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She added the decision to adopt that model for reopening gyms came from consultation with the fitness industry.

“This empowers operators to tailor their programs for clients to calibrate their services to the activities that will improve fitness while minimizing COVID-19 risk,” the chief medical officer of health said.

Shandro said the rules were changed to “make (Alberta) more aligned with that’s happening in B.C.”

“We’re asking people to keep themselves safe, keep everybody else around them safe, keep the patrons safe,” Shandro said. “Everybody wants that, the gym owners want that as well.

“They were looking for more to be done more to be allowed in their facilities and that’s exactly what we did hearing that feedback from them.”

Gym owners in Alberta had been calling for the rules in the province to be loosened. Some gyms said they were losing tens of thousands of dollars a month from being unable to host group workouts.

Kenney said there have been “a lot” of submissions from the fitness industry to Alberta Health over the past several months around safe operation amid COVID-19.

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“What they asked for was, this responsibility and these parameters,” Kenney said. “And we hope that it demonstrates their ability to get much of reopening to do business.

“We understand as well, the case that gym and fitness business owners have made about the link between physical and mental and emotional health. And so this hopefully will also help many of their clients and customers.”

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