By Shyam Sundar Vattam
The deadly COVID-19 has devastated many sectors and the fitness industry, especially gyms have been the hardest hit. After nearly six months, the Government of India gave the green signal to re-open gyms from the first week of August. In our city the turnout of members has been a less than 40 percent, much to the disappointment of the gymnasium owners.
Most gyms, which were once lively, filled with fitness enthusiasts and workout music, now look deserted with only a few fitness conscious members occasionally turning up for their routine workout. Flexible batches are available, but people are not coming forward. Rebates are offered but there are no takers.
“Our sector is hit so hard that it may take many more months to recover. Hardly 40-45 percent of customers are coming to the gym. “People are under the impression that they will get the Coronavirus if they come to gymnasium. Despite following Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) as directed by Union Health Ministry, still people are not ready to come,” bemoaned Shama Rao, a leading fitness trainer who runs ‘Synergy’ Gym in the city.
Shama Rao, who is also a the fitness trainer for the City’s KPL team, Mysuru Warriors, says another reason for poor attendance is that after COVID-19 outbreak people found alternate ways to stay fit and healthy without visiting the gym. With plenty of fitness equipment available online at discount rates, the health buffs just workout at home. There are also a number of fitness apps available online which one can download and follow to maintain basic fitness.
Speaking of the revival of the industry, he says that the only hope of revival for the fitness industry is after a vaccine or cure is available.
Shama Rao says, almost 200 gyms have closed in Bengaluru and in Mysuru, quite a few have shut and more will do so as memberships are not being renewed which means no money to pay salaries of trainers, rent, electricity and worse, EMI for the equipment bought on loan for the gym. “We have fallen on hard times, we may very well be the worse hit industry by COVID,” adds Shama Rao.
In Mysuru, many gyms are offering heavy discount to woo people and even that idea is not working out. What is making it even harder is that most gyms are losing time and money, as they have to sanitise every piece of exercise equipment after use, which means more staff, chemicals and time. So, while admission has hit the bottom, the cost of maintenance has hit the roof.
M.S. Harsha, President of the newly formed Mysuru Gym and Fitness Owners’ Association, and owner of Arnold Fitness, said once the flourishing industry is now begging for survival. He says around 10 gymnasiums closed down in Mysuru as they were unable make payments and now even after re-opening, hardly 50 percent of the members are coming while the rest are waiting for the vaccine to come.
Harsha says earlier they used to have separate batches for young, old and kids. Now, people above 60 years of age and the kids below 10 years are not allowed. Also besides gym equipment, he says most gyms used to have Yoga sessions, Karate classes, Dance practice in their gyms; now all that has been stopped since March and does not look like it will start anytime soon. But he says, he hopes in a month, youngsters will come back as colleges re-open.
“Most gyms in city are giving a lot of importance on “distancing” and allowing only three to four persons into to the gym on appointment basis. But with no sign of new registrations and minimal hope of old memberships being renewed, some gyms have even started offering a three-day free entry to anyone who is interested to workout! Anybody can walk into any gym in the city and take free training for three days. The idea behind this is to create health consciousness among the people. Workout helps develop good immunity to fight Corona” says Harsha.
Most gyms in city seem to have prepared themselves for low attendance till at least December, but if it does not pick up after that, as one gym owner said, “it’s time for us to pack up, and time for people to workout in parks and in their living rooms.”
But he adds, “Gyms will not disappear. Gyms will come back. Gyms are like Clubs, instead of meeting to drink or eat, here people meet to be fit and enjoy working out with friends. Gyms are an important part of a community’s social fabric, while it promotes fitness it also bring people together and builds camaraderie. So gyms will come back, we just have to have patience.”