Fitness centers reopen to build muscles, lift hopes

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Mike Ackerson was forced to move his workout routine to his yard when Florida closed gymnasiums and fitness centers as a precaution for COVID-19. After spending weeks stretching from a rope tied to a tree, he was one of the first to return to Anytime Fitness at the Pointe Shopping Center when the restrictions were lifted May 18.

It was a crude, yet effective way for him to keep his body and mind busy during the shutdown. Like so many others, Ackerson was thrilled to work up a sweat and feel the burn return to his muscles.

“Weights are my thing,” Ackerman said. “I’m thrilled to get back. It was a happy day when they opened.”

The president gave states the latitude to unlock the doors at fitness centers on May 11, but Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to extend the lockdown for another week to make sure there were significant guidelines to protect residents.

According to Anytime Fitness manager Deanna Yu, members didn’t seem to mind the extraordinary steps required to limit the spread of the deadly virus.

“The day we opened, we had a line outside,” she said. “Even with all the new rules, everyone seemed happy to be back. We were used to seeing the same people every day. Exercise is so important to release endorphins. People want to feel normal again.”

Yu said the initial step was setting appointments and limiting capacity to 50%. Workouts lasted just 45 minutes, followed by a 15-minutes of scrubbing and sanitizing every piece of equipment.

Every-other cardiovascular machines like treadmills, stair climbers and ellipticals were shutdown to assure a minimum of six feet of separation.

As of last Monday, members now have 24-hour access to resume their fitness routines.

“We constantly wipe everything down,” Yu said. “People already are used to it. Everyone was pretty good at wiping things down after they get off a machine. Now it seems like everyone is even more aware of doing it.”

Yu said one of the biggest setbacks are workout buddies not being able to high-five or shake hands after several grueling sets.

Aerobics classes resumed last Monday at the Marsh Landing Fitness Center.

“Every day we’re doing a little more,” said Diana DeWees, the director f recreation and fitness. “Everybody’s glad we’re opened again. Some are being a little hesitant, but we’re letting people know what we’re doing here. Everything is disinfected.”

DeWees said she expects the club’s pool to be reopened soon.

Like Ackerman, Trent Shepherd created a variety of homespun drills to keep himself in shape during the shutdown. But nothing compared to pumping iron again in a controlled environment.

“I have a big yard, so I swung a big hammer, lifted center blocks and flipped big tires,” he said. “When they reopened the gyms, it was music to my ears. On a scale of one-to-10, it was a 10. It was hard to beat the feeling.

“A lot of people didn’t have an outlet. This is a great help. Your mental outlook is just as important as your physical outlook.”

In between wiping down barbells and yoga maps, Yu said she’s heard a lot of stories how her members tried to stay in shape.

“People got creative,” she said, “but it’s not the same as having a dumbbell in your hand.”

And certainly more affective than dangling from a rope in the yard.

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