We’re spending the next few weeks catching up with businesses in the fitness and health sector that are looking to bounce back from the coronavirus lockdown. First up is Steve Nash, the owner of Faultless Fitness in Hereford.

1) With the go ahead given for gyms and fitness centres to reopen from 25th July, do you think this is enough time for businesses to get their venues COVID safe?

My answer is Yes and No. Do we have the potential as an industry to make them safe by 25th July? Not unless we started to get ready for it ahead of being told last week. Do I think that by the 25th will the rest of the industry have had the chance to get themselves COVID safe ready for August? Yes.

Since we have a lot of high-risk members, we have had to be extra cautious. We have had a COVID-19 protocol in place since before the lockdown like timed sessions, closing the changing rooms, limiting the number of users at any one time. But with what we have learnt since, we have now added additional measures like buying special masks with anti-viral/microbial layers and a fluid repellent outer layer that prevent aerosol droplets from spreading. 

As you can imagine, with my specialism, studying medicine as a Physician Associate and already being a qualified Sports and Exercise Scientist this has played on my mind a great deal! A large section of my client base was shielding and so they are relying on me to make my facility safe. That trust is a heavy burden because if we get it wrong then we are running the risk of hurting some special people that we care about.

That being said, the industry as a whole has been itching to get back to work for a month or two now. If I am honest, it wasn’t a stance I agreed with as rushing back earlier than this point would have been counterproductive. Even now I am on the fence for a few different reasons.

The first is that COVID19 is an airborne virus. It is thought that it spreads mainly through larger water droplets that are coughed out or breathed out. These can either be breathed in if you’re not socially distanced or land on something and contaminate it and then that gets touched and transferred to the mouth of someone else. This is where cleaning and social distancing come into play and have done a good job. The lockdown also meant that anyone infected literally couldn’t transfer it to anyone else and so the virus started to dissipate in the general population. However, it was still at an R rate of 1 at unlock, which means that once more hosts became available, because social distancing reduced and lockdown ended, it could have started to propagate and spread again. By the time 25th July arrives, we will know whether or not this is the case. 

A new hypothesis is currently being explored that suggests that COVID19 can be spread by smaller droplets called aerosol. When we breathe we generate aerosol and until now we thought it couldn’t spread the virus. This aerosol hangs in the air (indoors) for up to 3 hours and this presents a very difficult challenge for the industry.

As we all know, when we exercise we breathe really heavily. We generate a ton of aerosol and water droplets in the air around us. This is an issue in itself. Add to this that most of the cardio equipment is turbine resisted or has rapidly moving parts that generate wind current, and we get a nightmare. Droplets and aerosol that would normally fall within 2m-8m are now being blasted by a turbine across the entire gym. No amount of social distancing is going to reduce this and cleaning the floor and kit is bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The current PHE guidance is that if a COVID positive case comes into the facility then we have to shut down and deep clean. The issue with this is that it takes 3 days for that person to become symptomatic. Worst case scenario they’ve used a gym 3 times in that time period and potentially contaminated the air for 3 hours each time (if that turns out to be true). The gyms will be cleaning after every session so the likelihood of cross-contamination is minimal but it doesn’t mean the air is clean. The idea that we suddenly have to shut down and clean for the 17th time since that person came in seems a little strange but there we go. In the current advice, we will fall short simply due to the risk of aerosol. We are trying to stop contamination without fixing the source. It is like trying to stop a boat sinking by bailing out the water without plugging the leak.

Up until this point, the lockdown was the plug. Now that’s gone, as an industry, we need to think about how to plug the leak. At Faultless Fitness I reviewed the science behind this and have decided on making face masks a term of service. If you come down to us then you have to be wearing the approved mask. We have actually had a mask made specifically for exercise with 2 anti-viral/microbial layers and a fluid repellent outer layer. You’ll be able to breathe through it fine whilst exercising (with a bit of modified intensity exercise) but we are aiming to reduce the spread drastically to make the facility safe for all the people who come down who have shielded. It is to protect them as well as our healthier clients.

Recent studies have shown that a stitched mask can reduce vapour down from an 8m spread to 2 inches when coughing (much higher velocity than breathing). That means that if someone is infected then it stays in their mask. Any spread will be minimal and will be kept low velocity and hit the floor and kit which is cleaned after use and the whole facility is going to be sprayed nightly with an antiviral on top of all the standard measures such as social distancing and hand washing.

The industry is currently made up of 2 tiers of facility. There are the high-density gyms, that run on affordable memberships in big numbers and provide some great kit for people to use, and then there are the High-spec facilities, these run on their capacity to deliver results to special populations and utilise their vast experience and/or training to achieve it.

My fear is that the high-density gyms may seek to provide minimum investment in protection and no thought about these advanced risks. I know several other of the high-end facilities locally and nationally have been in touch with me to discuss the measures with me after we wrote an article about it earlier in the month.

So, can they be ready by the 25th? Unlikely unless they have ordered their masks or made people get their own. Can they be ready relatively quickly? Yes if they set a mask standard and make people bring their own.

2) Fitness and a Healthy Lifestyle are extremely important. What do you offer your clients? 

I should probably explain something first. A lot of people look at the gyms and just see personal trainers when really a lot of personal trainers have vastly different skill levels and qualifications. Where we differ is that all of my coaches have a degree in their relevant field as well as their PT qual. For example, as a sports and exercise scientist, I specialised in advanced sports nutrition, strength and conditioning and exercise physiology for health before studying medicine as a PA so I can understand the medical conditions my clients have in detail. My assistant coach Sian specialised in strength and conditioning with rehab so is perfect for making sure clients who come in do the prescriptions I write for them safely and properly. We currently also have a sports therapist on the team, Rosie, as part of our core staff so we all help each other out to share specialist knowledge and look after our clients together.

As a company, we offer personalised training and nutrition programmes for people who want and need to get healthier. We are not just a regular gym catering to people who are advanced or “gymaholics”.  We specialise in helping people who wouldn’t feel welcome or comfortable in that type of environment. We take people who are ill, getting ill or don’t want to get unhealthy but don’t know what to do or how to do it and I take them from the start of their journey right through to being very fit and enjoying their new quality of life. 

Most of my clients are between the ages of 30 and 75 with specific health goals and can be post-surgery, cardiac issues, overweight or obese, high blood pressure and other chronic illnesses and health challenges. We also work with athletes who want to improve their sports performance. For those who are not ready to visit a gym, we offer a pre-gym home workout. 

We have created a system that that looks at the client as a whole person. This was originally a system I designed for the purpose of helping the NHS to fight chronic disease but they were busy so we are now using it ourselves.

We start by testing the client’s current state of health and fitness and then we tailor make a plan for them that is specific to their needs. We then coach our client through all exercises every time they come in to make sure they’re safe and doing it right. We use an app to track everyone’s progress and our clients get additional support from our online community. 

Alongside this, we will put into place a nutritional framework so the client learns what food they need to eat to get healthier without drastically restricting calories.  This is a really important step and is the make or break of whether people achieve their results 90% of the time so it is a key part of what we do. 

We have spent lockdown improving the nutrition side so it will be even better when we reopen by creating a short course for our clients to undertake which actually teaches them nutrition so they know what they need to do to stay healthy for the rest of their lives. Every 12 weeks we retest the client to make sure they’re improving or if they aren’t we can then figure out why. This includes body fat tests and health tests using our wattbikes. 

If people aren’t ready for the gym yet (some people like to get fit before they even start) we have an online Momentum Kickstarter that needs no equipment and you can do at home. This gets you confident and ready to walk into whatever gym you want to go to at the end of it and learning the basics of nutrition along the way.

3) How have you found the support from the government and Herefordshire Council?

Actually, The support I have had has been amazing. If it wasn’t for the council grant and furlough scheme then I wouldn’t be operating now. It is still going to be a massive challenge going forward especially if the economy collapses after we reopen and I have no clients but I am looking forward to getting back to this!

Rishi really did us a favour with his help. 

The next issue for most industries is going to be the lack of spending money that our potential customers will have if they all lose their jobs or have to worry about that. The best thing that can be done to support all industries now, is to make sure that everyone has some form of income, if we hit a depression, until they find a new job.

4) Why should people join Faultless Fitness?

Well, if people are looking for just a gym they shouldn’t. Honestly! We have 28 spaces left after lockdown. The spaces left are specifically for people that after the lockdown have realised that fitness and health are key to their quality of life and want to make sure they continue to be able to enjoy life and get through whatever it throws at them. 

If they join us then they will be joining a clean and safe facility with a great community of clients who all help each other stay motivated and have a pool of trainers who want nothing more than for them to succeed.

Website – www.faultlessfitness.com