Gyms and fitness studios across the country are being forced to close from November 27 to December 11.
With darker nights and colder days making outdoor exercise less accessible than when restrictions were in force earlier in the year, many in the fitness industry are concerned with the impact this closure will have on them and their clients.
Conor Duffy has been a personal trainer for the last three years and currently trains in Anytime Fitness on Great Victoria Street, which has been allowed to operate since July.
He worries the restrictions could harm people’s mental health.
Speaking to Belfast Live, he said: “Anytime focus on being a community-based gym which gets people together but that all has been halted with classes being taken away.
“It was good to be able to keep some aspect of the business going, but classes are what get a gym pumping and now people just come in, do a workout and leave.
“I miss getting people in and getting to chat to them because, yes, they are your clients, but they become your mates as well.”
Although Conor respects the executive’s efforts to lower the R number before Christmas, he worries that the mental health aspect of training is not being considered in decision-making.
“The mental health crisis in Northern Ireland is a big issue and people come to gyms to alleviate stress and pressure and use it as a release,” he said.
“With England making gyms essential [they can stay open in all tiers], they recognise the importance of exercise for people’s mental, physical and emotional health and I think Northern Ireland should follow suit.”
Alongside working in Anytime, Conor also runs an online strength and conditioning platform Bia and the two-week closure will also stop his clients from being able to train unless they have their own equipment at home.
He said: “We can’t honour the services we said we were going to provide while gyms are closes and that in turn will also affect another element of my business.”
Cliodhna McMullan from CyroFitness Hub said they also feel “left behind” by the executive’s decision to close the gyms again and ban the operation of outdoor sessions.
CyroFitness bosses pride themselves on offering a hub for not only health but recovery too, offering a small studio gym with access to physios and sports therapists.
However, as the firm mainly offers a mixture of outdoor and indoor classes, Cliodhna feels discouraged by recent and upcoming restrictions.
She said: “Our biggest frustration is that we have held a lot of our groups outdoors since lockdown.
“We only train indoors in small groups of five, which was all socially distanced.
“With this new lockdown, we have now been banned from even doing that.”
When gyms reopned, CyroFitness invested in essential PPE and implemented safety measures such as taking temperatures at the door, wearing masks and sanitising equipment between every use to protect themselves and their clients.
“We feel we have tried to meet all the measures and we just keep getting pushed and pushed back,” she said.
“It’s sad because we feel our outdoor sessions are completely safe as no one is in contact or sharing equipment but we aren’t allowed them any more.”
She feels that training has been a major outlet for many people and with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, feels it has never been more important.
She said: “For someone who obviously lives and breathes the gym, I view it as essential for me and my members, too.
“We need to know what the plan is going forward because I was told that I was going to possibly be able to take classes from Friday and now we can’t even foresee business plans for the next year.
“It’s disrespect for an industry and its just sad more than anything.”
Family-run business Sloan’s Gym was grateful to stay open during the circuit-breaker but staff have missed the usual social aspect of their day-to-day operations which they credit as integral to their working environment.
Joint owners and directors Curtis and Johnny Sloan both said they have gone “above and beyond” to create a positive gym community in their first year of opening – and feel sorry for new members not being able to experience it to the same extent.
Johnny said: “Our gym is very social and it is all about family, so when classes were stopped it meant that everyone had to train alone.
“At the moment, everything in life seems to be very alone – you work from home alone and now you are gymming alone and it has sort of taken away from the whole family feeling of our gym, which was quite difficult for us.”
One aspect of Sloan’s Gym that they say sets them apart from others is their in-house café which provides different types of meal prep, protein shakes and more. But that was also forced to close over the last four weeks – removing another community aspect of their business.
Curtis said: “In many commercial gyms, you are just a number coming in, but in here you are part of the family.
“We definitely are an essential part of people’s mental and physical health and we put a lot of investment into PPE and making sure this place is safe, so to see it close after that is quite sad, but again our priority is people’s health.”
Anthony McKenzie, a PT in Sloan’s, said most of his clients come to him for mental health reasons rather than to alter their appearance.
He said: “This, for many of my clients, was the only thing they have control over in their lives as everything else had been taken away.
“This was their last bit of normality and now that’s gone so many of them will be finding that hard.”
Curtis added: “Our biggest thing is that for next year we stay positive and hope it brings good things for all.”
Explaining why it has taken the measures, the Northern Ireland executive said: “Following an increase in coronavirus (Covid-19) cases, additional restrictions have been introduced for people living in Northern Ireland.
“These new restrictions have been put in place to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and to help manage the pressures on our health and social care system.
“The single most important action we can all take to fight coronavirus, to save lives, and to help our Health and Social Care system cope with current pressures is to stay at home.
“There should be no household gatherings, other than those involving support bubbles.
“You should work from home if at all possible. Only leave for essential purposes such as education, healthcare needs, to care for others, or outdoor exercise.
“When we reduce our day-to-day contact with other people, we reduce the spread of the infection.”
For full details on the new lockdown regulations, go here.
-- to www.belfastlive.co.uk