Like all public spaces where people gather, fitness centres and gyms may fuel the spread of viral illnesses—including coronavirus.
Some Kenyans are staying clear, others are exercising under new guidelines from fitness instructors and a few gyms have temporarily closed down.
Dr Florence Njenga says that coronavirus spreading at the gym is not very likely if one simply washes their hands.
“However, putting a hold on the gym exercises is a no-brainer and in the grand scheme of things, not being able to go to the gym is not so dire,” she says.
As the globe slows to a precautionary halt, the World Health Organisation has not urged people to avoid fitness centres but there is hysteria surrounding being in enclosed spaces where the virus, heavy breathing, and warm, moist air are commonplace.
Dr Njenga says that gyms are always too full of people and there are many surfaces that could be contaminated.
While gyms such as the Nairobi Serena and Radisson Blu, have temporarily shut down, others have upped their hygiene levels.
Gym-goers have been asked to come with their own towels and yoga mats, water bottles and use hand sanitisers at points of entry.
Some are taking their fitness classes to the Internet as other trainers hustle to arrange travel times and new schedules to accommodate home visits or small outdoor classes.
Arnold Oyuru, a physical exercise for beginner’s specialist at Mofit Kenya in Nairobi says he has not seen a sharp decrease in the number of gym-goers since the coronavirus outbreak began.
However, he says, trainers are sending out exercise routines to their clients, informing them of how they can carry on while at home.
Patrick Namwamba, the owner of Saints Health Club in Nairobi says that they have put in place measures such as stopping use of the steam rooms.
“We now have more disinfectants in the changing rooms, aerobics studio, and treatment room. There is also no more shaving of beard in the washing area,” he said.
Mr Namwamba adds that they have also developed a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cardio workouts with demonstrations and privately broadcasting them to their clients while looking at possibilities of live streaming of group workouts through social media.
In Mombasa, Times Health and Fitness Centre has closed, employing a wait-and-see approach.
Another fitness centre, Inshape Fitness Kenya has stepped up hygiene messaging and measures.
Wahida Bayusuf, the director, says they have increased the level of cleaning and hygiene but “if things are not good, closing temporarily will be the right thing to do.”
In most gyms, fitness equipment and barbells are wiped down every two hours.
Gym goers are avoiding contacts such as hands-on assists and high-fives with instructors, which have been replaced with elbow bumps or Namaste bows.
During yoga, participants are encouraged to maintain a distance from each other.
At Nyali Executive Gym, Mathew Mathe, an instructor at the gym, says there has been a low turnout.
In a yoga class of 20, on Monday, where participants had been asked to come with their mats, only five people showed up.
However, Jane Njoki still braves the treadmill and stationary bike at her gym. She avoids the dumbbells and other machines. She says she is less anxious about going to the gym because the management is taking the coronavirus threat seriously.
She also uses hand sanitiser every time she touches a piece of equipment.
“It is hard for me to stop coming to the gym but if more coronavirus cases are reported, especially in Mombasa, I will stop. Now I bring my own disinfectant wipes, mats, and towels. One thing we should practice even after the pandemic is washing our hands, and wiping down our weights or yoga mats after we use them. Such vigilance should continue,” she says.
Home workouts are the safest bet for those anxious about gyms.
There are a lot of workout videos online uploaded by fitness enthusiasts from all over the world.
Gyms such as Inshape Fitness Kenya have introduced custom exercises and nutrition advice through a mobile application available to its members. Users can customise their schedules.
Instructors will also start hosting workouts on Facebook and Instagram Live. They are also putting together videos for people to use at home.
“On the application, we already have recorded videos and members can refer to them while working out even away from the gym. We want to be able to there for the people in case of anything,” said Ms Bayusuf.
Using things like resistance bands, jump rope, exercise ball, light dumbbells, kettlebells and push-up bars one can follow a routine that works for the whole body.
Furniture and other items commonly found around the house can be used to complement the routines. A sturdy chair, for instance, can be used as supports for triceps dips, Bulgarian split squat, Russian twist, arms circles and planks, and a low couch can be used for lunges.
According to Mildred Otieno, a fitness instructor, home workout requires body weight and sometimes simple items like water bottles which can be used instead of weights.
In place of a kettlebell, get a heavy water container, with a handle, and get started on push presses.
“Be creative and think outside the box if you don’t have home equipment because with bodyweight you easily get to a plateau stage. You can take the 1.5 litres bottles and fill them with water then you use them to do the biceps curls and shoulder press,” said Ms Otieno.
Other exercises include rope skipping, mountain climbers, star jumps, planks, and squat jumps. Ensure you perform 10 to 12 reps of each exercise. Also, choose stair climbing over elevators. Climb stairs up and down for 15 minutes, do basic stretches and one round of push-ups.
“You can use music as a motivator. Exercise boosts moods and the immune system especially now,” she added.
Mr Oyuru, however, adds that fitness enthusiasts avoiding the gyms should talk to trainers before they start home workouts.
“Not all exercises work for everyone,” he said.
Moses Okoit, a personal trainer gives examples of stools, couches, beds, and walls that can be used as alternatives to gym equipment, especially for first-timers working from home.
Working from home has its disadvantages as one tends to eat more and spend many hours on the couch.
“First-timers can use walls or small stools to do 10 reps of push-ups; do straight leg raises and side bends for their cores and traditional squats, and hip thrusts for their lower body. Add jumping jacks to this and you’ll be breaking a sweat,” he says.
Pro exercisers can begin with 15 reps push-ups and shoulder taps, followed by the same number of plank push-ups or Russian twists, then jumping squats and jumping lunges,” he says.
Repeating this several times will result in a full-body workout.
And like the gym workouts, do not forget the basics, Mr Okoit advises.
“Begin with a warm-up, finish with a cool down, and be careful with your posture and form to avoid injuries,” the personal trainer says.