Gyms Are Misleading Members About Coronavirus To Stay Afloat

Some gyms are relying on questionable studies to claim it’s totally safe to work out indoors.

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Is it safe to go back to the gym or not? Unfortunately, that’s more of a loaded question than some gym operators want customers to believe. 

According to a report from Inside Hook‘s (IH) Tanner Garrity and the Washington Post, research firm MXM and the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) are getting blowback from allegedly spreading “misinformation” about the real dangers of contracting COVID-19 while you’re working out.

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 More from Inside Hook:

According to a collaborative study released by the two agencies earlier this month, the ratio of COVID cases in health clubs from May through early August was 0.002%, or “statistically irrelevant.” But researchers have been quick to point out both irresponsible interpretations of the data and conflicts of interest.

Chief infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Chicago Medicine Emily Landon tells the Post that “This study doesn’t answer that question” of whether gyms are really safe or not.

The problem is that the study in question was based on data culled from individual self-reporting and state health departments. The big hole here: These methods basically take it for granted that there is accurate contact-tracing in place. And it might be an understatement to say the US is still working out the best way to do that.

As IH notes, that “gray area is convenient for MXM and IHRSA.” It lets gyms off the hook, basically. 

Franchises witnessing what the pandemic has done to their business as a whole—gyms that have filed for bankruptcy include 24 Hour Fitness and Gold’s Gym—have taken this rope and run with it. Inside Hook mentions Planet Fitness, Life Time, LA Fitness and Orangetheory. 

As far back as late August, Orangetheory was touting the study as gospel, rather than just one data point. Sociologist and Orangetheory member Alicia Smith-Tran took issue with the franchise pushing IHRSA’s findings, tweeting the following thread:

The takeaway here is this: Don’t base decisions about returning to public places that by definition will be full of aerosolized sweat and airborne drops of saliva on just one study that might be skewed toward the interests of those who own the facilities. 

The gym can be a great getaway after months stuck at home, and fitness is on everyone’s minds after quarantines—but it might be a serious, even fatal mistake to readily assume it’s safe to go just because the gym owners say so.