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Fitness industry flexes its muscles

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The peaceful demonstrations led by FitSA, the association of health and fitness clubs in the country, saw gym owners, workers and members with their banners at the gyms.

The fitness industry embarked on a nationwide protest on Wednesday against the continued closure of gyms in the country. Gym owners, members and staff shared pictures of their demonstrations on social media, calling for government to allow them to resume operations.

Durban – The fitness industry on Wednesday embarked on a nationwide protest against the continued closure of gyms in South Africa.

The peaceful demonstrations led by FitSA, the association of health and fitness clubs in the country, saw gym owners, workers and members with their banners at the gyms while others took to the streets.

The industry has not been operating for the past five months after the country went into lockdown.

Gym staff arrived at gyms, took pictures with their placards, posted them on social media, and also got in their cars and drove around with placards in their windows.

FitSA spokesperson Grant Austin said gyms were ready to open and workers were ready to go back to work.

Austin said two sets of studies showed that more than 80% of people were enthusiastic about getting back to gyms and clubs around the country.

“It’s a wrestle with time, with circumstance, and with a pandemic that is dependent on building strong immune systems, staying fit and keeping healthy. August marks five months without gyms, and that means five months without work for the fitness industry. For some, it means five months without the mental sanity that gyms offer,” he said.

According to the association, more than 29000 people were employed by the industry at approximately 1096 gyms across the country.

There were also more than 2.2million people with club memberships.

The association said about 80% of gyms faced the possibility of a permanent shutdown if they remained closed.

Last month, it was reported that Virgin Active announced that it would cut the salaries of its more than 3000 staff members by 75%.

Durban-based fitness instructor and personal trainer, Sihle Mkhwanazi, said the past five months had been difficult for him and his family.

Mkhwanazi said although he was trying to make money by training his clients via Skype, it was just not the same.

“This lockdown has been the worse period of my life.

“I have a family that is dependent on my income and I made sure that there was food on the table.

“Now I just get maybe two clients a week, and I’m no different to an unemployed person,” said Mkhwanazi.

He said he was scared of the possibility of being retrenched as the industry battled to stay afloat.

Austin said the club experience would be markedly different in order to adhere to the stringent health and safety measures.

“The industry’s call is that South Africa fight the virus with gyms open, and with the choice for members to improve their immunity and emotional and physical well-being.

“Covid-19 co-morbidities are diabetes, hypertension and obesity, and all are addressed with exercise. Obesity is now the single biggest indicator of a bad outcome if you get Covid-19.

“It means more deaths, ICU time, the need for ventilation. A total of 95% of deaths from Covid-19 are people over 60, but only 5% of our member base is over 60,” said Austin.

“Our members have worked hard to build their immune systems, they are now being compromised.”

The Mercury