Gyms remain empty in Bengaluru while maintenance costs surge

Sunil S. Shetty, 24, has been a gym regular for the past 10 years. Working out is an essential part of his life, “like brushing my teeth”, he says. He missed going to the gym for five months during the COVID-19 lockdown. Home workouts – lacking in equipment and trainer advice – wasn’t a sufficient substitute.

Three weeks after August 5, when gyms in the city were allowed to re-open, Sunil resumed training at a fitness studio in Nagavara. But it’s not the same experience.

“With the pandemic still on, working out at gyms isn’t the same as it used to be. We need to adjust,” he says.

Sunil, however, seems to be an exception. Fitness trainers and gym owners say most customers haven’t returned. Their relief after the post-lockdown resumption was momentary.

“Business is almost as bad as it was during the lockdown,” says Dinesh Kumar, fitness manager of Plej Fitness in Panathur. The daily footfall in his gym has plummeted from 300 before the pandemic to 20 at present. At the same time, the cost of everyday maintenance has surged.

As per the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare guidelines, gyms have to reorganise their space so that people can maintain a distance of six feet from each other. They also have to stock up on disinfectants, sanitisers, and face shields, among other things.

“I hired two people just to clean and disinfect the gym,” says Vikram Rao, owner of Muscle Kraft Fitness Studio. Up to 12 people can work out simultaneously at his 2,400 sq.ft. gym as per the guidelines. But less than 25 people turn up every day.

Quadz Fitness trainer Pradeep A. says, “Footfall is down from 300 to 30. There are no new subscriptions. Even renewals have stopped. We used to have a target of about ₹5 lakh a month. Now, doing business of ₹30,000 seems challenging. Most trainers, who left for their hometowns during the lockdown, haven’t returned as they can’t sustain themselves in Bengaluru with what they will earn now.”

Gyms are sharing photos and videos of the cleaning and physical distancing to reduce anxiety among clients.

“But some people don’t come due to family pressure. They either have an elder or a child at home,” said Vikram.

Plej Fitness halved their subscription rates to attract customers, but to no avail. “Many of our customers were IT professionals who live in nearby in PG accommodation. Most of them work from their hometowns now,” says Dinesh, “We keep calling and messaging those who live in the city. But they don’t come due to safety concerns. We can’t persuade them after a point. More than the actual safety, it’s a mental block.”

Vikash Gupta, who used to work out four times a week at his gym in Yelahanka, cites the daily rise in cases and the death toll. “On one hand, you see pictures and videos of people cleaning your gym, which are reassuring. But on the other hand, you see the number of COVID-19 cases increasing every day. Maybe, it will take a month or two before I can have the confidence to go to the gym again.”

Vikram, along with the other gym owners and trainers, hopes that the new year will bring a change in fortune. “That’s the best time for us. People take up new resolutions and a lot of people sign up. We are expecting a lot of people to join and re-join gyms.”

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