New Jersey is sweating again as gyms reopen after five-month shutdown

With motivation, masks, and energetic music — gyms, and fitness centers in the Garden State reopened for the first time in five months since the pandemic started.

Mason Merrill of Westampton (right), works out with trainer Angelo Prince at Tenacity Fitness in Hainesport, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Mason Merrill of Westampton (right), works out with trainer Angelo Prince at Tenacity Fitness in Hainesport, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The sound of weights clanging, runners on treadmills and motivating bass-thumping music is once again being heard in gyms across the Garden State.

As ordered by Gov. Phil Murphy, gyms and fitness centers were allowed to reopen Tuesday after being closed for more than five months to help control the spread of COVID-19. Protocols under an exhaustive executive order include capacity being limited to 25%, equipment placed six feet apart and masks worn at all times.

When the executive order was officially issued Aug. 27, Tenacity Fitness in Hainesport, Burlington County, was about a month into making preparations for how they would reopen.  After a few adjustments, they were ready to open. Steven Schaff, one of the managing directors of the gym, said they were excited to get the doors open.

“Not surprising, a lot of our regulars have been chomping at the bit to get in here,” he said. “We also had some new people too which was great.”

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Schaaf said he wants to get the gym back to where it was before March 17 while staying within the guidelines. The months that the gym was closed were tough, but support from members kept things going.

Steven Schaaf of Tenacity Fitness in Hainesport, N.J., welcomes back members as New Jersey gyms are allowed to open for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Our members were incredibly supportive. We had a lot of people pay us just to support us because they know we’re a small business,” Schaaf said. “Even the members that couldn’t afford to pay us, they sent a lot of well wishes and were there for us emotionally.”

Tenacity Fitness has operated in an industrial park for eight years. Equipment within the 8,000 square foot warehouse has been placed six feet apart; the distance marked on the floor by the gym’s initials ‘TF’ in green, per the governor’s orders. When members arrive, they have to disinfect their hands with sanitizer, get their temperature checked, then sign in on a contact tracing log should anyone contract the coronavirus.

While their doors were closed, the gym offered virtual fitness sessions. They pivoted toward socially distant outdoor classes when the governor permitted those in late June.

“It was pretty brutally hot,” Schaaf said about when they began to offer the sessions.

Melissa Hess, a member from Cinnaminson, was joyful that the gym reopened. She credited Schaaf for adapting to the closure to keep the gym going.

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“He didn’t go to sleep when all of this happened, he flipped into what we can do differently and better,” said Hess who was sympathetic to why gyms and fitness centers closed.

“I think we did absolutely the right thing to protect people,” she said. “if you understand the science of this pandemic, one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system is exercise and there are some people who will only do that in a group environment.”

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