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Fitness Lobby Pays Off as Restrictions on Gyms Lifted

Andy Berg

A strong lobbying effort and some inside connections at the White House have led to fitness gyms being included in Phase One of the government’s master plan to reopen the economy.

According to CNN, Life Time Fitness founder Bahram Akradi had been pitching governors and the Trump administration on what he calls a "comprehensive, multifaceted tactical plan" to fight the coronavirus and rebuild the economy. As a result, Akradi is now on one of Trump's economic recovery working groups and participates in conference calls with the president. 

Meanwhile, companies like Equinox, SoulCycle, Planet Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and others got behind entities like IHRSA in a collective effort to make sure the fitness industry wasn’t forgotten. 

While the efforts were admirable, nothing was set in stone, and no one knew what to expect when the president revealed his guidelines for "opening up America again" last week. The fact that gyms were included in the reopening plans was a surprise to many.

Related: Small Gym Owners Say Their Businesses Are 'Essential' 

"We just really lucked out and were able to get our message into a couple of the right people's hands," Meredith Poppler, a top official at IHRSA, told CNN.

In recent weeks, IHRSA launched a massive effort to keep the fitness industry in Washington’s sights. The association hired more lobbyists and pushed messaging that argued that maintaining physical fitness would be an important part of fighting the pandemic.

Related: CEO: Unplug Cardio Equipment to Encourage Distance

"We were as surprised as anyone when we saw President Trump announce the three phases and that gyms were in the first phase," said Poppler.

Jim Worthington, an IHRSA board member and a member of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, told CNN he couldn’t take credit for the plan to include fitness gyms in Phase One of the reopening plans. 

"I think it's been a collective effort," he told CNN. "I think there's been a handful of people and not just patting myself on the back, but I may be one of them."

In an April 17 letter to president Trump, Worthington and IHRSA president and CEO Joe Moore thanked the White House for the inclusion.

Regardless of the green light the fitness industry has been given, most larger fitness franchises say they’ll be taking the next steps with caution. While Georgia may have announced an accelerated timeline for reopening its businesses which includes lifting restrictions on gyms this Friday, large franchises like Planet Fitness say they still have no set date for reopening clubs in the state.

Orangetheory, meanwhile, told CNN that it will wait until May 11 to open select clubs in Georgia, and SoulCycle will also refrain from opening on Friday.

Gold's Gym, which recently announced plans to close a number of facilities for good, is also proceeding with caution.

"There still hasn't been a final guideline given to us as to how we're going to reopen," said Adam Zeitsiff, the CEO of Gold's Gym.

Gyms like Planet Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness say they plan to use the company’s mobile application to check people in at clubs as a way of reducing contact. 24 Hour Fitness says it will open its gyms in 60-minute sessions, followed by 30-minute cleaning periods.

Jim Rowley, CEO of Crunch Global, told CNN that having the restrictions lifted is great news but also noted that reopening isn’t as easy as unlocking the doors and letting customers back in. Crunch Global is actually investing in special cleaning procedures that aren’t cheap.

"We're spending — and this is the tough part," Rowley said. "We don't have any revenue but we're having to spend money to reopen on labor, hiring new staff members, having more hours for janitorial disinfectant and buying products that are more expensive thinking about safety."

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