Although gyms many countries have been forced to close in the face of the coronavirus, Sweden has kept the doors open for business as usual.
Swedish gyms have taken additional precautions by limiting how many people can occupy enclosed areas, encouraging people to keep a safe distance from each other, and sanitizing equipment.
Insider talked to a fitness instructor and a gym-goer in Sweden about their experiences at the gym during the pandemic.
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As countries worldwide have implemented mandatory lockdowns in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sweden has experimented with a different approach, keeping everything from restaurants to gyms to schools open.
Although many Swedes are working out as usual, gyms have added extra hygiene measures and social distancing rules. While these could offer insight into how gyms might open in the rest of the world, Sweden has a unique culture that may make it difficult for their approach to work elsewhere.
Insider talked to two people in Sweden — one in a small rural community, the other in Stockholm — about what their experience has been like working out at the gym during a pandemic.
Gyms have taken precautions like limiting class sizes, spacing equipment, and emphasizing hygiene
Throughout the pandemic, gym-goers have continued to go to the gym as often as before the virus, according to Srour Haddad, a fitness instructor at Korpen, a chain of fitness and recreation centers, in the 5,300-person town of Orsa.
Haddad said he still goes to the gym regularly on weekdays, and has noticed many other people doing the same.
“It’s just normal, I don’t see that much of a difference,” he said.
His usual routine includes cardio (on a treadmill, rowers, or ski machine) and then strength training. His classes consist of what he describes as a mild version of CrossFit.
There have been a few small changes since the pandemic, Haddad said. Many gyms have put up signs asking that customers to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, wipe down equipment with sanitizer before and after use, and keep a distance of about 6 feet from each other.
He said that fitness classes at his gym are limited to just four people at a time when they’re an enclosed space like a fitness studio — larger group classes have been moved outdoors to better allow social distancing.
“It’s an essential part of the culture to be athletic,” he said. “It’s integrated into the society, part of the daily routine.”
In more populated areas, some gyms did shut down for about two weeks in mid-March in response to the virus, and moved a majority of their programming online, said Filip Stojanovski, a gym-goer in Stockholm who works out at SATS, one of the biggest gym chains in Sweden.
They’ve since reopened, but emphasize that people stay home if they’re not feeling well or otherwise think they might be ill, Stojnaovski said.
It’s become harder to get into classes too, since the numbers have been limited. Previously, classes that had allowed up to 20 people now allow only 10, and Stojanovski said they’re nearly always booked with a waitlist for people to sign up.
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Sweden’s approach might not work everywhere
Not everyone has been willing to continue their fitness routine as usual. That’s certainly the case for Stojanovski, who opted to exercise outdoors until the end of April.
“Personally, I didn’t dare to go to the gym in the first month and a half,” he said.
Now, Stojanovski said he typically goes to the gym twice a week, instead of five to six times as he previously did, and makes an effort to finish his workout and leave as quickly as possible.
“There is definitely a change in how comfortable I am at the gym. I try not to even go into the locker room and shower,” he said, noting that common areas like locker rooms seemed less crowded, suggesting other people might be employing the same strategy.
Haddad said that even as American gyms reopen, and likely employ many of the same strategies, Sweden’s approach has been unique in that most people exhibit a sense of trust and duty toward their fellow gym-goers. He said that Sweden has a culture of being more conscientious about following the rules, a phenomenon Business Insider previously reported on.
“I don’t think that Swedish gyms have had a radical approach to this situation, it’s just that people are a bit more mindful and careful,” he said. “It mostly comes down to gym-goers feeling that sense of social responsibility.”
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