MONTREAL -- Like their clients who have been unable to attend and tune up their bodies for nearly six months, gyms in Quebec red zones are working hard to get back to their former form.

While they are confident that many of their followers will be back when they reopen on Friday, despite limited capacity, gym owners will have to take several extra steps to meet health requirements set by government authorities.

"There was a lot of work on the human resources side because we had to re-train our employees, hire new ones, repair the mechanics of our training equipment, manage reservations for access and do preventive maintenance," explained Energie Cardio president Claire Tremblay.

Training room capacity will be reduced, adjusted to the size of each location. In the red zone, where about 60 per cent of the Quebec population lives, workouts are only allowed for individuals, duos or family bubbles.

So far, workout enthusiasts have been very enthusiastic in Quebec City, Trois-Rivieres and Saguenay, where Energie Cardio has already been able to reopen, explained its president, but as of Friday, 26 of the 27 establishments in the chain's network will be open, which will be a test of everything that has been set in motion in recent weeks.

The story is similar at Econofitness, which has already reopened 16 of its locations and is scheduled to reopen 51 on Friday.

In addition to a reservation system to manage traffic, the company intends to have more employees on the floor to ensure compliance.

"Our workforce will be about 15 per cent larger than before the pandemic (about 650 employees)," said Econofitness vice-president Renaud Beaudry. "They will be present to check that masks are worn and that the equipment is disinfected after use."


Well aware of the fears raised by the new variants and the possibility of a third wave of COVID-19 infections, the two companies are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping to avoid further forced closures.

Because while operations may resume across the province, profitability doesn't seem to be in the cards just yet.

"At first, it won't be the case because of the reduced capacity," said the Energie Cardio president, when asked about the profitability aspect. "There are a lot of extra expenses to offer a safe service. We're giving ourselves a 12-month period for recovery."

Beaudry said his company extended $1 million in June to allow its training rooms to welcome clients during the summer season until the forced break last September.

If there are no new closures, the Econofitness vice-president believes that it will take about six months for the company to get back on track.

Only after this period will expansion projects be considered in regions such as the Outaouais, Mauricie and Quebec City, he explained.


In an attempt to stay fit despite health restrictions, many people have turned to virtual training options. While both companies believe that these services are here to stay, they see them primarily as a "complementary" offering.

"People have developed habits at home, but the workout environment is hard to replace," said Beaudry. "The variety of equipment in a gym is very different from what you can get at home."

Econofitness has offered free home workout videos on its YouTube channel, many of which require no equipment. For those with paid subscriptions, the channel also offered spespecializedogrammes, ranging from pre-recorded workouts to live classes hosted on Zoom.

Energie Cardio went further by offering applications that provide access to virtual classes, training programs and telemedicine services.

"We completed our two-year strategic plan in four months because of the pandemic," said its president. "We have deployed three online platforms. We also added a booking platform in just a few months."

Tremblay said the virtual offering would remain complementary to the training room network. However, she said she believes that this segment could end up representing up to 25 Per cent of the company's revenue.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2021.