MONTREAL -- For 71-year-old Bernard Rivest, online exercise classes may have given him a workout in the first couple of months of the pandemic, but they didn’t really replace going to the gym.

But this week he discovered that simply arriving in the vicinity of the gym was enough for him—even if he stayed in the parking lot.

Tuesday was the first day back at Jimmie’s Training Centre in Mount Royal, in a sense. Like all gyms in Quebec, Jimmie’s been closed for months and it doesn’t have a green light to reopen.

But the gym caters to people 50 and over, and the owners decided recently that they needed to offer their customers something, even if it lacked polish.

So on Tuesday, Rivest found himself on the asphalt, exercising with a small, well-distanced group. It still hit the spot, he said.

 “I like to come here, you know,” he shrugged. “I can have my smoothie instead of doing it in my kitchen, so it’s nice and it’s fun.”

In the outdoor setup, everyone has their own equipment and all of it is disinfected regularly.

“They can do ‘semi-privates’ outside, which means that there's a maximum of three people where they get their own program, and then they can also join a class with a maximum of six people,” explained Ali Le Pierrès, the gym’s founder.

“Of course, the whole time everyone is keeping their distance.”

Like Rivest, other customers said the strange outdoor workout still felt like it had the essential ingredients of the gym experience.

“Although I’ve been doing classes online at home, it’s different to be out,” said another client, Judy Richardson. 

Online, “you don't have the social aspect of the gym, which everyone really enjoys here.”

Still, not every gym has the outdoor space to set up the way Jimmie’s has done, which has kept other gym owners frustrated that the government has given them no reopening date

One gym in Quebec City decided to defy the public-health regulations and recently reopened anyway. 

“My gym is very, very clean, my friend,” Dan Marino, the owner of Mega Fitness, told CTV News. He says his clients already disinfected the equipment after each use, before now.

He said he’s more afraid of losing his business than of getting a fine.

“It's very difficult right now,” he said. “If we don't reopen right now, maybe it's bankrupt[cy] for me and many people who have gyms in Quebec City.”

Last week, gym owners demonstrated outside the national assembly in the provincial capital. At the time, Quebec’s public health director said the government was working on a plan and weighing the risks gyms pose for coronavirus transmission.

The owners of Jimmie’s say they’d love to be able to open their doors again, too, but in the meantime, they can live with using their extra space to sweat it out outdoors. Ironically, the spread of COVID-19 has only motivated people to try to stay in shape, they said. 

“Especially for our clientele, for people over the age of 50, this pandemic has just shown even more how important it is to be healthy,” said Le Pierrès.