Several Ballarat gyms have urged the state government to reconsider plans to keep them restricted until the 'last step' of the COVID recovery plan.
According to the roadmap released last week, indoor recreation facilities like gyms and fitness studios will not be allowed to open when regional Victoria moves to the second step at 11.59pm on Sunday - however, when new case averages and mystery case thresholds are met, they can open but will be "heavily restricted".
While Premier Daniel Andrews has heavily hinted regional Victoria may be able to take two steps at once if numbers remain low, the lack of clarity is stinging gym operators, particularly those in the middle of expansion plans.
In Delacombe, D2E Gym has been operating for several years, and plans are under way to open a second location in Ballarat's north-east.
Last week the gym's owner, Eric Morris, urged his clients to sign a petition calling for the state government to reclassify gyms as an essential service.
"I think some clearer directions will come out in the coming week or two, but the initial reaction (to the roadmap announcement) was pretty poor," he said.
"We were hoping to be open next week, and it might not happen until November for all we know - we're ready to rock now.
"We're ready to go to adapt to any rules or regulations they want to impose, we did that last time and we did it well.
"How many transmissions have happened from our industry?"
Mr Morris said apart from the physical health benefits, the government should acknowledge how important gyms can be for mental health as well.
He added the business had already heavily invested in COVID-safe equipment like hands-free sanitisers.
"We were averaging 5000 disinfecting wipes a week (before stage three restrictions restarted), I was ordering the maximum amount of boxes I was allowed to order - that was costing me $700 a week, just in wipes," he said.
"When they did the face mask thing, there wasn't a whole lot of clarity about wearing one or not, so we just made it mandatory unless you physically couldn't and that got rid of the ambiguity, I trained with a mask on to lead the way - it was working fantastic.
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"People said the gym felt like the safest place in the community because everyone's doing all they could to keep it open."
Another gym looking forward to reopening is Fernwood Fitness - owner Lee Squire said she and her team had adapted to restrictions but the gym was a place for people to connect.
"The minute we got shut down, that first week I made sure we could rent out all our equipment to our members and built a community immediately, and that secured the business and all the stakeholders - my team and my members," she said.
"Come hell or high water, we're going to last the game, we just had to find some new strategies.
"It's enabled us to find other services to best support our members, and continue to add growth and value to their experience at every touch point we can."
Virtual fitness classes have been popular and added new options for some members - particularly those home-schooling children or working from home, she said, but there will also be focus on creating a safe place for when people want to return in-person.
"There's members chomping at the bit - last time, so many new ladies who joined because they were done with being locked up," she said.
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"There's also quite a percentage who are concerned about their safety and wellbeing, and we get that, we're encouraging them to come in quieter times so they can feel safe, and just see what it feels like when you step in the door, when you're ready, you're ready."
Both Mr Morris and Ms Squire said they intended to stay positive while waiting for the go-ahead to welcome people back in.
"The gym is probably something that should be open more than ever to deal with the other restrictions that we have - having the gym as an outlet, it doesn't exist at the moment," Mr Morris added.
Remember to always maintain good hand hygiene, wear a mask when in public, and keep a 1.5 metre distance from others at all times.
Right now there are only four reasons to leave your home in Ballarat during stage three restrictions: care and caregiving, local exercise, shopping for necessary items, and for work or study if you are unable to do so from home.
Victoria Police are enforcing restrictions, and penalties apply.
Anyone with the slightest symptoms is urged to get a test immediately, and must self-isolate until results come back - book online at bchc.org.au or phone 4311 1571 to make an appointment.
For more information, visit the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services website, or phone the hotline on 1800 675 398 for advice if you are displaying symptoms.
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