Indoor Workout Classes Are Now Banned in DC. How Are Fitness Studios Dealing?

"If anything is an essential business [during a pandemic], it's fitness."

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When Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on November 23 that she would enact new restrictions that cancelled—among other things—indoor fitness classes, DC studio owners were taken aback and confused.

“It came out of nowhere,” says Maddie Watkins, who owns the downtown DC strength studio 202 Strong. As Covid cases rose in the region, Watkins had a suspicion that some restrictions were inevitable. She just didn’t think they’d target her business so specifically.

While studios are no longer allowed to host indoor classes, traditional gyms can still operate. And, perhaps most vexing to studio owners, indoor dining is allowed to continue, albeit at a lower capacity.

“I don’t understand the logic,” says Watkins. “I know that the mayor is trying to do what’s best for the city, but to me, the science and the facts didn’t match up.”

Watkins argues that working out in an indoor studio is safer than dining inside, as her clients are masked the entire time and confined to specific zones. At 202Strong, no equipment is shared, she says, and everything is thoroughly cleaned between sessions. And, for what it’s worth, Watkins says she hasn’t had any known Covid cases pop up at her studios.

Neither has Elevate Interval Fitness owner David Magida, which makes him equally frustrated by the new restrictions.

“I understand what the city was attempting to do. They were attempting to deal with bad optics and an assumed source of spread,” he says. “But the only thing they accomplished was effectively hurting small fitness studios without actually increasing safety.”

In an open gym format, it’s harder to control where folks go, how they sanitize their equipment, and to ensure they’re always wearing masks, says Magida. But because it’s the only viable way for fitness spots to operate right now, Magida has transformed his 14th Street studio into an open gym-style space, allowing clients to use the equipment in shifts. Watkins has done the same.

Meanwhile, other studios like Logan Circle’s Cut Seven or Park View’s Sweat DC are surviving by hosting outdoor classes, which are now capped at 25 people. And then there are those who flouted the rules: Solidcore owner Anne Mahlum publicly denounced the Mayor’s new restrictions last week, and continued to operate classes at her DC studios. After a visit from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Solidcore announced Monday that it would temporarily close its DC locations.

No matter the studio’s response, the verdict is the same: These restrictions will hurt the small, locally owned businesses. “We will take a hit financially,” Watkins says. And this is on top of the impact the pandemic has already had on her downtown DC location, which used to be frequented by office-goers.

Magida agrees. Just over a week into the new restrictions, Elevate has already seen an “exodus” of clients, he says, which is especially troubling when folks should be prioritizing their health.

“If anything is an essential business [during a pandemic], it’s fitness. It’s keeping people healthy, and their immune systems high,” he says. “This should be one of the most essential businesses that there is.”

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.