Are Outdoor Fitness Classes Safe During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

In addition to the fact that instructors and class participants weren’t required to wear a mask during their workouts, health experts believe that the large class size, small space, and intensity of the workout were all factors that played into the high rates of transmission. (In fact, no class participants in a low-intensity yoga class ended up testing positive.)

“Granted, people weren’t wearing masks and it was in an indoor space,” Dr. Wong says. “These people were just dancing, but they were breathing heavily, which made the risk of transmission very high.”

Are outdoor fitness classes any safer?

Just like outdoor dining, health experts say that outdoor fitness classes are much safer than indoor ones because they allow for better airflow and ventilation. This can better disperse respiratory droplets, potentially reducing the risk of them landing on your mouth or eyes, or on surfaces that you may touch and then transfer to your mouth, nose, and eyes. It also likely reduces the risk of airborne transmission as well.

Humberto Choi, M.D., a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic who treats COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, adds that the breeze—which aids airflow—also plays a role in making outdoor classes a safer option.

That’s why many gyms and studios have begun offering outdoor offerings. For example, the Fhitting Room, a HIIT studio based in New York City, recently started hosting outdoor classes in Central Park, Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, and on the rooftop at Showfields.

Plus, SoulCycle is offering its indoor cycling classes outdoors in Hoboken and Short Hills in New Jersey; Hudson Yards, Bridgehampton and Montauk in New York; Union Market in Washington, D.C.; downtown L.A., Santa Monica, and Manhattan Beach in California, among others. And if you’re in the mood to dance, 305 Fitness has 45-minute outdoor group classes in New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

Health experts say that while the risk of transmission isn’t completely eliminated with outdoor fitness classes, it’s significantly lower.

“If you’re outdoors, the risk is not zero, but it is much lower than indoors,” Dr. Weisenberg says. “Exercise and heavy breathing may increase this chance, but it should still be low, as long as you are outside and social distancing is maintained. Mask wearing can further reduce this risk.” (More on this later.)

How can you stay safe in an outdoor fitness class?

While generally speaking, an outdoor fitness class is going to be a safer option than an indoor one, all outdoor classes are not the same in risk level—and there are some things in your control (and some in your gym’s) that can make them safer or riskier.

Location and setup is one of these factors. For example, some classes might claim to be outdoors on a rooftop, but it’s actually on a rooftop that’s semi-covered, Dr. Wong says—which brings up the whole ventilation issue again. “That may not be as safe as a completely open rooftop, so people need to be mindful of those,” she says.

The smaller the outdoor class is, the better, says Dr. Wong. But the amount of spacing between participants matters more than its total size, Dr. Weisenberg says.

While the CDC recommends maintaining at least six feet apart from other people in public settings, health experts advise farther if possible. Chances are you’ll be moving in all types of directions during class, which can shorten the distance between you and the next person, so it’s best to spread farther apart if you can.

“Six feet is not a magic number, so a little extra space beyond that would provide incremental additional protection,” Dr. Weisenberg says. “Ideally, it would never be less than six feet, but if that happens, the less time you spend at a closer distance, the lower the risk should be.”

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