Students look off campus for fitness centers amidst COVID


Natalie Tyler

An indoor setting of the cardio gym at the Winona YMCA. Due to COVID policy changes at the fitness center, many students have chosen to go to different gyms in the Winona area instead of the IWC.

Kellen Brandt, features reporter

COVID-19 affected every student and facility at Winona State University all across campus. Specifically, the Integrated Wellness Center (IWC)has modified its operation significantly.

Jeffrey Reinardy, director of fitness and wellness at the IWC, oversees the fitness center organizing staffing, equipment, and the students who use the fitness center.

Reinardy talked about the changes the IWC has seen since COVID started.

“There’s definitely a change, COVID obviously interrupted everything since last March when we had to shut it down, Reinardy said. “When we did open back up, we were at 15ish percent capacity and we had some restrictions as far as spacing goes as far as needing to make reservations, social distance, and wear masks for everyone’s safety.”

Due to COVID policy changes, the fitness center, many students have chosen to go to different gyms in the Winona area instead of the IWC.

Clay Scheffler, a third year student at Winona State majoring in film studies and creative digital media stopped using the IWC and got an Anytime Fitness membership a couple months ago.

Scheffler did not think the COVID regulations at the IWC allowed him to get a good workout .

“I really just didn’t think I would be getting the full workout that I wanted at the IWC as opposed to Anytime Fitness where you just keep your mask on, clean your equipment and you’re able to use any equipment you want at any time,” Scheffler said.

Some of Winona State’s fitness center’s COVID guidelines are reservations for a 45-minute slot on one machine, reduced capacity, social distancing, and mandatory masks.

“We’re trying to make sure that we’re following all the protocols in place by MDH you know the Minnesota Department of Health, and the university itself as well as some aspects that go into that, so we basically have guidance from those areas and have to implement based on those restrictions,” Reinardy said.

Other gyms in the area have COVID restrictions as well, but are more accommodating to student’s workout needs.

Stacy Hermann, the owner of Iron Bluff Fitness explained the COVID regulations at her gym requires masks, social distancing, and a fresh change of shoes when entering the workout area.

“We’re just adamant about the sanitizing, people want us to stay open and they want us to be there and they know we’re struggling like everybody else, so we do not have to babysit per se, whether it be any age person people are wiping things down,” Hermann said.

Jillian Volk a third year social work major with a minor in woman’s gender and sexuality studies at Winona State, recently joined Iron Bluff and expressed her feelings about the COVID guidelines there.

“The one thing I really don’t like about Iron Bluff is that there are not a lot of regulations for COVID there,” Volk said. “There are signs saying, “wear a mask” and “keep distance” but no one really does it. Half the people that go don’t wear a mask at all. I’ve emailed the owners about it and basically not much they can do, but I think they can do more, they just don’t.”

Janneke Sobeck, Chief Executive Officer of the Winona location YMCA explained their COVID rules and their similarity to other gyms in the area and the IWC.

“Following Governor Walz’s executive order, which means 9 feet of distance between people working out at all times, we have a reservation system so we can keep under the capacity that fitness centers have and then masks are required unless you are in the pool and there are heightened cleaning protocols as well,” Sobeck said.

First year Winona State transfers, Cole Sunday and Kellie Hardecopf, playing basketball at the indoor YMCA court. To accommodate more individuals, the YMCA has added a membership upgrade that allows members 24-hour access. (Natalie Tyler)

Many students do still use the fitness center at Winona State, including second year, Ella Otto an athletic training major and Sydney Morales a third year nursing nursing major.

Otto and Morales used the IWC before and  afterCOVID precautions and expressed their feelings about the changes.

“I don’t really like having to reserve a time and a type of machine, but it is nice that they have a lot of other machines open,” Morales said. “I’m not too upset about it, but my only thing is having to reserve the time is kind of annoying.”

Otto also expressed her feelings on the reservation system and regulations at the fitness center.

“I know the restrictions to reserve ahead of time and clean equipment occurs at any gym due to the Governor’s orders, so I don’t find it frustrating,” Otto said. “It will be nice when the gym is able to open on the weekends and reservations will not be required, but I don’t find it to be too much of a hassle.”

Both Otto and Morales enjoy the proximity of the IWCand that it is already included in Winona State tuition.

While some students are frustrated with the fitness center’s new COVID precautions , Otto and Morales both appreciate the rules put into place.

“I love the IWC and the environment there,” Otto said “I have no complaints because I know that everything is being done to stay open for student use and to make the best out of an unfortunate situation. A lot of the rules and regulations are in the hands of people higher up on the chain and at the end of the day it is all for the sake of public health.”

Morales also appreciates the restrictions to keep students safe at the fitness center but does not enjoy the time length restriction.

“I appreciate the restrictions they have only one, the only one I sort of disagree with is having a certain time length that you can only be there because it’s kind of hard to fit all your workouts sometimes into that timeframe,” Morales said. But it’s nice that everyone has room, and everyone’s pretty spread out and they have a lot of sanitation bottles and stuff.”

Prior to COVID-19 Scheffler said he went to the IWC “all the time.”

Once some restrictions subside, Scheffler says he might go back to the IWC, it just depends on how many people come back and what restrictions get lifted.

“I’m sure I would probably go back, especially because I’m still paying for it, even though I’m not going,” Scheffler said.

Maddie Warder, a fourth year student majoring in communication studies and applied and professional writing, expressed her frustrations with paying for a gym membership to both Iron Bluff and for the fitness center.

“Still having to pay, when I now have to pay to use another gym is ridiculous,” Warder said. “If students opt out of using the IWC, they shouldn’t be charged the same amount or as much as they are.”

Warder does not use the IWC due to the COVID restrictions.

“The COVID regulations at the fitness center are not beneficial to the students,” Warder said. “Gyms have not been a number one factor in COVID spikes, so the over-the-top regulations at the IWC should be modified like other gyms in the area.”

A pattern in frustration appeared as Volk expressed her frustrations as well with the COVID regulations and fees at Winona State’s fitness center.

“I do not go to the IWC anymore because it got too complicated with the COVID guidelines,” Volk said. “I am very glad they are taking it very seriously, but it gets tough to stick to a routine and workout how you actually want to.”

For Volk, it “makes more sense” to go to Iron Bluff over Winona State’s fitness center.

“I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing but I don’t like that I’m paying out of pocket for Iron Bluff,” Volk said. “The regulations at the IWC make it harder for me to work out.”

The IWC has changed their hours from 10am to 6pm and are closed on the weekends. Student athletes and teams are able to use the fitness center from 6am to 10am.

“They [student athletes] have certain requirements that they are being asked to do by their coaching staff to prepare them to be able to compete at the level necessary part of the things that many of the athletic teams,” Reinardy said. “Our coaches are requesting their athletes get a workout in the fitness center itself.”

In order to accommodate teams, the fitness center has been blocked off for student athletes in the mornings so the rest of the student body can get into the gym for the rest of the day.

Reinardy said the scheduling choice is to encourage simplicity.

“The whole idea was to hopefully just eliminate all the athletic teams trying to schedule in throughout the entire day, and it just made it messy and giving the general student less opportunities to use the use the facility so we’re just trying to really figure out the best way for that to occur,” Reinardy said.

Other gyms in the area also have restrictionsbut have found other ways to bring students into their facility.

“At Iron Bluff the size, the convenience as we’re open 24/7 and probably the community feel even though you are social distancing, they still are in the atmosphere of like-minded people, they’re all there for a purpose, and yet they can also build off of each other, and they can still talk to each other draws the college students to us,” Hermann said.

At the YMCA, the hours are 5am to 8pm on weekdays and reduced hours on the weekends. To accommodate more individuals, the YMCA has added membership upgrade that allows members 24-hour access, so fewer people will be in the building at a time, but more members can get a workout in.

“The YMCA is inclusive, it is welcome to all, we try and make sure that there is something for everyone here, and we want everyone to feel like they’re part of the family, so I think that’s what separates us from other options when it comes to health and wellness,” Sobeck said.

Reinardy said the IWC staff and faculty understand that the situation with the wellness center is not ideal for anyone but emphasized the work the fitness center staff has done to find ways to accommodate all of the Winona State students.

“We have true empathy for the students who aren’t able to get all the pieces to their workout that they would like to because we know this is part of wellness,” Reinardy said. “It’s part of their mental health as well as their physical health, and I have true understanding and so with that we just really are hopeful that if we can just kind of live out the next few months with the burdens that we’re all being asked to bear, and hopefully next fall will look a lot brighter and look a lot more typical than what we’re accustomed to.”