Fitness amid MCO 3.0: Bodybuilders concerned about keeping in shape while gym operators fear they may not survive at all

Gym-goers working out at Enrich Fitness centre in Ampang February 12, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Gym-goers working out at Enrich Fitness centre in Ampang February 12, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — Throughout the past year, gyms and other fitness studios have had to endure repeated and prolonged closures during the various movement control orders (MCOs) amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

While many of us grumbled about the disruption to our fitness routine and try to exercise at home, one group is finding it particularly hard to keep in form outside the gym: bodybuilders.

Reigning national bodybuilding champion Syarul Mike Mahen says that morale is at an all time low for him right now.

Just as he was just about to begin training for several international championships this year, MCO 3.0 happened.

Syarul is a five-time Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Championship winner and won the World Championship four times in a row from 2016 and 2019.

“It’s very hard for people to get fit and stay healthy, as those who work out regularly like me, just how much can be done at home? It is a very big dilemma and a problem to just sit at home.

“I have to start back from square one without regular training and workouts. I can’t do much at home. At home, just regular exercises for those who want to maintain health, but for bodybuilding, I have to go to the gym. 

“Otherwise the muscle mass and blood circulation would weaken and catching up in time for competitions will be very hard.

“I have the Asian Championship in Maldives in September and for now it is still on the calendar. Then in October, I have the World Championship in Uzbekistan and then there is the SEA Games in November. 

“Athletes of course have to prepare earlier. We cannot do anything if the government enforces a total lockdown,” Syarul told Malay Mail.

“Hopefully they can reopen the gymnasiums with very tight standard operating procedures (SOPs). Though it is an indoor fitness facility, the  SOPs are easy to implement and maintain. Shopping malls are indoor facilities too and they are allowed with so many people,” he added.

Syarul’s fellow athlete Buda anak Anchha shares similar sentiments.

Buda said he desperately lugged home several pieces of gym equipment to train, after the facilities were ordered to close in Sarawak.

However, he said they were simply not enough for him to get a good workout.

“I just managed to take the basic ones like dumbbells and that’s how I have been training, but it’s not enough.

“We athletes do have a problem in that sense, but here in Sarawak, we can use the Youth and Sports Ministry’s (KBS) facility at the Sports Council of Sarawak. But many others use the place too,” he said, adding that accessibility however is still an issue, as there is only one such facility in the state.

“Now there are many athletes who need commercial gymnasiums to train because the government facility is not everywhere. Indeed, for me, I feel the government must consider reopening gymnasiums as we already have fixed SOPs by the KBS before this, which we have been practising, such as keeping the crowd to 50 per cent among others, as well as sanitisation efforts. You cannot just shut such places indefinitely.

“It’s hard for bodybuilders like me who need to be consistent, otherwise it affects our metabolism,” added Buda who has been competing since 1994 and began representing Malaysia in international championships in 2006.

Gym owners need financial aid too

K. Krishna warned that close to 70 per cent of gymnasiums will go bust if the current ban is extended for another two months. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
K. Krishna warned that close to 70 per cent of gymnasiums will go bust if the current ban is extended for another two months. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

K. Krishna Kumar said he did not understand the government’s ban on gymnasiums when factories were given the greenlight to run, even after many Covid-19 clusters were found to have originated from the manufacturing sector.

The Gym Entrepreneurs Association Malaysia president and the Kuala Lumpur Bodybuilding Federation president also warned that close to 70 per cent of gymnasiums will go bust if the current ban is extended for another two months.

“KBS is the one that’s not allowing. Jogging is fine, hiking is fine. I don’t understand. Factories have many cases but they allow it. They (KBS)  are not telling the exact reasons for closing gymnasiums. I have directly asked them.

“They don’t want to tell the exact reason as to why gymnasiums are not allowed to open. Let us know what the issue is. I need to explain to my members. Malls are open, roadside stalls are open. If you want to do a full lockdown, then okay, but this just doesn’t make sense.

“We want to know why gymnasiums are sidelined. Secondly, before and/or after they impose the MCO, they should talk to us and give us assistance. We are struggling very badly.

“Give us the wage subsidy for six months, the loan moratorium. Initiatives have to compliment one another but the ones now are so haphazard and many gym operators are pushed to the brink, as it is,” he added.

He said that about five gyms have already shuttered, with the operators still in debt from the gym closures in MCO 1.0 and MCO 2.0.

Sandra Lim who runs the Hybrid Combative Academy and Gym in Bandar Sri Damansara also expressed similar concerns.

Lim said that while gymnasiums are closed for now, its owners are still forced to pay utility bills.

“From the first lockdown, we were not even given a chance to recover from our losses and then came the second lockdown, and now we have got the third lockdown. You see, the government, according to the KBS, has allocated over RM20 million for gymnasiums as some form of compensation. Nobody has seen the money.

“We still have to pay the landlords and not many people have looked into this. We have to pay for the signboard license and business license. I pay about RM3,000 yearly for these. So, my point is, I have only been running my business for less than nine months, so who is going to compensate us?

“That is not even taking into account membership extension requests by customers, owing to the closure of our operations, and that is another loss for us there. Most of the gymnasiums like mine are running on basic needs such as electric fans, but we still pay our bills. Please give us room to breathe. There have been no gymnasium clusters.  

“You tell people to be healthy to safeguard their immunity, but you shut us down and these are all affordable gymnasiums which charge very cheap monthly membership. Difficult to sustain, and what about the personal trainers? Charity begins at home, The plight of our people here matters first,” Lim added.

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