Back To The Gym Safely

Healthplex’s very own Montage Wellness Center was featured in the Monterey County Herald. Read the article Below:


This time of year tends to inspire good intentions for adopting healthier habits, like returning to the gym. During 2021 as gyms began to reopen, many of us sought reassurance that it was safe to do so after the COVID pause.

Just as important, though, is being safe from a fitness standpoint, given the lack of physical activity that many of us experienced during the height of the pandemic. “Most area gyms, including our Wellness Centers, have long followed COVID protocols as set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Monterey County to protect members,” says Christopher Range, general manager of Montage Wellness Centers in Marina and Salinas.

Range, who has a master’s degree in sports science and is a certified strength and conditioning coach, says that COVID protocols for gyms include spacing equipment further apart, social distancing, wearing a mask, wiping down equipment before and after use, and limiting the size of group exercise classes.

He notes that those who have been out of the exercise habit, or those who are new to exercising, should check with their doctors before embarking on an exercise regime. “None of this means you shouldn’t get back to the gym and exercise, it just means that there may be modifications you need to make to do it safely,” he says.

After an absence of nearly 10 years, 60-year-old Sunil Pasala, along with his wife, rejoined Montage Wellness Center in Marina in August 2021.

“We were members for about four months, but got sidetracked and stopped going,” says Pasala, a computer programmer and application developer at CSU-Monterey Bay. After being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2003, and suffering two heart attacks and undergoing open heart surgery in 2018, his doctor, cardiologist and his wife agreed that regular exercise were necessary if Pasala wanted to live a long, healthy life.

“Because of medications and diabetes, along with inactivity, I had lost a lot of muscle mass and strength,” Pasala says. “I wanted to rebuild before it was too late or too advanced. I felt comfortable with the COVID protocols, but was concerned about injuring myself.”

As with all new and returning Wellness Center members, he underwent health, functional and mobility assessments, and decided to work with a personal trainer. Coincidentally, his trainer Zach Thomas is a graduate of CSUMB, earning a certification from the American College of Sports Medicine in November

“Sunil was my first client at the Wellness Center,” Thomas says. “We designed a program around his goals and assessment results, and he’s made amazing progress in just a few months.” Pasala completed his training with Thomas in late October and works out at the center at least four times a week. He and his wife also attend his core workout classes twice a week. “Sunil was ready to go on day one and is always willing to put in the work,” Thomas says.

“Zach helped me progress slowly and safely,” says Pasala. “I went from doing leg presses with 40 pounds to 150 pounds and leg curls with 30 pounds to 100 pounds. I enjoy working out and can see that I am regaining upper and lower body strength, muscle mass and better health.”

Pasala isn’t the only one who has returned to the gym, either.

“We’re seeing a two-fold increase in personal training at our facilities,” says Range. “People have said they really need to learn how to exercise safely and in a way that they get the most out of it.” If you’re thinking about joining or rejoining a gym, Range offers three suggestions that could increase the likelihood that you’ll stick with it.

  • Choose a location within 5 to 7 miles of home or work or along the route you travel.
  • Tour the facility to make sure you’re comfortable with the people who work and work out there, that their strength training and cardio equipment is in good working order, and passes the eye and smell test for cleanliness.
  • Make sure they offer options that you enjoy, such as swimming and group fitness classes.

In case you need one more reason to get back to the gym, Range points out that inactivity is a risk factor for many conditions, including severe COVID-19.

He cites a Kaiser Permanente Medical Center study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that strongly associates regular physical activity with reduced odds for severe COVID-19 among infected adults, which stated, “Study participants who consistently met the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for physical activity had lower odds of being hospitalized, requiring ICU admission or dying from COVID than those who were inactive. Even activity levels that did not meet
the guidelines were shown to reduce risk.”

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three days a week. Moderate exercise intensity is equivalent to a brisk walk or moderate bike ride, while vigorous exercise intensity is equivalent to uphill bike riding or jogging.

“Infection control is critical across Montage,” Range says. The hot tub, spa and steam rooms remain closed at the time of this writing. “As with many fitness facilities, proof of vaccination is not required to work out, but a vast majority of our members are vaccinated. All in-person staff throughout the Montage system are fully vaccinated.”

“Regular physical activity is now a big part of my life,” says Pasala. “I know that I am improving my health, level of fitness and quality of life. And it’s something I really enjoy.”

Melanie Bretz lives in Monterey and has written on a wide range of topics, including health care, during a writing career spanning more than 30 years.