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San Francisco Gym's Separation Strategy Fits COVID-Era Concerns

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A new San Francisco gym is offering a workout experience that, by accident, has become appealing during the era of COVID-19.

Trigg Hutchinson is a serious power lifter and doing squats while hefting more than 300 pounds requires a lot of concentration.

Hutchinson is one of the first members of a new gym called The Yard in San Francisco's Pacific Heights. The space is separated into eight individual workout pods, each containing a bench, rack and free weights that are rented out by reservation only.

"What I do is really a solo activity," Hutchinson said. "I don't like people walking around in my field of vision so this physical space here gives me an opportunity to get some distance and kind of focus on what I'm doing."

The two-story gym holds only 16 people at a time but owner Joe Cicero says he came up with the idea two years before the pandemic hit.

"It's actually inspired by the traditional barber shop model where the owner is renting out chairs to independent contractors," he said. "That's what we're doing here with independent personal trainers."

It's not just trainers. The public is showing interest as well. Amanda Peth and April May were working out Sunday morning. They both started weight training during the pandemic to stay healthy and reduce stress and the natural distancing at The Yard helps relieve worries about omicron.

"It feels like you have your own area," May said, "Even if there was someone kind of close to you, you still very much have your own equipment, your own section."

"I'm not going to big-box gyms where it's hundreds and hundreds of people," Peth said. "It's, like, very spaced out. It's very safe, in my opinion. No different than going to the grocery store ... actually, maybe safer than going to the grocery store."

The Yard was never intended to be a socially-distanced workout space, it just worked out that way.

"Working out with a mask is not something I ever considered before but now it's just what you do, you know?" Hutchinson said. "I think that having some physical distance between yourself and other people who are training is probably going to be the next thing that's going to happen."

The gym rents the reserved pods starting at $34 per hour, with members paying $250 for unlimited use. The pods are sanitized after each workout and masks and vaccination are required. A lot of gyms try to sign up as many members as possible but The Yard is banking on the idea that people are no longer comfortable being just a face in the crowd.

"I believe in the concept. I believe in the model," said Cicero. "And I frankly think you'll start to see more and more gyms shift to a model like this."

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