AUSTIN (KXAN) — The inside of a local gym is divided for safety.

“We started building walls,” Michele Melkerson-Granryd said.

Melkerson-Granryd is the general manager at Austin-based Castle Hill Fitness. She and the rest of the gym’s staff had one question on their mind when COVID-19 hit Austin:

“How do we maintain our relationships with our members?”

After thorough research, the idea of walls in-between workout spaces popped up. Construction started on their two locations in mid-April. Then, after a soft opening, on June 15, they opened each to all members. It’s a New Year’s resolution of sorts. Staff remodeled all open spaces and classrooms, sectioning them into “personal workout pods.”

What’s in a pod?

Pods offer many different experiences and workouts. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Each pod is a partitioned, single-occupancy space. The walls are eight-foot-tall, made of wood and Plexiglass. Each has a HEPA air purifier along with cleaning products and sanitizer. They’re meant to keep you at a distance from others so you can focus on your workout. Gymgoers can do just about every kind of workout inside them from full-body and weight-lifting to cardio, yoga and pilates.

“You know, surprisingly, people really like that pods. We were nervous, understandably nervous, that we were making it a little more complicated for being to be able to workout. They were going to have to reserve their pods ahead of time. We’ve been pretty strict about making sure that people are staying in their pods. We encourage them to clean beforehand but the afterwards cleaning is critical,” Melkerson-Granryd said.

A sign reminding gymgoers to wear masks properly. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

What about masks? Yes, patrons and staff must wear them and have their temperature checked when entering the gym. Learn more about their health and safety measures on the gym’s webpage.

You can book a pod for 30-60 minutes at a time. But, if you’re a member, you can book an unlimited number of times per month. Reservations are required to enter the gym due to state-required capacity restrictions.

The City of Austin states gyms and exercise facilities in Travis County are “permitted up to 50% of total listed occupancy. Masking and social distancing requirements must be followed.”

Going to the gym

Melkerson-Granryd had a concern gymgoers would see the walls as barriers, but considers the benefits of going to the gym as positive reviews so far.

“I had a conversation with somebody yesterday asking them, ‘How do you think the pods are going?’ And it’s a more efficient workout. They’re not having to share their equipment during their workout, so they have access to whatever they need in their pod,” she said. “It’s a more efficient, more planned out workout and they’re finding that they’re getting good results.”

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Justin Chung, who has worked out at the downtown Castle Hill gym for 12 years, thinks the pods are a great idea, especially for social distancing.

“It’s great for people to know, spatially, where they are. You know, everyone says stay six feet apart and you don’t realize when you’re getting into other people’s spaces sometimes depending on what you’re doing.”

It’s also been great for his schedule.

“Whenever you’re going to a gym, you know, you might get there and the machine you want to use is being used and you only have a certain amount of time and you might not get to use it… I know if I want to use a certain machine, if I get here at 8:30, it’ll be mine for a half-hour, so that’s been convenient.”

“The sense of not having that juggle, ‘Where is that person gonna use that piece of equipment?’ You know, I might be intimidated. That’s, all those kinds of things have been taken out of the equation,” Melkerson-Granryd said. “This way it’s more planned out and there isn’t that potential conflict or irritation.”

Each pod is fully stocked for safety. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Chung has been thoroughly impressed by the lengths staff went to ensure his safety.

“They didn’t try to cheap out and just put up a facade to make people feel safe. They actually put up the barrier walls and the glass, and in the pods, there are air purifiers. I can tell they put a lot of thought and spent a lot of money, so I appreciate it,” he said. “I think they’re being forward-thinking and not just trying to put a band-aid on it. Trying to go into the future, whatever the future is going to be like.”

He still misses one aspect of a regular gym though.

“The social interaction… I had friends at the gym and it was just kind of nice catching up with them but, you know, I think safety and keeping people healthy is like the number one priority right now, so I think this is a great step,” Chung said.

“The relationships that we’ve built are critical and people need that social connection. We, in fact, really like to talk about physical distancing as opposed to social distancing because as human beings there is that need for social interaction and in the gym, it’s a way to do it in a healthy way… We’d like to be part of helping people make [going to the gym] a regular thing in their life so that their bodies, their minds can battle COVID much more effectively,” Melkerson-Granryd said.

Both locations have “personal workout pods” and more:

Castle Hill Fitness’ Loop 360 location in Westlake offers “recovery pods” in its sauna and steam rooms. Each space is fogged with disinfectant after each use. Reservations are required.

You can book a personal workout pod, virtual class or schedule virtual/in-person tours at either location in the list above. Each webpage shows an individual map of their floors where you can select pods and view pictures of them.