Working 'Out'

Keep Your Facility Safe for Outdoor Workouts

Finally, spring is approaching and after a long winter, many people will be ready to take advantage of the milder weather by bringing more of their daily activities back outdoors—including their workouts.

Spring and summer bring better weather conditions for a hike, run, bike ride or even for joining an outdoor yoga class. Many fitness enthusiasts embark on these activities on their own, but more and more options now exist to take advantage of outdoor exercise in a fitness facility-organized group setting.

While providing members access to some vitamin D with their workouts may sound appealing, the fitness studio can be exposing itself to more than claims of a sunburn if it doesn't perform due diligence before offering an outdoor program. Serious risk exposures can present themselves to fitness facilities that join this outdoor trend unprepared. Here, we'll look at the pros and cons to bringing member workouts outdoors and offer tips on how to protect your club.

Everything Under the Sun

Though the outdoors was once simply for group running, biking and hiking, more sophisticated classes are moving outdoors as well. Think yoga, CrossFit, spinning, a boot camp class, Stroller Strides, circuit training and more. Fitness centers are also offering outdoor sports leagues and tournaments for basketball and tennis, among other activities. Members welcome the sunlight, cool breezes and changing scenery to break up mundane workout routines. However, what these members might not welcome so eagerly are heat stroke, allergic reactions, poorly maintained equipment, lightning strikes or dangerous wildlife encounters.

Inside the gym or fitness studio, many elements are controlled, including the temperature, sunlight, and who or what comes in and out. Outside, that is not the case. Class participants will be exposed to a variety of elements where if the guest is injured, the fitness facility could be held responsible. Fitness facilities carry property and general liability insurance, among other coverages to protect their businesses. While many owners may think to sit down again with their insurer after an addition or bringing in valuable new equipment, they might not realize that offering new outdoor classes could also present new risk exposures for which the fitness facility may not be covered should an incident occur.

For example, what if a class participant experiences a heat stroke during an outdoor boot camp class? Is your fitness facility responsible for any of the injured individual's medical costs? Does your facility have insurance coverage for that? If your policy has a designated premise limitation provision, then you may not have coverage for an activity that is held off that designated location.

What to Consider

The club owner may not have thought of the worst that can happen related to the offering of new outdoor classes, but chances are their insurer has. Insurers are in the business of considering these scenarios and building plans to protect the business should the worst happen. Some things fitness club owners looking into outdoor classes need to consider include:

  • Inclement weather and storms: Thunderstorms and weather events should be taken seriously. Pools should be evacuated when lightning is present, and individuals should take shelter during storms.
  • Extreme heat: Hot temperatures can produce poor air quality, creating a dangerous environment for rigorous activity. Facility owners should use caution when operating in extreme heat and encourage frequent hydration and rests among class participants.
  • Allergies: The outdoors also present risks for those suffering from allergies, including reactions from bee stings and poison ivy, as well as asthma attacks caused by other environmental encounters. Staff should be aware of member allergies and be prepared to assist. Staff should also survey the workout trail or site to check for poison ivy, bee hives, etc.
  • Medical Emergencies/Preparation: As can happen inside the facility, broken bones, twisted ankles or head injuries, etc., can occur during an outdoor class or out on the trail. To prepare, clubs should properly train staff to handle these situations and provide them with first aid supplies and communication capabilities to get help. Outdoor activities should also have an adequate number of staff present outside the facility.
  • Planning the course: Though participants may be looking for a change in scenery, they've signed up a for class assuming that someone else has charted a safe course. Make sure staff map trails and physically survey the trail before presenting it to class.
  • Permits: If the club is considering using public space for a class, make sure a staff member researches the facility and obtains the proper permits.
  • Animal encounters: Staff should be aware of wildlife local to their area that they could encounter outside, as well as be prepared with basic safety tips and be provided with proper communication tools to report incidents.
  • Equipment: Club owners should make sure outdoor equipment is regularly maintained and checked again after storms and extreme weather. This could include training rigs and bleachers, among other things.

Finally, what might be most critical to prepare the fitness facility for any incidents related to its new outdoor offerings is a waiver. Upon registering for the outdoor class, members and guests should be required to sign a waiver, provided by the club's attorney, that transfers any risk related to the activity from the facility.

Offering creative outdoor classes and activities can be a boon for business, but they can also present unforeseen risk exposures. When considering an outdoor class, talk to your insurance agent or broker about additional risk exposures related to these activities and consider an insurance partner who has experience working with fitness clubs. This will help to ensure your new service offering boosts your bottom line, rather than your risk of a lawsuit.



Brian Rawlings is practice leader for Venture Insurance Programs' FITLIFE™, which insures fitness, wellness and spa facilities. Rawlings has spent his career working in fitness and insurance.



Brian Rawlings