Masks are no longer required while exercising at some fitness chains in Michigan.

While masks were once required to be worn at all times under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus executive order, a Michigan Supreme Court ruling earlier this month invalidated her emergency powers, making that order obsolete.

Now, fitness chain owners say that because Whitmer’s emergency orders have been struck down, they can make these changes, even though the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an order that requires gym-goers to wear a mask while exercising indoors.

Several Crunch Fitness, Life Time and Orangetheory Fitness locations in the state are relaxing their standards on wearing masks. Clients at many of these gyms can now take off their masks while actively exercising but must put them back on when they move about the gym or when it’s not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance, according to emails sent to members and updates posted on their websites.

Crunch Fitness in Warren opens its doors for members on Monday, June 29, 2020. The gym has been open since Thursday, June 25, 2020, even though a court ruling came Wednesday night that gyms must remain closed.  (Photo: Rodney Coleman-Robinson, Detroit Free Press)

The gyms cite the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month that appeared to void Whitmer’s executive orders. Whitmer allowed gyms to reopen Sept. 9, mandating that gym-goers wear a mask at all times, limit occupancy  to 25% and reduce the size of fitness classes to enable 6 feet of separation between attendees, among other measures.

More: Michigan gyms can reopen Sept. 9: What you need to know

More: Metro Detroiters headed back to the gym: Here’s how it’s going

After the Supreme Court’s decision, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an order to require masks and limit gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19. The orders largely mirrored  many of those issued by Whitmer, but gym owners say the language of the new order relaxes some restrictions.

A spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services pointed to specific sections of the order that apply to gyms including sections requiring masks at indoor gatherings, having equipment spaced at least 6 feet apart and enforcing compliance.

“In short, the order requires masks to be worn in gyms,” the spokesperson said.

Alyssa Tushman, vice chair of the Michigan Fitness Club Association and owner of Burn Fitness, said the health department’s executive order is less strict compared with the one Whitmer issued, but “the bottom line is people are taking (the executive orders) seriously. When gyms are closed for six months, people are scared to come back and we want them to come back. They’re scared enough already.”

Tushman said she’ll continue to require masks at all times in part because she has heard from clients who say once they  try exercising with a mask, it isn’t as bad as they thought. 

Still, she said business at her gyms, and at gyms throughout the state, is down significantly, and Tushman assumes that’s partly because people aren’t willing to even try working out with a mask on.

There’s another group of people though who haven’t come back to a gym out of concerns for their safety, she said, and if a gym isn’t requiring masks at all times, that could further deter them.

The owner of Orangetheory Fitness studios in Birmingham, Commerce Township, Detroit, Farmington Hills, Grosse Pointe Woods, Northville, Royal Oak and Troy is trying to appease both groups. The fitness chain, which offers high-intensity workout classes, is no longer requiring clients to wear a mask while exercising, according to an email sent to clients Thursday and which was confirmed by the owner.

For those who aren’t comfortable, the fitness chain is offering “ESD” (Extreme Social Distancing) classes where masks are required at all times, the email said.

Life Time Fitness in Rochester Hills on Sept. 9, 2020. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

Life Time cited updated guidance from the state, along with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “acknowledgment that wearing a mask while engaging in exercise can cause breathing difficulties” as the reason for the change in its guidelines.

Crunch sent an email to its Michigan members Friday that said, “Great news! The amendment to the policy allows exercisers that maintain six feet of distance to temporarily remove their masks during vigorous bouts of exercise.”

Some Crunch gyms in Michigan reopened in July in defiance of the executive order. At the time, some members said gym-goers would wear their mask around the gym, but not when exercising.

Contact Adrienne Roberts: [email protected].

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