At this new Ridgefield gym, masks and COVID vaccinations are required so clients ‘feel safe’

RIDGEFIELD — A new fitness facility in town is raising the bar on its safety precautions in order to protect clients from being exposed to COVID-19.

Steel Fitness, which opened in August, recently instituted a temporary mask mandate in response to the omicron surge. The business also mandates every member to show proof of vaccination.

Group training sessions have been limited to six people per session to maintain social distancing, and two HEPA-grade air purifiers run 24/7, covering every square foot of the gym.

The precautions were instituted by owner Ari Karp, of Wilton, who’s been a personal trainer since he was 19 years old.

He started working in Ridgefield in 2008 after graduating from UConn with a degree in strength and conditioning. During an internship he provided this expertise to both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and was also an assistant strength coach at Quinnipiac University.

Before opening Steel Fitness, Karp, 36, trained clients via Zoom.

“People want to go to the gym because everyone is tired of working out at home,” he said, “but I wanted to provide an environment where my clients could feel safe.”

The business differs from CrossFit and Orangetheory by providing small group training sessions tailored to each client’s needs. Members participate on a month-to-month basis, and there is no annual commitment to join.

The sessions run from 45 minutes to an hour and consist of a warm up, a power core circuit, strength training and cardio-based exercises. Leading each session is Karp, the “one-man show” behind the business, which he financed entirely himself.

“With (most) gyms advertising how cool and fancy their new equipment is … I want to show that this doesn’t matter at all,” Karp said. “It’s the coaching that matters, which creates consistency and accountability with everyone. Those are the two main things that deliver real results, not a fancy piece of equipment.”

Clients are encouraged to use the safe word — “mulligan” — if the workout becomes uncomfortable at any point, Karp said.

“It’s very comfortable in here,” he added. “We’re developing a community like ‘Cheers’ — everybody knows your name … and everyone is so friendly.”

When it opened, Steel Fitness serviced almost 60 clients, but because of omicron membership is down 40 percent, Karp said. Other clients left due to the mask requirement, he added, but Karp takes pride in owning the only “fully vaccinated” gym in town, he said.

The precautions have yielded a specific clientele, Karp explained, noting his members are mostly women age 50 and up.

“My guess is the amount of precautions I have are more than any other gym in this town, and I’m not afraid to vocalize it,” he said. “If they feel safe they can focus more on having a fun and energized workout.”

Steel Fitness is at 62 Danbury Road in Ridgefield. For more information or to join, call or text Karp at 203-942-0362 or email .