As states and businesses reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, so are many gyms and fitness studios. Whether you’re a beginner, fitness buff or somewhere in the middle, it’s important to stay safe and understand the risks before rejoining the gym world.
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Is it safe to go to the gym?
“The biggest concern with coronavirus is being in close contact with other people and the exposure to their respiratory droplets, which are usually transmitted through coughing, sneezing or heavy breathing,” says sports medicine specialist Caitlin Lewis, MD. “Gyms are tricky because it’s typically hard to maintain social distance and you’re in a relatively confined space.”
And although there is a lack of research that says COVID-19 is spread through sweat, often time’s respiratory particles can get mixed in with sweat.
Right now, the safest place to work out is at home or outside, but the decision to return to a brick-and-mortar gym (and to finally stop working out in your living room) is personal.
Whether you’re comfortable with it or still trying to decide, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to gyms in the coronavirus era:
- Know your gym’s rules and safety protocols before you go. Some facilities are doing temperature checks when entering the gym or mandating when certain groups of people (or how many) can work out at one time. Most gyms have also closed their locker rooms, restrooms, showers, saunas or common spaces, which is good because you’ll want to avoid high-traffic areas to reduce your risk of exposure, says Dr. Lewis. Be sure you’re aware of the rules and allow for extra time to check in (and do whatever else you’re required to do).
- Wear a face mask if you can. Several gyms are asking members to wear a face mask, so be sure to ask your gym what the protocol is. Face coverings protect those around you in case you’re carrying the virus and don’t know it, but it does present a unique challenge when it comes to working out in one.
- Bring your own towel and water bottle. Many states have required cities and businesses to turn off public water fountains, including in gyms. Bring water with you and make sure it’s enough to last for your entire workout. You’ll also want to bring your own towel if you need it, but be mindful about where you put it, especially if you’re wiping your face with it.
- Distance yourself. Most gyms and health clubs are required to space out machines and equipment so that people are farther apart, but pay attention to how close you are to others throughout the gym at all times. Always keep a minimum of six feet between you and other people outside of your household.
- Wipe down everything. Many facilities have provided more sanitation stations throughout the gym. Clean and wipe down everything you touch before and after – from dumbbells, to treadmills and resistance bands. Even if you just saw someone else clean a piece of equipment, it’s wise to clean it again yourself before using it, says Dr. Lewis.
- Go in with a plan, but be flexible. Before COVID-19, it was OK to wonder around the gym or wait (patiently) for the squat rack. These days you’ll want to minimize your time in the gym to reduce your exposure. So get in, get your workout done and get out. Go in with a workout plan and know what equipment you’ll need to use, but if the area where you need to be has too many people, try to be flexible. Maybe there are too many people in the free weight area, so you choose the cardio section with less people instead.
- Tread carefully with group fitness classes. Find out if your gym has minimized class size and what the protocol is for equipment. You’ll also want to make sure that everyone is spaced out at least six feet and avoid exercising behind other people. Gyms with fresh air ventilation (like open windows or garage doors) are best.
- If you have any symptoms whatsoever – stay home! If you’re experiencing any flu-like symptoms, have a fever, shortness of breath, are coughing or have diarrhea, PLEASE stay home.
- Don’t settle for being uncomfortable or unsafe. Don’t be afraid to speak up or move to another area of the gym or health club if you’re not comfortable. If protocols aren’t being followed or you feel unsafe, it’s OK to decide that the gym isn’t for you right now.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re not touching your face during your workout and that you’re practicing good hand hygiene – both before entering the gym and when you leave. If you’re opting for a face mask in the gym, be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before removing it.
Those who have a chronic medical condition or are considered high-risk for contracting the virus should avoid gyms or speak with their healthcare provider first.
If the idea of cramming yourself into a room full of people perspiring and breathing heavily creeps you out, you’re not alone. Your choice to rejoin the gym or continue with your at-home-workouts remains personal and within your own comfort level of safety.
“Remember, movement of any kind is good for our physical and mental health, even if it’s just a walk around the block with your family,” says Dr. Lewis.