Is It Safe To Go Back To The Gym?
As gyms begin to reopen, many of us are eager to return after a long period of feeling cooped up indoors. But just because something is allowed, doesn’t necessarily mean it is wise or safe. Many public health experts believe that it is still too early to be reopening businesses.
While many gyms and fitness centers are now taking extra precautions such as temperature scanes, increased spacing, and extra cleaning, they are doing so with limited direction from leadership, as recent federal guidelines for reopening businesses aren’t specific when it comes to gyms.
What Are The Risks?
Even with a smaller group of people and increased sanitation measures, it’s unlikely that gyms will be able to address all the possible COVID-19 risks, as most people won’t be wearing a mask when they exercise, and will be heavily panting on shared exercise equipment in a small, confined space.
Robyn Gershon, MHS, DrPH, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health, says the likelihood of you contracting coronavirus largely depends on the number of people inside the gym, the airflow, and how often the machines are used and disinfected, which can all be influenced by how big the space is in the first place.
“When you have a relatively high density of people exercising and sweating in a contained space, you have conditions where communicable diseases can spread easily,” says Dr. James Voos, the chairman of orthopedic surgery at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, head team physician for the Cleveland Browns.
How Can You Lower These Risks?
By choosing to go to the gym, one must understand and accept that there will be some risk of viral transmission. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate those risks.
- Find Outdoor or Low Density Spaces
The best way to avoid risks would be to find a place that offers an outdoor space for working out. However, this may not be a practical option for most people. If you’re not able to move outdoors, see if the gym has good ventilation (ie. open windows and fans), as well as a low density of people so you can properly distance yourself from others. Private studios, like Just You Fitness, can be safer than large public gyms since there is only one person occupying the space at a time.
- Wash Your Hands & Bring Hand Sanitizer
Ideally, the gym should provide a sink with soap so you can wash your hands, or a hand-sanitizer station by the door. People tend to touch their faces a lot while they exercise, to wipe away sweat or to push hair away from your face. So it is important to keep your hands as clean as possible during your workout. Gershon advises people to bring a towel to wipe your face with instead, to avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose while in public. “You should only use one side of a towel before carefully placing it back into your bag,” Gershon says, “As you don’t want to touch it with contaminated hands and then use that same side on your face.”
- Disinfect All Equipment Before & After Use
Most gyms will be increasing their sanitization routines, and should provide disinfectant sprays or wipes that meet Environmental Protection Agency standards against coronavirus. The standard all-purpose wet wipes that gyms typically stock are not EPA-approved and will not kill most germs. While we hope that all gym patrons will wipe down any weights or machines after each use, we cannot always depend on the cleanliness of strangers. By bringing your own disinfectant supplies, you can ensure that you’re properly disinfecting equipment before you touch them. Take note: most disinfectants need to stay wet for about a minute or two prior to being wiped to be effective.
- Wear Gloves
Wearing gloves while handling weights and equipment may be a better option than hand-washing to prevent you from transferring germs from gym surfaces onto your belongings, like your cell phone, headphones, or car steering wheel. Disposable gloves can simply be carefully thrown away, but reusable ones should be properly stored after you take them off (ie. in a sealed plastic bag before they’re cleaned). Then wash your hands immediately before leaving the gym.
- Avoid the Restroom & Locker Rooms
Even if your gym implements stricter policies to promote social distancing precautions, applying these policies in shared, tight quarters like bathrooms and locker rooms will be difficult. It may be best to wait until you return home to use the restroom or change out of your gym clothes if possible.
A Safer Option
Taking these actions may help you reduce your risk of transmission at the gym. However, doing personal training at a private studio like Just You Fitness may potentially be safer than going to a public gym. For one, our private studios have extremely limited foot traffic compared to traditional gyms, since only person (along with the trainer) is inside the studio at a time. We also sanitize the studio after each and every session. If you are still on the fence about heading into the studio, we also offer in-home or virtual personal training sessions. Contact a trainer in your area to learn more!