Now that much of the U.S. is opening up again, many of us are itching to get back to the gym. There’s no doubt, though, that our routines there won’t look quite like they used to. In order to keep ourselves and other gym members safe, we all have to learn the ins and outs of exercising together in the age of COVID-19. Keep these expert-backed tips in mind in order to hit the gym safely and get back into your fitness groove.
1. Do Your Part
“My main suggestion: Be kind to the gym staff,” says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., author of Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple. “They’re doing their best to implement the policies that will keep everyone healthy.”
If they ask you to wear a mask or wipe down your equipment, or want to take your temperature—listen. And be prepared to experience limited group fitness class sizes, more space in between fitness equipment, modified hours, and more frequent cleaning sessions.
“There is no surefire way to protect against a virus, but health clubs will be doing their best to operate in a way that will reduce the risk,” McCall says. Help them out by following their guidelines.
2. Keep Your Distance
Given the fact that respiratory droplets we exhale spread the coronavirus, “the increased breathing that happens during exercise is a concern for spreading the virus,” says Amesh Adalja, M.D., F.A.C.P., a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. In other words, a contagious person breathing heavily may release more virus-carrying droplets into the air around them, upping the risk of spreading the virus to other gym-goers.
Since at least one-quarter of all people infected with the virus have no symptoms, that person may feel perfectly healthy, but end up breathing out the virus that someone within six feet of them can breathe in,” says Shira Shafir, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
If you want to hit the gym safely, it’s crucial to stay at least six feet away from other people when exercising. Pick machines and equipment that allow you to keep your distance while you sweat, and tune in to your surroundings so you know where everyone is in relation to your space.
3. Wipe Down Your Equipment
Those risky droplets people exhale can also land on gym equipment—and stay there long enough to infect the next person who comes along. “There’s a lot of work being done to figure out exactly how long [the virus lives on surfaces], but we suspect it can last up to 72 hours,” Shafir says.
To avoid potentially dangerous droplets, wipe down any equipment (like dumbbells, cardio machines, yoga mats) with disinfecting wipes or a bleach-based spray both before and after use. (Check with your gym to see what types of cleaning solutions they offer.) Then, give the equipment a minute or two to air-dry before touching it, so the disinfectant has time to kill the virus, Shafir says.
4. Don’t Touch Your Face
Many of us touch infection points like our mouth, nose, and eyes without even realizing it—and the temptation to do so can just increase once the sweat starts rolling.
To avoid this, Shafir recommends bringing a towel to the gym to wipe away sweat. Then, be sure to wash it right away once you get home.
5. Bring Hand Sanitizer
Along with towels and other cleaning products, hand sanitizer is pretty much a new gym essential. Carry a travel-sized bottle with you during your workout and try to use it whenever you touch equipment. Apply a good amount to your hands and rub together for about 20 seconds, Shafir says.
6. Skip Indoor Group Classes (For Now)
As excited as you may be to get back to your favorite fitness class, you may want to hold off for now. “I wouldn’t recommend going to any group exercise classes where people are breathing heavily in an enclosed space for an extended period of time,” Shafir says.
Two popular workarounds to consider: See if your gym is able to move certain classes outside—or stick to any live-stream options available, McCall notes. (The Vitamin Shoppe hosts regular live workouts on its Instagram page.)
7. Avoid Gym Rush Hours
Some gyms may require members to make appointments in order to limit the number of people in the building at a time, Shafir says. If your gym isn’t one of them, try to visit during non-peak hours, which are typically before the workday, at lunchtime, and at the close of the workday.
If you get to the gym and find that it’s crowded, Shafir recommends opting for a home workout instead—especially if you’re in a higher risk category for infection.
Should You Wear a Face Mask to the Gym?
If you’ve been wearing a face mask in public, you know they can be uncomfortable, especially when you’re sweating and breathing hard. It’s understandable if you’d prefer to leave your mask in your gym bag, but whether or not you cover your nose and mouth at your gym may be out of your hands. “I think you’ll likely see some gyms requiring face masks, and it’s also going to be governed by what a municipality decides are going to be the guiding principles for reopened gyms,” Adalja says.
If your gym doesn’t require you to wear a mask, it’s up to you to decide on the right move. Consider your ability to social distance and properly clean equipment at your gym—and keep your personal risk factors top of mind.
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