So a friend of mine informed me her doctor told her not to go to her gym when it opened up again after the COVID pandemic. My friend froze her membership for 3 months. I understand why. There's a lot of hysteria about whether gyms are safe and if you can get coronavirus from going to the gym. There's even speculation on what your risk is of getting sick if you return to a gym that re-opened. To help you navigate this time of uncertainty, here are some safety and etiquette tips to keep in mind when you return to your healthy lifestyle.
Avoid The Water Fountains
Odds are your gym already has an out of order sign on their water fountains to reduce transmission of COVID and other infections. But, even after the pandemic is over, I suggest you avoid the drinking fountains like the plague (pun intended).
I've seen people spit in gym water fountains (yes, really!). Even if the drinking fountain, looks clean, there's no way to really tell unless you see someone clean it. And then, how long does it stay clean? Bottom line. It's best to bring your own water or purchase it at the gym's juice bar.
Disinfect The Weights
I think this is an area that may be missed by the big, impersonal chain-gyms. When lifting weights, wipe down the barbells, dumbells, and machines before and after you use them. This will cut down on germs accumulating on those surfaces, protecting you and others.
With machines, be sure to disinfect the handles – not just the seats. The handles are where most of the germs are. While I have observed custodians spraying disinfectant on the seats of machines. I've never seen anyone disinfecting the handles.
Be Nice To The Staff
Gym owners and staff have been under huge stresses because of COVID. They've had to pay bills for months without having any income. Also, in this time where there's no shortage of conspiracy theories, its possible some staff may be afraid to return to work. So when you enter the gym, be courteous and patient and let them know how much you appreciate them.
Social Distance On Equipment
Use common sense when working out. If you see people using the two or three machines that are close to each other – and the machine you want to use is next to them, wait until those people move on before performing the exercise you want to do. Put some space between you and the other people lifting.
Think about it. Most gyms put signs on every other treadmill, bike and elliptical to put some distance between those working out. Three may even be signs on the sinks in the locker rooms too. So it makes sense to do the same thing with lifting weights or if you're in a group exercise class. This is especially wise if the people around you are not wearing their masks while lifting.
Refrain From “Working In”
Can I work in, is a common phrase used among lifters who want to to use the same machine you are using. You do a set and the other person does a set. It's a practice that's been around for decades but it may not fly in this new age of social distancing. If you want to use a machine, wait until the person is finished their sets.
Utilize Off-Peak Hours
Call the gym and ask when there are the least number of people in the facility. They know and track this information. Then try to workout during off-peak hours when the fewest people are present. Usually, this will be between 12 PM and 3 PM. Until the dust settles and things get back to normal, it's possible every hour might be off-peak as a lot of people are afraid to return to the gym.
Minimize Your Stay
Now is not the time to spend 2 hours in the gym, hitting every body part with the same intensity as you did before the world ended. These days, efficient workouts are more important than ever. Get in and get out as fast as you can especially if there's a lot of others working out too. Most of us can get an effective workout within 30 minutes -60 minutes.
If You Feel Sick, Stay Home
Once, when I was at a gym and sneezed into my elbow. Even though I did the right thing, I got a dirty look from someone. I wasn't sick. It was just one of those random sneezes. But it proves the point.
In this post COVID world, people are hypersensitive to anyone who may appear to be sick. If you have ANY cold/flu symptoms, stay home.
For most people, significant atrophy of muscles doesnt start to occur until after 2-3 weeks. So, you won't lose your fitness in a day or two – or even three.
Wear A Mask If Required
I have heard gym members being escorted off the premises because they refused to wear a mask. I get it. Wearing a mask is controversial. It was probably controversial during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic too. But, if the gym policy is requiring you to wear a mask, then use it.
The mask needs to cover your mouth AND your nose.
I know, we are getting conflicting messages -even from doctors about the effectiveness of masks. Unfortunately, just one of the rules we have to deal with for now. We all follow rules. We stop at red lights and stop signs because we don't want to risk hurting people. I like to think of masks in the same way.
Even if it turns out masks offer minimal protection – minimal is better than no protection. You would not want a doctor performing surgery on you without a mask, would you?
Wash Your Gloves
If you use weight lifting gloves, consider washing them, or disinfecting them when you get home. I know this can be difficult to do with some brands of gloves. So perhaps consider lifting weights with disposable gloves?
Watch Your Step
The gym I belong to has two floors. I witnessed custodian was spraying disinfectant on the stairs- and NOT wiping it off. I explained to the GM that this was a liability issue. I asked What if someone slipped and fell down the steps?
The response I received was the disinfectant wasn't slippery. But the steps themselves are slippery! Either way, putting liquids on the steps without a visible hazard sign is a huge legal liability.
So, what do you do? Look at the stairs before you use them and hold on to the railings too.
Push With Your Elbow
Is the gym custodial staff regularly disinfecting the handles of the doors as you enter and exit the building? When exiting a gym recently, I noticed the glass on the door and the door itself was really dirty. To avoid touching these surfaces push the door open with your elbow. When opening doors, use your sleeve if possible or a paper towel -and pray for the day when Star Trek doors become the norm.
Wipe Down The Railings
If your gym has two floors then the railings along the stairs need to be disinfected too. I've seen this performed at IKEA but never have I witnessed it happening at my gym. So I assume nobody is doing it – or it's being done infrequently. Before I walk downstairs, I get a paper towel and put disinfectant on it. Then, I wipe down the banister as I descend the stairs.
Disinfect Yoga Mats
We take yoga mats for granted but if you're using a mat provided by the gym, wipe it down before you lay on it. If you are using your own mat, wipe your yoga mat down when before you leave the gym and again, when you get home. Why do I say to disinfect twice?
See the next section.
Call me paranoid but in a world where gyms have been closed and losing money for several months, I wonder about their commitment to providing non-diluted hand sanitizer. This stuff costs money. Is it possible some gyms dilute their sanitizing liquid too much?
I know some businesses dilute the hand soap to save money – I've observed it happening and you can see it for yourself by noticing the consistency of the soap as it comes out of the dispenser. Is it a stretch to think some businesses might dilute hand sanitizer too?
Solution: BYOD: Bring Your Own Disinfectant.
While I have no proof it's being watered down, if I just freaked you out by this, just bring your own. The CDC recommends hand effective sanitizers be at least 60% ethanol.
Take your shoes off before you enter your home. This avoids tracking in dirt – and whatever else you walked on – when you get home. For us tenderfoots who don't like walking around the house in bare feet, consider having a second pair of shoes that you only wear inside your home.
Whether your home has hardwood floors or rugs, having both indoor and outdoor pairs of shoes is probably a wise idea even after the pandemic is in our rear mirror.
While I do believe the risk of getting COVID in the gym is low, you can still minimize your risk by following the steps outlined here. At the end of the day, it's all about keeping safe while we stay healthy.