Is it Safe to go Back to the Gym?

The midyear COVID-19 pandemic report card is not looking good for the United States. Cases are predictably spiking in Florida, Texas, and Arizona, states that initially downplayed the virus threat in their rush to reopen their economies. And California, which showed early success in flattening its curve, is facing another surge in infections as too many people drop their guard regarding social distancing and masks. Even as we write these words, governors are ordering bars to shut down again in harder-hit counties.

But hey, the gyms are open. Who wants to go work out?

Is It Safe to Go Back to the Gym?

Honestly, it probably depends. It depends on how well your gym has adapted its protocols for dealing with the virus. It depends on how established the virus is in your local population. It depends on how conscientious your fellow gym-goers are about washing their hands and covering their faces.

Hitting the gym is by its nature an activity that inspires heavy breathing — and that’s right in there with coughing, sneezing, and even talking as the main route of contagion. Plus there are all those bars and buttons and weight plates and vinyl seats that everyone is always sticking their hands all over after wiping the sweat from their foreheads.

Are you sure you want to go back to the gym? 

Tips for Staying Safe at the Gym

Gym regulars are generally a pretty healthy group of people. That’s what going to the gym is all about. But having an elevated level of fitness might also give a false sense of security when it comes to coronavirus. Do you really think your bulging biceps will protect you from inhaling a flurry of aerosolized virus particles after that infected meathead at the squat rack grunts his way through another superset? Because that’s all it takes. Getting the virus into your system is that easy.

The flip side is that maybe once you contract the virus, you’ll be one of the lucky ones who shows few if any symptoms. Good for you. Your immune system rocks. But you’ve still got the disease and you’re still contagious. And now you’re spreading it to your friends, your co-workers, your family … and everyone else in the gym!

So here’s the deal. When we talk about “staying safe,” we’re not talking about just protecting yourself from the virus. We’re also talking about protecting other people from the virus you don’t even know you have.

There are a few key things to remember:

  1. Wash your hands. This is basic.
  2. Keep your distance. You might notice that your gym has less equipment available than it used to, or it’s moved the machines farther apart. They might have also reduced the maximum occupancy, and maybe you have to schedule a workout time in advance now. This is all for your protection. This is all so you can keep to that six-foot rule, keeping yourself at least two arms lengths away from everybody else at all times. And frankly, if you’re taking a cardio class like HIIT or Spin where everybody’s breathing extra heavily, you might want to make that distance even longer.
  3. Wear a mask. We know, we know, this can be tough, especially in an intense cardio workout where you’re already gasping for breath. But short of complete social isolation, face coverings are the single most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus. Honestly, for these types of workouts, you might be better off just doing it on your own at home, or outside where you can fully maximize your social distance so the mask is unnecessary.
  4. Clean everything you touch. Your gym should have handy disposable disinfectant wipes available to you. If not, maybe you should look for another gym. Use these wipes for your own protection on any surfaces you are about to touch. After you finish with a machine, use fresh wipes again to clean any surfaces you have touched.
  5. No more fist bumps, no matter how much you lift. You spent enough time cleaning the equipment. You don’t want to have to clean the people too. 
  6. If you’re lucky enough to attend a gym with a sauna or steam room… don’t use them.

Home Workouts for Those Not Ready to Return to the Gym

So that’s a lot to worry about if you want to go back to the gym. Alternatively, you can stick with what you’ve been doing for the last few months: virtual workouts in the comfort of your own home have been great, haven’t they? Not only do you not have to worry about washing your hands, you don’t even need to take a shower! (Shhh, we won’t tell.) And masks? Forget about it.

Personally, we’ve been pretty entertained lately by these Australians leading Les Mills BodyCombat Invincible training series. The first classes are pretty easy, but later it gets … fun.

Whatever type of exercise you’re into, though, YouTube is a great source for free training videos at any hour of the day. It’s a lot cheaper than a gym, and it’s one of our big tips to stay active on a budget. Another, of course, is to set yourself up with any convenient home exercise kits you need for converting your house into your own personal gym. You don’t even need cumbersome, expensive weight sets! Exercise bands and accessories are inexpensive, easily stashable, and highly effective when it comes to strength training. Who cares if the gyms are open?