How to avoid germs while working out at the gym

From full coverage gloves to social distancing while working out, people are getting used to new rules at the gyms. While you may be cautious about returning to the gym, there are a few things you can do to avoid germs.

Gyms are a tough place to keep clean.

“They are tough because you are sweating a lot, a lot of different people there touching the same surfaces,” said Dr. Catherine Troisi, PhD, Epidemiologist with UTHealth School of Public. “And you are breathing heavily hopefully, that is the point of going to the gym. So, you may be expelling more droplets of saliva which can be contaminating equipment.”

There are a few precautions you can take to minimize your risk of contracting the virus while at the gym.

Exaggerated social distancing

You may be used to hearing about keeping six feet away from others during this time. Dr. Troisi explains why you should consider keeping your distance from others in the gym.

”You are breathing heavily and you are expelling those droplets of saliva which can contain the droplets farther,” Dr. Troisi said. “I would want to be more than six feet from someone else.”

Sanitize again and again

Make sure you sanitize any equipment you touch after every use, including weights, machines, bikes, etc. And don’t rush the cleaning process.

“You don’t want to trust that somebody has done it before you,” Dr. Troisi said. “You want to wipe off every part of the machine or the weight that you are going to touch. Then wait one minute so the disinfectant has time to kill the virus. You would want to do it afterward to be kind to the person after you.”

You might want to bring your own bottle of disinfectant if you have it. Some of the all-purpose cleaner available at gyms is not approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for disinfection. Check what your gym is using.

Use several towels

Consider bringing two towels with you to use during your gym visit.

“If you carry one towel over one shoulder to wipe your face with and you are not touching your face with your bare hands and the other towel on your left shoulder for example, to put down when you sit on a bench or seat,” Dr. Troisi explained.

Be careful with gloves

Some gyms are requiring people to wear full-fingered gloves. The CDC actually only recommends wearing gloves if you are cleaning or taking care of a sick person. It’s actually pretty easy to cross-contaminate items when handling the gloves, so be careful.

“When you take them off you have to be careful not to touch the outside of the glove with your bare hand, with the other hand that is taking off the glove or you will contaminate your hands,” Dr. Troisi said.

Make sure you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after removing the gloves, and be mindful of everything you touch while wearing them. For example, if you touch your towel while wearing gloves, the part of the towel you touched should not then touch your face. You can bring a plastic bag to drop the gloves in after you use them. When you get home put them directly in the washing machine.

Consider a mask, but it might be hard

A mask would help protect your droplets from getting on other people, but are uncomfortable while working out.

“It's difficult to wear a mask while exercising, people will have to evaluate their own risk/benefit ratio,” Troisi said.

You could use a face shield to help contain the droplets.

Bottom line - as long as you practice good cleaning processes, you should stay protected.

“The virus can’t get through your skin, so if you touch an environmental surface, a gym machine that has some virus on it the only way you are going to get infected is if you touch your face,” Dr. Troisi explained. "Frequent hand washing or hand sanitizing will protect you.”