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How to go to the gym safely during the COVID-19 pandemic

Gym equipment should be sanitized after every use. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Gym equipment should be sanitized after every use. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Many Houston area gyms opened their doors Monday after being closed for several weeks due to COVID-19.

Gov. Greg Abbott says capacity must be limited to 25%, showers and locker rooms must be closed, patrons must wear gloves that cover their whole hands and fingers, exercise equipment must be disinfected after each use, and facilities must adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines.

So what precautions do you need to take to minimize your risk of contracting the virus while working off the extra weight you might have put on during quarantine?

“Gyms are tough because there are a lot of germs and machines are difficult to clean,” said Catherine Troisi, PhD, epidemiologist with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health and gym-goer herself. “There will always be some level of risk, especially if ventilation isn't great.”

Below are some precautions you can take to minimize your risk of contracting the virus while at the gym.

Exaggerated social distancing

“Physical distancing is extremely important – but people are breathing heavily and may propel droplets further. I’d try to maintain more than a 6-foot distance away from others, to be safe,” Troisi said.

Handle gloves carefully

Under the reopening plan, gloves are required in the gym. However, keep in mind the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend wearing gloves except when caring for a sick patient or cleaning.

“It’s more important to wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Any germs on your gloves can be transferred to other surfaces, so it is important to take off gloves properly to prevent cross-contamination,” Troisi said.

If your gloves are not disposable, you may want to consider bringing a bag or container that closes entirely to hold the gloves once you’ve removed them. Simply placing them in your gym bag with your other belongings would contaminate all other items. Wash the gloves on a hot-water cycle once you get home.

The virus can’t enter your body through your skin, but if you touch your face after handling your gloves, it can infect you through your nose, mouth, and eyes, 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.

Attentive sanitizing

Make sure you sanitize any equipment you touch after every use, including weights, machines, bikes, etc. And don’t rush the cleaning process – make sure you wait one minute after applying disinfectant before wiping down.  

“You might want to bring your own bottle of disinfectant to clean dumbbells, benches, etc. 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,” Troisi said.   

Multiple towels

“Carry several clean towels. Use one designated towel to wipe your sweaty face so you’re not touching your face all the time. Cover benches/seats with another one,” Troisi said. “You’ll want to change these towels out frequently.”

Wear a mask if it’s right for you

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

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

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