As the country starts to reopen post-lockdown, there’s no denying that the way we go about our day-to-day activities will look different than before, at least for a little while. One of the areas where that may be most apparent? The gym. At-home workouts have reigned supreme these last few months, but with more and more gyms and exercise studios opening back up, it’s time to consider what you need to do to keep yourself safe, should you choose to go back. After all, these were already hotspots for all kinds of germs and bacteria, even in a pre-Corona world. Ahead, experts weigh in on the best ways to stay safe and healthy when going back to the gym after Coronavirus closures.
Change up your schedule.
While it’s the responsibility of the gym to limit capacity and encourage social distancing, altering when you go can also help ensure you’re around less people, says Jeanette Nesheiwat, MD, a board-certified medical doctor practicing family and emergency medicine in New York. If you typically exercise before or after the workday, try going an hour earlier or an hour later, she suggests. Ideally, though, try to avoid those times of day altogether (peak times when most people exercise), and go in the late morning or mid-afternoon, when you’re less likely to encounter crowds.
Steer clear of crowded classes.
To that point, you may want to avoid group classes for now. “We know that the virus spreads when people are in close proximity,” says Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, a professor at Rutgers University who researches quantitative microbial risk assessment and cross-contamination.In a class setting, particularly a big class, it’s going to be near impossible to socially distance and not be right on top of other people, Schaffner points out. He cites a CDC report that tracked a cluster of Coronaviruses cases inSouth Korea back to exercise dance classes and an infected instructor. According to the report, large class sizes, small spaces, and intensity of the workouts (more on this point in a minute) all contributed to this outbreak.
Pass on cardio at the gym.
Given that the virus is transmitted through the air, theoretically, the heavier you (and the people around you) are breathing, the higher the risk, says Schaffner. That same CDC report backs this up; there were no cases in smaller yoga and Pilates classes that had seven or eight people. The bottom line: If you’re really missing that group workout energy, a small yoga class is likely a safer bet than a packed spin class or bootcamp. And, in general, it’s a good move to considergetting your cardio outdoorsrather than running or walking on a treadmill that’s lined up next to a dozen others. Stick to exercises where you aren’t going to be breathing quite as heavily—think weight lifting—when you are back at the gym.
Masks may be optional, but are still encouraged.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone wear a mask or cloth face covering in public, especially in places where maintaining social distancing is difficult, however masks are optional at most gyms that are reopening. Many studios are encouraging their clients to wear them during anaerobic exercises, like weight lifting, or low-intensity workouts. For example, Equinox is asking that their members wear masks “except while vigorously training," and Barry's Bootcamp will offer masks for clients, though wearing one while sprinting on the treadmill is optional. Your best bet: Monitor how you feel in your mask, and if you need to take a breather, so to speak, safely step away and do so.
Get your hair out of your face.
Not touching your face is paramount, says Dr. Nesheiwat. But if the past few months have proven anything, it’s that this is much easier said than done. It can be particularly problematic at the gym, when you’re constantly tempted to wipe off sweat or push errant hairs out of your face. Pull your hair up and make sure it’s secure before you get to the gym; doubling-up on a ponytail plus headband isn’t a bad idea either. And as far as wiping off sweat goes, BYO pack of disposable face wipes to use. We like Recess Bacteria Fighting Face Wipes ($20; amazon.com); they contain benzalkonium chloride to kill viruses and germs, come individually wrapped, and are biodegradable. Keep the pack handy and pull them out as needed, rather than leaving a towel laying nearby and continually picking it up from potentially germy surfaces.
Wash your hands.
To the point of surfaces, we don’t yet know if the virus can be transmitted through sweat, but we do know that you’re more likely to get it from person-to-person contact than off a surface, says Schaffner. In other words, “your biggest concern at the gym should be who is breathing on you, rather than what you’re touching,” he points out. It’s the facility’s job to make sure equipment is disinfected regularly, but that being said, practicing good hygiene is still a non-negotiable. Make sure you’re washing your hands immediately after your workout and using hand santizer throughout.
Leave right after working out.
It's also a good idea to take a shower ASAP after exercising at the gym, says Dr. Nesheiwat, but do that at home, rather than in the locker room. “The longer you’re in the same area as someone who has COVID-19, the higher your chance of catching it,” she explains. Avoid lingering and socializing—or even showering—at the gym and head home as quickly as you can.
TLDR: You can’t completely eliminate the risk of catching the virus, at the gym or otherwise, but you can consider the things you can do to stay safe and make smart choices.
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We do not claim these techniques will kill or stop the spread of coronavirus. Please visit the CDC website for more information.
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