Spring has sprung, bodies are in motion, and folks are happily heading back to the gym. In-home workouts have been fantastic opportunities to keep the body fit and the mind activated during quarantine. However, there’s nothing like the community connection one experiences in a group fitness class, going for a swim, working out with a personal trainer, or meeting up with friends to do circuit weight training on the machines at our favorite gyms and health clubs.
By staying at home we can guarantee our spaces are clean and germ-free, but it’s hard to bond with our fitness friends during zoom classes. As gyms are opening up, and folks are ready to diversify their workout regimen. Many of us wonder what steps to take to practice healthy hygiene as we work on reaching our fitness goals.
Here are 8 hygiene and gym etiquette tips to keep us all comfortable working out at the gym and in public spaces.
- If you aren’t feeling well, stay home.
Now more than ever, if we are feeling sick, don’t try to show up and power through a workout. Stay home. If you think you’ve been exposed to Covid-19, the CDC recommends self-quarantine for a minimum of 5 days. If you’ve got a runny nose or headache, you can go for a walk or practice yoga at home. Why risk spreading whatever illness you may have to a random person working out next to you at the gym.
- Wash your hands, wash your face, and don’t touch your face.
We all know it. Bacteria live on surfaces. Washing our hands removes viruses and bacteria. Keeping our hands away from our faces is a simple way of keeping germs away. Simply washing our hands and not touching our faces can keep away a myriad of organisms that make us sick.
- Don’t be all up in other people’s personal space.
If you can smell the breath or body odor of someone next to you, you’re too close. If there’s a big row of unused treadmills and one person is on a treadmill, give yourself space.
It’s okay to use the six-foot rule when working out. You can also figure out when your gym is not in prime hours and workout then. Most people go to the gym early in the morning or after work, so if you can, go after the morning and night rush to give yourself space.
- Wipe down machines and free weights with disinfection wipes before and after use.
Public places are just crawling with microorganisms that can make us sick. According to a study done by Fitrated, there are 362 times more bacteria on free weights than there are on a toilet seat and 74 times more bacteria on a treadmill than on a water faucet.
Wiping down machines and free weights before and after use and washing your hands is vital to keeping them clean. I also have several pairs of weight lifting gloves that I use in rotation so I can clean after use and always have a fresh pair to use at the gym.
- Use your own yoga mat and keep it clean.
Even if you use your own yoga mat, you’re placing that mat on the floor, so the possibility of it picking up germs is pretty high. If someone steps on your yoga mat with bare feet, bam, germs can be spread. When buying a yoga mat, make sure it’s machine washable and wash it frequently. Buy disinfectant sprays and keep them in your gym bag to disinfect your mat after each use.
- It’s okay to use more than one towel.
If your gym offers towel service, take advantage of it. It’s okay to take more than one towel! You can use one to wipe the sweat from your brow, another to cover the seat of the machine you’re using, and another to lay over the yoga mat you’re laying down on. If you see someone has left a towel where it shouldn’t be leave it alone. You don’t know where that towel has been or what’s living on it.
- Always take a shower and wear clean workout clothes.
It’s never okay to wear dirty funky workout clothes at the gym. As you’re heading out to the gym, put on fresh undies for all your private parts and clean workout gear. There’s nothing worse than smelling old sweat reignited by new sweat combining the funk.
After your workout, take off those wet things, shower, and change into clean, dry clothes. If you can’t take a shower, remove all of your wet gym clothes, wipe yourself off with baby wipes or a clean towel, and put on clean, dry undergarments and clothes. Wearing wet underwear can cause yeast infections.
- Wash your water bottle and straw.
You may be helping save the planet by using your own refillable water bottle but if you don’t clean it regularly, you could be drinking in all kinds of bacteria and mold. Simply washing your water bottle with hot soapy water can prevent bacteria from forming as you hydrate.
- Wear shower shoes and keep a mesh cloth bag in your gym bag for wet items.
The locker room and public showers are like Club Med for bacteria and fungus. If you’d like to protect yourself from Athlete’s Foot, which spreads in damp areas, wear flip flops or shower shoes in the locker room. Be sure to store your shower shoes in a mesh bag with the soles together in your gym bag, and clean and sanitize and dry the bottom of your shower shoes after every use.
- It’s okay to wear a mask.
Working out in a mask isn’t comfortable but if you have a compromised immune system or are around someone who is older or immunocompromised, wear your mask while you workout. Even if everyone else isn’t wearing a mask, you are vaccinated, socially distance as much as you can, wear a mask, don’t touch your face, and wash your face and hands frequently, you are protecting yourself as much as you can from creating the opportunity for viruses to enter your system and make you sick.
Change is constant, and we’ve entered the endemic stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s up to each of us to decide how to protect ourselves and when to where, and how to work out in public spaces. Taking these ten steps can help us all mindfully stay fit during this unpredictable time.
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Jeanine is a Writer, Actor, member SAG/AFTRA, AEA, Podcast host, Producer, CEO VisAbleBlackWoman Productions, Certified Health Coach and Conscious Dance facilitator. Jeanine's mission, centering Black women's stories to preserve our legacies.