Is It Safe To Go To The Gym During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

Must Reads 10 min Read

Written by

Gustavo Ramos

As gyms begin to reopen across the U.S. after more than 6 weeks of shutdown, you may be eager to get back on track with your strength training or cardio routine.

But with stress levels at an all-time high and so much uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, it’s natural to feel concerned about whether heading back to the gym is the right decision.  

If you’re someone who has continued to exercise regularly during quarantine, either through virtual training with one of our Strength Trainers or crushing some workouts on your own, props to you for staying consistent through this crazy time! And if you struggled with getting home workouts to work for you, or with the temptations of quarantine snacking, that’s okay too! 

Whether you decided to take a break or not, you’re probably finding yourself missing the gym environment; people working hard around you, friendly trainers greeting you, and all the equipment that you love using.

So if you’re searching for answers as to whether it’s worth it to go back into the gym and use your favorite squat rack or stay home and do P90X, here are the answers you’re looking for. 

Understanding the virus

According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads most predominantly through respiratory droplets when an infected person breathes out, speaks, coughs, or sneezes. For this reason, any time you’re interacting with others in public, there is a risk of infection.

Because of the speed at which COVID-19 spreads it made sense to shut down facilities where people would spend an extended amount of time in close quarters breathing on each other. This included the shutdown of all health and fitness studios—no matter the size or type. But this closure assumed that all gyms were created equal, and there was little that could be done to minimize risk.

If you were to walk into your local big-box gym a few months before the pandemic, you would probably agree that there was a risk for all sorts of viral spread; but this was pre-pandemic.

Now with the understanding of how this virus spreads, gyms are reopening with extensive measures to prevent any kind of viral spread. This highlights the passion and dedication gym owners have for getting people like you back in the gym and exercising safely. 

More importantly, it paints gyms in a new light as places of cleanliness and procedures instead of grime and sweat. But before you reach for your gym shoes, it’s important to assess the risks of your local gym and explore all the ways you can safely get a workout in. Read on for all the details on gym safety and if it’s time for you to get back into the gym. 

Not all gyms are created equal

The gym is awesome. It’s the best environment to feel motivated to exercise. There’s all the equipment you could ever need to get a great workout in, and you’re surrounded by others also working towards a better version of themselves. But in terms of virus transmission, the gym could be of elevated risk when compared to an activity like running outside.

The difference is a higher chance of touching the same things as someone else, and people breathing harder than usual, effectively spreading droplets into the air.  

To really weigh the risks of heading back to the gym, we need to consider the differences in facilities. 

Large, big-box gyms shouldn’t be in the same risk category as a privately owned personal training studio or an outdoor-based CrossFit gym. Let’s dive into the three factors to consider when thinking about a gym’s risk.

foot traffic 

The number one way to avoid infection with any virus is to not come into contact with anyone that has the virus. So simple in theory, yet so difficult to achieve. 

If a gym has a large membership base, you may be surrounded by a lot of people—all of whom could be infected.

If we’re looking strictly at numbers, the more people in close quarters, the higher the likelihood of you getting infected. Your probability does not change, but the dice is being rolled each time another person walks through the door while you’re pumping up your biceps in the squat rack. 

people-to-employee ratio

Let’s face it, some gym-goer might forget to wipe something down in their pre-workout induced muscular fury. Or maybe someone touched a surface that they wouldn’t even think to clean, like a collar for a barbell or the weight plates themselves.

This is where the awesome gym staff comes in. You may have already noticed that some gyms are scheduling blocks of time where you can come in and work out for a scheduled amount of time. This is a brilliant idea because it not only minimizes the number of people in the gym at once, but it allows the staff to clean up in between scheduled blocks. 

But here is the caveat: if there isn’t enough staff on board, how do you know everything has been wiped down before you come into contact with it? The concept here is that if there are more people in the gym than there are staff members, it may be difficult for the staff to wipe equipment down after each gym-goer uses it.

This opens up the possibility for transmission through equipment that wasn’t disinfected properly—another risk to consider. 

Ventilation & Space

Knowing that the virus spreads mainly through exhaled droplets, the gym size can affect the chance of transmission. The larger the floor space and the greater the ventilation, the lower the risk of having droplets floating through the air.

This is why the CDC recommends exercising primarily outdoors. But, as summer rolls around it may get too hot to effectively exercise outside. 

Understand the risk

Foot traffic, people-to-employee ratio, and ventilation should all be taken into consideration when you’re selecting a gym to head back to.

Almost all gyms have beefed up their policies and procedures to prevent the spread of the virus. But things like foot traffic and the number of staff in the gym cleaning can still limit these procedures from being virus-proof.

If you’re looking to minimize your risk of exposure, then a personal training studio is the place for you.

At each of our Seriously Strong Training locations, there is always a 1:1 ratio of Strength Trainers to clients. This allows us to methodically clean everything a client touches. Foot traffic is low, and Strength Trainers are constantly communicating with clients to make sure they aren’t coming in if they feel under the weather.

This type of environment creates the least risk of exposure since the dice are being rolled less times. Whichever gym you’re looking into, you can minimize your risk of exposure by going at off-hours, doing shorter workouts, and staying as far as possible from other gym-goers. No matter how clean the gym is, there will always be some risk; just as there’s risk when going to the grocery store, getting gas, or eating at a restaurant.

In this case, it’s up to you to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Be cautious, but don’t be afraid

Once you’ve decided it’s time to head to the gym, it’s important to be cautious but not afraid. You can help slow the spread and minimize your exposure by being overly cautious when at the gym. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when heading back to the gym:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands when entering and leaving the gym.
  • Only bring essentials—you’ll have to disinfect all of these things when you’re done.
  • Wipe down everything before and after you use it. Any part of the equipment that you’re going to touch can’t hurt to be wiped down.
  • Don’t touch your face. This is easier said than done. If you get sweaty easily or are always touching your face, a cloth face mask might be your best option. Be careful though, as it may be hard to breathe during exercise. 
  • Keep more than 6 feet of space between others when possible. 
  • If you feel under the weather, stay home. Exercise, especially vigorous exercise, can make most sicknesses worse. Also, you could be contagious. 

Consider other options 

Exercise is important now more than ever. If you’re still not sure if the benefits outweigh the risks for you to head back to the gym, consider other options to stay active. I’ve outlined a few for you to consider. 

Join a personal training studio

At Seriously Strong Training, we pride ourselves in teaching beginners strength training but most recently have been adamant about helping our clients feel safe to come back into our gym.

Our Strength Trainers are constantly wiping down everything that is touched at all times of the day and our schedule always has less than 10 people in our gyms. We’re grateful to be reopened and are happy to be able to provide personal training to our clients again.

If you decide that a personal training studio might be your best option, be sure to ask when you schedule a session what they are doing to minimize the risk of viral infections. This should give you a good idea of what you’re working with. 

Get virtual training from the safety of your home

This is an excellent option if you’re a high-risk individual or want to wait a little longer to see how things unfold. We started providing virtual training as soon as we were mandated to close down.

Seriously Strong Training provides a complete virtual training experience that not only includes hour-long personal training sessions but total accountability and care from a Certified Strength Trainer ready to lead you to whatever goals you may have.

Many of our clients were amazed at how effective virtual training was, and have continued with the service through the pandemic. If you’re curious, see the video below.

Brush off the dust from your running shoes and get outdoors

Going outside, whether to run, bike, hike, or ruck can be a great option if you’re motivated to do so. It’s mostly free (besides getting shoes/gear) and you can go whenever you prefer!

We train a good amount of runners at Seriously Strong Training and appreciate the benefits of a great run. If you’re new to running, my biggest tip for you is to always warm-up. The video below is a great place to start for a proper running warm-up. 

If you can find equipment, building a home gym is a great way to social distance forever

A home gym can give you a sense of being in control. You can slam all the weights you want, grunt loudly, and wear whatever you want. The best part? Minimal risk of infection.

If you’re interested in separating from gym culture altogether, check out this article on how to build a home gym. A fair warning, many others are also trying to build a home gym and most websites are currently out of stock. 

In the end, it’s important to understand that life is inherently risky. Going to the gym will add another instance of risk to your life. 

Ultimately, whether you return to the gym or not will be up to you. Please be safe, and weigh your options when making the decision. This article was written to help you understand your many options so that you may continue to stay healthy during a time when health matters most.  

If you need a Strength Trainer to help guide you towards your goals, schedule a FREE Strategy Session with us and we will help you get there. 

 

Gustavo Ramos

Gustavo, “Goose”, is the head trainer at Seriously Strong Training Tallahassee while attending the Masters in Exercise Physiology program at Florida State University. Gustavo is responsible for the education of all personal trainers at SST, and creates training materials to ensure our coaches are always at the top of their game.