Gyms are carefully reopening in some places, taking action under government guidelines to increase cleaning and sanitation procedures. Gyms are also implementing new social distancing measures to ensure members’ safety. Although it’s intimidating to get back into the gym, your health is paramount during this pandemic and exercise bolsters wellness in many ways. Getting back into the gym is a personal choice that must be carefully considered based on health risk factors, mental comfort, and the extent to which your gym has taken appropriate actions to protect its members.
Here are some things to look for when/if you return to the gym or consider doing so. I’ve included a few recommendations on how to improve your safety from the minute you step into the gym to the moment you walk back into your home. Lastly, check out the tips for how to make the experience time-efficient and effective.
Considerations When Returning to Your Gym
Before stepping foot in the gym, check its website for COVID-19 updates. There’s a decent chance that your gym will have adjusted hours of operation and updated check-in procedures that you will want to familiarize yourself with. Reinstating your membership may also be a step that you need to take with a membership director prior to walking in for your first workout. This is likely done over email or phone right now while membership directors are working remotely and social distancing.
If your gym doesn’t have clear COVID-19-specific policies and adjustments then I strongly urge you to freeze your membership until it is safe to return or they adopt new policies. Many gyms have responded professionally and appropriately to the new operational challenges because 1) they need to stay in business, and 2) they care about their members. To help with this, many are using advance online registration for group classes and capacity trackers like Club Automation. These capacity trackers use real time data to reflect how busy (or not) the gym or fitness facility is, so you can decide from the comfort of your home whether or not you want to pay the gym a visit.
Gym Safety Check List
Below is a list of COVID-19 safety measures you should check for at your gym. Please note, this list is not exhaustive.
- Temperature and wellness checks at sign-in.
- Masks required in busy corridors such as the entrance/exit, stairwells, cafe, locker rooms and restrooms.
- At least 6 ft of social distancing required between all members. 10 ft is even better indoors.
- “Out of Service” signage on alternating pieces of gym equipment to ensure social distancing and/or rearrangement of equipment to create more distance and open space.
- Encouragement of wearing face masks in areas with cardiovascular exercise equipment (when you’re breathing heavily and fast you expel more viral and bacterial particles into the air).
- Ample supplies of hand sanitizer at check-in and on the gym floor as well as stocked soap dispensers in restrooms.
- Limited capacity in any and all elevators on site.
- No gym towels allowed on the gym floor (reduces spread of germs).
- Signage asking members to wipe down equipment before and after use as well as ample supply of equipment wipes.
- Reduced capacity for gym classes and enforced social distancing during participation.
- More outdoor exercise class options with social distancing when/where feasible.
- Possible signage and floor markings indicating traffic flow/walking directions through hallways and corridors.
- Possible reduced overall gym capacity depending on government regulations and directives.
- Possible upgrades to air filtration systems (can’t hurt to ask if your gym has the ability to invest in one that eliminates viruses and bacteria in large spaces).
Use this check-list to gauge which safety measures your facility of choice is leaning on and let it inform your decision about returning for exercise.
Gym Childcare – Is it Safe?
This is a really tricky one to answer. Scientists have seen hints that children pass COVID-19 among themselves at a lower rate than adult-to-adult transmission; however, research is fledgling at best. Unfortunately, it may take seeing how transmission rates change once school is back in session in some places come fall (hopefully they don’t get worse). Part of what will weigh your decision about the gym childcare will be:
- Age of your child; children who are under 2 years old and mobile are likely putting everything in their mouths…which is probably, unfortunately, not so ideal.
- Age of children who are able to wear masks versus those who are too young, and whether or not these different age groups will be playing in close proximity.
- Health status of your household and family members.
- Enhanced hygiene measures of the gym’s childcare; additional temp and wellness checks, modeling covering coughs/sneezes, hand washing upon entering and exiting, routinely cleaning toys and floors, etc.
- Type of flooring in childcare – for gyms that have wood, tile or otherwise non-carpeted flooring, the facility should be deep cleaning it daily. Unfortunately, gyms with carpeted childcare areas are likely unable to deep clean the carpet every day because of how long it takes to dry. This may affect your choice, especially for parents with babies who are crawling.
Again, as long as safety measures are in place, this must be a personal choice you make. Please note: Bringing a symptomatic child into the gym childcare for the sake of your workout is irresponsible both during a pandemic and otherwise. Let’s all agree on this…please!
Extra Measures You Can Take to Boost Your Safety
Here are a few extra steps that I personally take when coming and going from the gym. I’ve done most of it since years ago when my oldest son was 15 months old and came down with a nasty case of bronchiolitis that landed him in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. To see a loved one struggle for air is a horrible experience. I don’t wish it on anyone.
- Leave wedding bands and rings at home to keep them both clean and safe – bleach-based gym wipes and cleaners can erode certain metals.
- Bring and wear workout gloves or disposable gloves if you have sensitive skin and/or allergic reactions to the gym wipes, sanitizer, etc. Also not a terrible idea to help reduce overuse of hand sanitizer.
- While exercising at the gym, consider wearing a face mask for your entire workout, even if it’s not required. Double-layer masks that include some type of air filter sandwiched in the middle and masks that fit snugly (but are breathable) are great options because they offer you a little bit of protection while also boosting safety for others.
- Store hand sanitizer in the side pocket of your car door or in your hand bag/gym bag in case you forget to wash your hands when you leave.
- Remove gym shoes before entering your home.
- Immediately put your reusable gym water bottle into the dish washer or sink for cleaning.
- If you used your phone during your workout then clean the phone with a phone-safe wipe, cleaning solution, portable UV sanitation device, or PhoneSoap container at home. I like to clean my keys with my PhoneSoap too.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds, even if you already used hand sanitizer.
- Promptly remove your gym clothes and face mask and place them in the washer or laundry basket – then go take a shower!
- Now take a deep mask-less breath in the safety of your home and be glad you kept yourself both healthy and safe at the gym!
Tips for Making Your Gym Experience Time-Efficient & Effective
Wiping down equipment before and after use combined with certain machine restrictions will force you to think outside of your normal gym routine. I hope these tips are helpful so that you can have an effective workout on day one. If you have any other tips to offer please drop them in the comments!
- If possible, limit workouts without masks to less than 45-60 minutes since the viral load of COVID-19 is shown to increase in this amount of time in enclosed spaces.
- Use machines that you don’t have at home; save body weight and mat workouts for home.
- Instead of rotating weight machines between sets (because machines will be limited and in need of wiping), complete all sets on one machine with short breaks between sets or do stationary exercises like squats/lunges/push-ups/planks in front of the machine during rest periods.
- Buy a few sets of affordable dumbbells for home and use props like the roman chair, bench press, squat rack, plated machines, etc. while at the gym.
- Skip the treadmill and save running for your neighborhood – choose the Stairmaster or ARC trainer on an incline for a great low-impact glute workout to switch things up.
- Set a goal to finish your workout in less than 45 minutes and plan it out in advance. Your determination and effort might surprise you when you’re working towards a time goal.
- Focus on three main things: Building cardiovascular health, muscle, and a sense of calm. We could all use a bit more of these things right now.
I hope you have a GREAT workout whether it’s at the gym or at home. Remember, staying healthy and well is the only critical component here, and that can happen essentially anywhere.
Yours in health and wellness,