Staying Safe at the Gym During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Like all public spaces where people gather, gyms and fitness centers are places where viral illnesses—including COVID-19—can spread. And the shared weights, sweaty stretching areas, and heavy breathing may put you on high alert. 

But gyms don’t necessarily pose a risk greater than any other public space. Based on the research so far, COVID-19 appears to spread primarily through close personal contact with an infected person, though public health officials warn that touching high-contact public surfaces could potentially lead to disease transmission, too.

Taking the proper precautions can lessen your risk of becoming ill. Here’s what you need to know about staying safe from COVID-19 at the gym.  

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, appears to spread primarily when people cough or sneeze and respiratory droplets land on those nearby. “Heavy breathing during exercise won’t shed the virus,” says Manish Trivedi, M.D., director of the division of infectious diseases and chairman of infection prevention and control at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in New Jersey. “It’s coughing or sneezing [onto others or onto nearby exercise equipment] that we’re concerned about,” he says.

Respiratory droplets can spread up to six feet, which is why public health officials recommend putting this distance between yourself and others, especially in public places.

Objects in the gym that are touched frequently, including exercise machines, mats, and dumbbells could potentially serve as a reservoir for viruses and other germs—especially because people may cough into their hands and then use equipment.

What Gyms Are Doing

Consumer Reports reached out to 10 large gym chains to ask whether they are implementing any special precautions while COVID-19 is spreading. We heard back from a few—mostly with information about vigilant cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, and admonitions to members to stay home when sick.

“Team members conduct regular and thorough cleaning of all equipment, surfaces, and areas of the club and gym floor using disinfectant cleaning supplies. In addition, they regularly complete overnight cleaning of the facility,” wrote a Planet Fitness spokesperson, in an email to Consumer Reports. According to the spokesperson, Planet Fitness also has placed signage at the front desk of all 2,000-plus locations reminding members to wash hands frequently and disinfect equipment before and after each use.

A statement from the president and CEO of Gold’s Gym said: “We always encourage our members to wipe down equipment after every use, and to utilize the hand sanitizer stations we provide throughout our gyms.”

Life Time, a chain of luxury health clubs in the U.S. and Canada, has added more hours to payroll for cleaning, according to a company spokesperson. “Certain departments are doing increased cleaning every 15 minutes, certainly in high-traffic areas. We are being more diligent in studio spaces (cycle, yoga, Pilates, group fitness),” the spokesperson wrote in an email. The chain also has started to discourage physical contact. “In the past where we’d encourage participants to give high fives and some physical contact in classes and small group trainings, we’re doing the opposite.”

A spokesperson for OrangeTheory Fitness wrote that the gym “encourages members to listen to their bodies with extra caution during this time as we do not recommend signing up or working out when they have a fever, are coughing, sneezing or experiencing shortness of breath.”

In areas where COVID-19 is spreading, some local branches are also choosing to temporarily shut down. In a statement announcing its temporary closure, the JCC Manhattan community center said they “want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

If you’re not sure if your gym is stepping up to help prevent the spread of the virus by doing extra cleaning or providing disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer for members, ask.

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