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After months of being closed, gyms and fitness studios have started to reopen in 43 states amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It’s part of the first phase of the White House’s guidelines for opening up America, which state that gyms can open if they “adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.” However, while many people are excited to finally get back to the weight rack or the yoga studio, some are understandably skeptical about how safe it is to return to the gym.
Whether or not you should go back to the gym right now is a hotly-debated topic. Some of the major concerns include shared equipment, reduced airflow, and the congregation of a lot of people in an indoor space. “There are very few activities outside of our own bubbles that are safe,” Jocelyn Ricasa, M.D., a sports medicine physician at Bon Secours Medical Associates in Hampton Roads, Va. says. “The variables that need to be considered when deciding to return to a gym include the current state of your community with regards to COVID-19 activity, your own risk factors, social distancing efforts put in place by the gym itself, and the activities conducted in and the duration of time in that environment.”
Below is everything you need to know about returning to the gym during the COVID-19 pandemic, including whether or not you should wear a face mask while working out and what you should bring with you.
How has COVID-19 changed the gym?
Just as retail shops aren’t the same amid the pandemic, neither are gyms. Along with reduced capacity requirements—many are capped at 50 percent—gyms across the U.S. are implementing new, stricter rules in an attempt to keep both staff and members safe.
Chelsea Stewart, NASM CPT, works at Crunch Fitness in Tampa, Fla., where things have been very different since the chain gym reopened its doors. “All staff is required to wear masks at all times and spend at least one hour of their work day cleaning the facility. Everything must be cleaned with specific cleaners—no outside cleaning products are allowed,” she explains, adding that the locker rooms are deep cleaned for an hour twice a day every day. Additionally, both members and staff temperatures are checked upon arrival to the gym.
A lot of gyms and studios are also requiring members to book an appointment or reserve classes online beforehand to avoid going over capacity while others have also opted for touchless check-in systems. Many have also placed signage or markers to help members social distance and have rearranged equipment and machines to be more spaced out. And while the locker rooms at Stewart’s Crunch Fitness are open, some places have chosen to close locker room facilities completely or at least block off showers or changing areas.
Should you wear a face mask while working out?
Some studios and gyms require people to wear masks at all times when inside the facility—before, during, and after workouts. But even if the gym or studio you’re attending doesn’t require one, wearing a face mask is one of the best ways to protect yourself, according to Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at VCU Health in Richmond. “The major concern is exercising adjacent to an individual who is infected with COVID-19 and not wearing a mask,” Dr. Bearman explains. “To stay safe, a mask should be worn to the fullest extent possible during exercise. Face mask use is strongly encouraged in an indoor, congregate environment, such as a gym. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends wearing a cloth face-covering in public to help reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 and urges people to wear one “when exercise type and intensity allows.”
Maddison Rowles, NASM CPT at Under Armour World Headquarters and a spin instructor at Rev Cycle Studio in Baltimore, says she always wears a mask when she’s working out around other people, especially if they’re closer than six feet. While she wears a N95 mask in everyday life, she prefers something more lightweight at the gym. “When working out I opt for something comfortable and breathable but also effective,” she explains. “I recommend the Under Armour face mask—it’s anti-microbial and has a cooling fabric on the interior to keep you cool while you sweat!” (The sold-out Under Armour Sportsmask is currently available for pre-order.)
While our experts are currently in the process of testing the best masks for working out—stay tuned!—we have spent hours wearing, using, and reviewing some of the most popular masks and found the top 10. Our number one pick? The Athleta face mask, which is triple-layered for more protection yet still breathable and comfortable to wear.
How can you stay safe at the gym or fitness studio?
If you do choose to return to the gym or fitness studio, go at an off hour—like early morning or late at night—when the gym won’t be as crowded as opposed to more popular times—like mid-day or after work—when it’s difficult to practice social distancing. Always keep six feet between you and other gym-goers (many gyms have markers or tape on the floor to help you properly social distance). For instance, leave a treadmill or two in between you and the next person or set up your mat at least six feet away if you’re in a group fitness class (no more high-fives or fist bumps, either!). And on the topic of classes, the CDC suggests avoiding group indoor training sessions if possible and instead opting for outdoor or virtual classes.
The CDC also recommends that you make sure all equipment and machines have been thoroughly disinfected and sanitized before you use it (you can do this yourself with disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol). Steer clear of shared equipment that cannot be sanitized between uses, like weightlifting belts or resistance bands, the CDC says.
As for what you should bring with you, besides a face mask, hand sanitizer and/or wipes, some gyms are limiting access to things like towels and props (exercise mats, bands, etc.) so you may want to bring your own. A reusable water bottle is also a smart idea to avoid drinking from a shared water fountain.
If you feel unsafe or that the facility or other members aren’t adhering to proper safety protocols, Rowles encourages people to say something. “Having the confidence to speak up when you believe someone is crossing the line of safety—whether they aren’t wearing a mask or are too close to you—is the only way to keep everyone in the same space safe,” she reminds us.
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This article originally appeared on Reviewed.com: How to stay safe at the gym during the COVID-19 pandemic