Chances are your weight training and fitness routines aren’t quite what they used to be – for better or worse – since commercial gyms and fitness centers across the United States were ordered to close, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Since March, when the majority of shutdowns occurred, home gyms have become all the rage, leading to a kettlebell shortage and a general lack of available equipment options for fitness enthusiasts or those simply trying to stay active. Running and biking increased in popularity during this time, as did virtual workouts, as people sought a way to exercise while continuing to social distance. But, now that gyms have reopened in more than half of the states, there’s another option to consider. The main question on most people’s minds now: is it safe to return to the gym?
RISK VS. REWARD
As with most major life decisions, this is a personal choice. It’s something that you’ll have to decide for yourself. While getting back into your old routine, having access to specific equipment or being around other likeminded gymgoers might be exactly what you’re craving and needing right now, keep in mind that everyone is at risk of getting the coronavirus if they’re exposed to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recently, more than 200 people who were at a gym in West Virginia might have been exposed to COVID-19 after a client was diagnosed with it. The risk for severe illness increases with age, according to the CDC, so older adults need to take extra precautions. The CDC also states that there’s an increased risk of severe illness for people of any age with underlying health conditions. A good rule of thumb to follow: if you’re not sure if it’s a good idea to go back to the gym, consult your doctor before making any final decisions.
CREATE A PLAN
If you’ve made up your mind and are intent on returning to the gym, make sure that you have a plan in place before you go. The Mayo Clinic has a section regarding COVID-19 safety tips for travel, restaurants and the gym. It suggests that you research and become aware of your state’s rules, regulations and restrictions regarding COVID-19; call your gym ahead of time to check if it’s limiting members or if you need to reserve a specific block of time to work out; find out what cleaning policies and safety procedures are being implemented; and inquire about whether the locker rooms and restrooms will be open or closed.
It’s also a good idea to come up with a workout plan ahead of time – and maybe even a few different plans – so that you can adapt and adjust as you go. This way, if a certain machine or piece of equipment isn’t available or is being used by another member, you’ll be able to switch things up on the fly and not miss a beat, maximizing your time in the gym.
WHAT TO BRING
The Cleveland Clinic advises that you find out whether it’s mandatory to wear a face mask in the gym at all times, and suggests wearing one during your workout (if you’re able to), since the coronavirus can possibly be spread by people who don’t have any noticeable symptoms. They also recommend bringing your own towel and water bottle, and stress the importance of cleaning and wiping down all the equipment you use – from dumbbells to treadmills – both before and after each use.
CONTINUE TO FOLLOW PUBLIC HEALTH GUIDELINES
Continue following your state’s guidelines on how to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. As the NYC Health site details, stay home if you’re sick, keep physical distance – staying at least 6 feet away from other people – wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer (if soap and water isn’t available), and wear a face covering in public if you can’t maintain social distancing.
An article in Science Magazine, “It’s safe to go back to the gym – if there’s little COVID-19 around, study suggests,” examined a study on the risk of transmission in Norway. It reported that people in Oslo who went to a gym were no more likely to get infected with coronavirus than people who didn’t. But, some epidemiologists noted that it’s possible that no one was infected at those gyms, because there were very few COVID-19 cases in Oslo during the time that the study was conducted.
So, stay up to date on the number of COVID-19 cases in your community and continue to practice common sense. If the numbers are spiking in your area, it’s probably best to skip the gym and do a virtual workout at home, or get some exercise outside.