With extra people flocking to their local gym or fitness centre in an attempt to get a jump on their New Year’s resolution, there is no better time to learn the ins and outs of staying healthy while working out.
Gyms, yoga studios and martial arts centres are often some of the most germ-infested places you visit, according to the American Society for Microbiology and a recent report by FitRated.com.
Studies took samples from a total of 69 facilities to measure the number (and type) of organisms found on various equipment and common areas. FitRated.com specifically looked at things like treadmills, exercise bikes and free weights and found all were covered in germs, bacteria and/or viruses — more than one million of them per square inch.
“All three types of equipment yielded gram-positive cocci (a common cause of skin infections and other illnesses); gram-negative rods (which can cause various infections and are sometimes antibiotic-resistant) and gram-positive rods (which can, but don’t often cause infections),” according to researchers.
The study found that exercise bikes can have 39 times more bacteria that an average plastic cafeteria tray, free weights can have 362 times more germs than a toilet seat and treadmills can have 74 times more bacteria than a bathroom water faucet.
A 2014 study found 25 different types of bacteria, fungi or viruses — including salmonella and staphylococcus — in fitness facilities. Some of the worst offenders were actually yoga mats due to their porous materials. But Bridgewater fitness enthusiast and gym-owner Allison Lynds says these results are not totally unexpected.
“Germs are inevitable in any public space,” she says, adding that it is more about how they are dealt with that matters.
While the average gym may be a potential spawning ground for some nasty bacteria and viruses simply because of the nature of its use — lots of sweaty bodies sharing and passing along any number of germs — the actual threat comes down to some very controllable factors that can significantly lower your risk.
For Lynds and her husband, Mike — a personal trainer and co-owner of The Lynds Den Health and Fitness centre — cleanliness is something they take very seriously. All of their rules are clearly posted so everyone can see what is expected of them.
Lynds says one thing that makes a big difference is their mandatory “indoor shoes only” policy once you enter the gym.
“It’s so germs and things like bird poop or feces that you find on outdoor shoes stays at the front desk area in our shoe cubbies,” says Lynds.
They also have various cleaning stations throughout the 10,000-square-foot gym. When you walk in the main weight room area, there is a cleaning-cloth station with three rows of towels and bottles of disinfectant spray.
“You can take a bottle with you or choose one that is close to where you are working out,” says Lynds. “There are cleaning bins for the disinfectant throughout the gym and laundry bins marked for clean and dirty towels. The staff does laundry multiple times a day to make sure we keep things fresh, and the dirty towels are never sitting there for too long.”
Researchers in all studies noted factors such as personal hygiene, surface cleaning and disinfection schedules of the facilities were likely contributing factors in the wide range and number of bacteria they found. Lynds says this is why they do hourly checks of the gym, and staff members will gently remind someone if they accidently leave their shoes on or forget to wipe down their equipment.
“Germs are everywhere in a public space. That is undeniable,” says Lynds. “But it depends on the gym itself, so you need to take your personal standards into consideration when you choose where you want to work out. Different facilities have different standards.”
Gym etiquette 101
While a high standard of cleanliness is certainly important for any gym, Allison Lynds — co-owner of The Lynds Den Health and Fitness centre in Bridgewater — says there is also an often unwritten policy for “respectful behaviour” that can make everyone’s gym-going experience more enjoyable.
“It comes down to it being a shared space, so you need to have a simple awareness of those around you,” she says.
Here are 15 suggestions for top gym etiquette:
- Don’t come to the gym if you are sick.
- Use a towel and disinfectant spray to wipe down all equipment, benches and mats before you use them and after you’re finished with them.
- Use deodorant, but skip strong colognes or perfume.
- Don’t hog equipment — bring your towel and belongings with you so you are not occupying more than one piece of equipment at a time.
- Respect the posted time limits on equipment or space.
- When using weights, keep them in a confined area so you are not taking up a lot of space that others could be using
- Unload the weight bar when you finish — you may be able to lift those hundreds of pounds of weights, but the next person may not. Make removing the weights part of your workout.
- Re-rack dumbbells and put weights in their proper place. Clean up after yourself. A loose dumbbell or weight is dangerous and can cause serious injury to others.
- Don’t block others or machines. For safety, a minimum of two feet is required between each resistance machine — three feet for optimal safety.
- Respect other people’s privacy and need for quiet. Don’t make phone calls on the gym floor, play loud or disrespectful music or carry on loud conversations.
- Follow the rules of the gym, and ask questions if you don’t understand one of the rules.
- Everyone is at the gym for their own reason — it’s a “no judgement” space.
- If someone looks like they are struggling, offer to help them.
- Use only positive comments. Keep negative comments to yourself.
- Help create an overall comfortable atmosphere for everyone to participate in.
Cynthia McMurray is a Custom Content Editor with a passion for living healthy. She has written several books and research papers for nutritional and supplement companies, and can be regularly found in the health food aisle. She lives in Dartmouth with her family (two and four-legged).