As most people head into the gym, their minds are focused on the day’s workout””not on MRSA, norovirus, influenza and other scary germs that may be floating around or lurking on the equipment. While disinfectant sprays and hand sanitizers are available in some facilities, you might be lucky to get a paper towel in others. But you don’t have to become a germophobe””or worse, avoid working out at the gym altogether””to avoid getting sick. Just use common sense and keep these tips in mind to protect yourself.
Clean the machines
Germs can linger on exercise equipment for up to a month. Before you hop on or grap handles with your hands, always wipe down a machine. If you don’t see a spray bottle or towels, ask the staff if they have some on hand. And as a courtesy to the next user, be sure to clean the equipment after your workout.
If you’ll be using equipment that requires a good deal of skin contact, consider wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt for added protection.
It may slow you down, but regularly applying hand sanitizer throughout your workout (especially if you’re working with free weights and other shared equipment) is one of the most effective ways to guard yourself against germs. Also make a conscious effort to keep your hands away from your face.
Mind your mat
Never assume equipment, including gym mats, has been cleaned by the person who used it before you. Because mats can be harder than other equipment to wipe down, consider bringing your own if you’ll be doing yoga, pilates or exercises that require more than a few minutes of mat time. When finished, clean your mat (you don’t want to bring home germs that may have settled during your workout).
Don’t trust the towels
It’s a nice amenity when a gym offers towel service, but I can’t help cringing when I see someone using a gym towel to wipe their face. Sure, the towels are washed. But did they use hot water and bleach? Was the same basket used to collect soiled towels used to carry out “fresh” ones? The best thing to do is to bring a towel from home to use on your body. Use gym towels to clean the machines, not your skin.
Locker room awareness
Just because your workout is over doesn’t mean you should let down your guard. Locker rooms are notorious breeding grounds for germs. Always keep on your shoes, and wear flip flips if you use the showers. Never sit on an uncovered bench, especially without clothing on; use a towel from home to cover the surface first. And get in the habit of washing your hands well before you leave.
Bugs in your bag
Another hidden spot for germs is your gym bag. It’s tossed on the dirty floor of the locker room or on benches in busy areas of the gym where germs lurk. Plus, soiled clothes and worn shoes are shoved inside. To keep it clean, place items in a plastic bag before packing up. And spray down the outside of the bag with disinfectant often. A weekly wash in hot water is also a good idea.
IFBB figure professional Melissa Transou, a fitness expert, wife and mother, blogs about the unique sports and nutrition needs of women and female athletes exclusively for Vitacost.com. Learn more about Melissa in this recent RXMuscle.com spotlight article, connect with her on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.