10 Tips for Having a COVID-Safe Workout at the Gym

  • young black woman training with ropes in the gym with face mask during coronavirus pandemic; her personal trainer is beside her
    COVID-19 Gym Safety
    Gyms are beginning to reopen with new COVID-19 guidelines in place. If you were an avid gym go-er before—or if you’re ready for some serious physical activity after months of sedentary isolation—you may be eager to get to the gym. You may also be a little concerned, as coronavirus continues to spread in many communities.

    Learn how you can have a safe workout during the COVID-19 pandemic and whether you should wear a mask during workouts.

  • gym owner using infrared thermometer to check customer's body temperature
    1. Call ahead
    Before heading out, call and ask about current safety policies. Some gyms are limiting the number of people who can use their facilities at any given time, and some are requiring patrons to sign up for time slots in advance. (Even if your gym isn’t limiting attendance, you may want to inquire about off-peak hours, so you can work out when the building is mostly empty, if you desire.)

    Ask about current cleaning and disinfection practices and find out in advance if members must undergo any kind of health screening prior to working out.
  • unidentified man with gloves placing a "not in use, keep social distance" sign on fitness machine at gym
    2. Maintain your distance
    The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends maintaining at least 6 feet of space between you and others. Experts say it’s best to stay even further apart, especially when working out. Heavy breathing can expel significant respiratory droplets and viral particles, so give yourself (and everyone else) plenty of room.

    Many gyms have already moved apart exercise equipment, but whenever possible, choose a workout space far from others.
  • woman wearing face mask in public gym is spraying hand weights (kettle bells) with disinfectant
    3. Disinfect equipment before and after use
    It’s common practice to wipe down equipment after using it, but in the COVID-19 era, it’s a good idea to personally disinfect equipment before you use it, even if your gym is doing a great job keeping the place clean. Ideally, you should spray equipment with disinfectant and let it sit for a minute or so before wiping it off. Don’t forget to disinfect knobs, buttons, and control panels as well.

    Repeat the disinfection procedure when you finish using a piece of equipment.
  • closeup shot of water bottle with towel and dumbbells at gym
    4. Bring clean towels
    In the past, many gyms provided towels for members to use during and after workouts. However, some gyms have now cut back on access to shared items, so it’s smart to bring some clean towels from home. You’ll want at least two—one to wipe sweat from your face and body and one to cover any surface you might sit or lay upon. Consider using two different colors, so you don’t accidently wipe your face with the towel you recently draped over the seat of an exercise bike.
  • athletic man with protective face mask entering the gym
    5. Minimize your time in the gym
    The likelihood of catching COVID-19 indoors is almost 19% greater than the likelihood of contracting it outside, in large part because viral particles can linger in indoor air. The less time you spend in an indoor environment, the lower your chances of contracting COVID-19 from your visit to that place.

    You can still do a one-hour long workout, if you like, but stay focused. Don’t get distracted by chit chat and don’t linger in the lobby or locker room before or after exercise.
  • fitness equipment in empty gym
    6. Ask about airflow
    Good ventilation is essential. If possible, windows and doors should be open; natural airflow can dilute the viral load in the air.

    Indoor ventilation systems should constantly refresh indoor air with filtered air from the outside, while maintaining humidity at 40 to 60%. Portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units may be helpful in otherwise poorly ventilated areas.

    Freestanding fans may be helpful to move the air around, but they should be positioned carefully so air is not directed from one patron to another.
  • senior African American woman and others in group exercise class outside
    7. Think carefully about group exercise
    The more people in a group, the greater the likelihood that one of those people may have COVID-19, especially if there is significant community spread in your area. Individual exercise is safest, but if you choose to join a group class, look for a small class and consider the location and intensity of exercise as well. A group class outside, with ample social distancing between participants, may be safer than working out inside the gym. Research from South Korea also suggests that coronavirus spread is less likely during low-intensity classes (such as yoga) than high-intensity classes (like Zumba).
  • young african american woman wearing face mask as she checks in at gym reception
    8. Wear a mask when not working out
    Most people don’t want to wear a face covering when working out. However, well-made cotton face masks and disposable medical masks offer some protection to you. You can reduce your potential exposure to coronavirus by wearing a mask when you enter the gym, change clothes, use the bathroom and leave. If you’re not working out, your mouth and nose should be covered.

    Many companies now sell COVID-19 workout masks. A homemade two- or three-layer cotton mask can also decrease droplet spread and filter out small particles.
  • woman smiling behind face mask during group fitness training
    9. Consider masking during workouts
    Well before most of us ever heard the term “COVID-19,” some athletes purposefully donned face masks during workouts. These specially designed training masks restrict oxygen flow; training with them may improve endurance and stamina in non-masked situations.

    It’s possible to work out safely while wearing a face covering, especially if you’re engaging in a lower-intensity activity such as stretching or weight lifting. If you wear a mask during heavy cardiovascular exercise (such as running), consider decreasing the length of your workout and slow down if you feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • disinfecting hands with hand sanitizer dispenser
    10. Wash your hands when finished
    As soon as possible, wash your hands. In fact, you may want to use some hand sanitizer immediately after your workout and then wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you can make it to a handwashing station or rest room.

    Plan to change and shower at home. Many gyms have limited locker room access during the coronavirus pandemic, and you’ll be safer at home anyway.
10 Tips for Having a COVID-Safe Workout at the Gym

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. COVID-19 Safety: Tips for Restaurants, Salons and the Gym. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-safety-tips/art-20485967
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  3. My Gym is Reopening. Is it Safe to Work Out There? NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/07/05/884927215/my-gym-is-reopening-is-it-safe-to-work-out-there
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  6. COVID-19 Employer Information for Gyms and Fitness Centers. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/headed-back-to-the-gym-after-quarantine-heres-what-to-consider/
  7. Personal and Social Activities. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/personal-social-activities.html
  8. Do Training Masks Really Work? University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. https://share.upmc.com/2018/07/do-training-masks-really-work/
  9. Exercising with a Face Covering: Safety Do’s and Don’ts. American Council on Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/7578/exercising-with-a-face-covering-safety-do-s-and-don-ts/
  10. How to Adapt Your Workout While Wearing a Mask. OSF Healthcare. https://www.osfhealthcare.org/blog/how-to-adapt-your-workout-while-wearing-a-mask/

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 21
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