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10 Ways to Avoid Germs at the Gym

We are pumped to share one of our fave stories from Self here on FitSugar!

Well, duh — this is what we thought when we first saw a new position paper by the National Athletic Trainers' Association that emphasized that people who work out in communal settings — such as a gym — are at risk for skin infections and other infectious diseases.

But, the truth is, with our crazed schedule, we try to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible while getting a decent workout — often forgetting to sweat the details when it comes to avoiding germs that could lead to the common cold or a potentially dangerous infection such as antibiotic-resistant staph (MRSA).

While we're not going to be crazy about it and we're certainly not encouraging anyone to skip the gym entirely, we ARE going to try to clean up our act by following these no-brainer tips from Brian B. Adams, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati:

  1. Cover cuts with Band-Aids. This includes small breaks in the skin such as hangnails or dry, cracked skin.
  2. Spray down machines — cardio and strength — even if they don't "look" sweaty. Most gyms have disinfectant available at points throughout the gym. Use it, says Adams. For best results, spray disinfectant directly on equipment, not on towels. And to make sure it kills the germs, let it sit on the surface for a couple of minutes before wiping it down with a clean cloth.
  3. Never let your bare feet hit the floor — that includes showers, locker rooms, and pool decks, especially. "Always keep your sandals on," says Adams. "Make it so routine that when you forget to wear them it feels like you are driving without your seatbelt on."

For seven more ways to protect yourself at the gym, keep reading.

  1. Shower before you leave the gym. Wash feet last (including between your toes!), and dry well as bacteria and fungus thrive in moist, warm environments.
  2. About those flops — let them dry out in the sun before you put them on again. This way bacteria doesn't stand a chance! Best to invest in two cheap pairs, so one is always good to go.
  3. Bring a separate bag for sweaty, dirty gym clothes. Bacteria and fungus love sweat — they feed on it. When they're fat and happy, you're more likely to get sick. Or, at the least, they'll make your gym bag smell like holy heck.
  4. Quiz the help. Before signing up for a gym membership, ask how often they clean equipment and what type of products they use. And insist on seeing their cleaning schedule. If they can't show you one, most likely they're lax about it. Find a different facility.
  5. BYO face towel to wipe your body's sweat. God knows how many hands have touched the towels piled at the front desk or stashed in the corner.
  6. Push hair out of your face with the back of your palm, which is less likely to have touched a contaminated surface.
  7. Bring your own mat. Studies have shown that gym mats are among the dirtiest areas of the gym — even showing traces of fecal matter. Gross, we know. Wash your mat once a week (most are machine washable) to K.O. any nasties it may have picked up at the gym.

We want YOUR advice! What do you do to avoid germs at the gym?

Hungry for more information on working out and eating right? Read these stories at Self.com:

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kellelilly kellelilly 4 years
While I always (thoroughly) wipe down equipment BEFORE (this is important, because people are kinda gross) and after using it, I still got sick of GETTING SICK every time I go back to the gym after any sort of break. So I got creative. I now carry one of those little drawstring backpacks up to the floor, and I have my own small canister of actual Lysol wipes... So now I use those before and after, getting any spot that I'm prone to touch (front and back) and sling the bag over the front of the machine, so that it isn't on the floor. It takes an extra minute, however the payoff is that since I have started to do this, I have not gotten sick! WIN!
Allytta Allytta 5 years
wiping everything down is just too OCD for me, no one does that in UK. i wish they did though, but i'm too lazy myself as well :)
bigestivediscuit bigestivediscuit 5 years
The grossest thing I ever saw was the man next to me in spin a couple weeks ago ... he sweated (and dripped) BUCKETS onto the floor next to the bike, hopped off at the end of the class, and left. WTF? Seriously, WTF?!?!? I thought about chasing him with a bottle of cleaner and shouting, "YOO HOO ... I THINK YOU FORGOT SOMETHING, MISTER!!!" Shudders.
jloki jloki 5 years
You must wipe down the equipment with paper towels PLEASE! At 3 of the gyms I have been a member of they have a bottle full of cleaner and 1 towel that sits on it...and everyone takes that towel, wipes down the machine and puts it back. I feel like screaming; that's like me blowing my nose and then handing it to you to use...you are wiping down the machine with a germy sweaty towel. Yuck.
amber512 amber512 5 years
I do all of these except wiping the machines down first. But that's only because I don't touch the machines. I never understand it when people hang on to the machines. What kind of workout are you really getting? Oh, and I never shower at the gym. I live like two minutes away and I'd MUCH rather shower in my own home.
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