The UK government recently announced that as of 25th July, 2020, all gyms and fitness facilities would be allowed to reopen, following the nationwide lockdown imposed to combat COVID-19. 

We’re all adapting to the ‘new normal’, meaning we’re all doing our best to follow the advice and guidance surrounding keeping a good distance, washing our hands and wearing face masks where necessary. 

As gyms reopen, they’ll enforce measures of their own to help users safe, and there will be new guidance people need to follow and practice to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. We spoke to GP clinical lead at Dr. Daniel Atkinson about the extra measures people can take when returning to the gym to limit their coronavirus risk.

Avoid peak times

‘More people means an increased risk of transmission.’ comments Dr. Atkinson, ‘One of the first things a lot of governments looked at when COVID-19 really began to spread was banning events which attracted lots of people. 

Some gyms have apps that let you check how many people are present. I would really recommend using these features if your gym has them. If not, avoid the peak times before nine and after five when people are finishing work. 

Your gym needs to limit capacity as part of the new rules, but we all need to do our bit too. If you think your gym looks too busy, talk to a staff member about it or consider coming back later.’

Shower afterwards

‘You need to keep in mind that there is still a risk of spread even when you shower at the gym. Personally, I would recommend saving the shower for when you’re home. 

Obviously, there is a particular emphasis that you wash your hands. Do this as soon as you get in, then take a shower. You don’t want to risk transmitting COVID-19 onto various surfaces in your home. 

However, that isn’t to say you cannot pick up the coronaviridae on other parts of the body. 

Remove your gym clothes and put them on a high temperature wash. You might also want to wipe down your phone with something like an alcohol wipe. Lastly, shower. Do this as you normally would. Make sure you wash all surfaces of the skin gently with warm water and soap. 

Doing all of these things once you arrive home from the gym will seem like a bit of a pain, but it’s the best way to ensure you’re not transferring COVID-19 into your house that you may have potentially picked up at the gym.’

Alternate between exercising at the gym and at home

‘This one might seem a bit obvious’, comments Dr. Atkinson, ‘but we need to prepare ourselves for the fact there are going to be new rules. Training closely with partners and friends outside our household that requires contact, like sparring, for example, won’t be possible just yet. 

There could also be occasions when you just cannot get to the gym, because they’re quite busy. 

So a good approach is to wean yourself in gradually. If you workout three times a week for example, at the start maybe change one session into a gym session and keep your other two either outside or at home.

If you like to do cardio at the gym, go to the park instead. If you enjoy cycling, perhaps consider investing in a bike. There’s also plenty of strength exercises you can do at home that don’t require equipment. 

If everybody only came to the gym when they absolutely needed to, I’ve no doubt this would be an excellent way of keeping the risk of transmission low.’

Be vigilant

‘As I’ve mentioned,’ comments Dr. Atkinson, ‘it’s on all of us to play our part. We all need to use our common sense and be willing to gently tell others if they’re falling short. Obviously, there’s a difference between trying to be courteous and helpful, and trying to police what someone else is doing. 

But if you notice your gym, for example, has fallen short somewhere with regard to the new advice and guidance put forward by the government, don’t be afraid to give them feedback. 

If you’re unable to sanitise the equipment you plan to use, tell someone. If you think the gym is too full and it’s difficult to socially distance, mention it. It isn’t about criticism - it’s about making communal spaces safer. 

Don't bring anything to the gym that you don't need to

‘We’re still learning about COVID-19,’ comments Dr. Atkinson, ‘but it’s clear the virus can survive on certain surfaces for some time. So it makes sense to limit the surfaces we come into contact with as much as possible.

With this in mind, I wouldn’t recommend bringing anything into the gym that doesn’t need to be there. Come to the gym in your gym clothes, and avoid changing at the gym. That takes changing rooms out of the equation and lowers risk. Leave any bags you may have in the car, or at home if possible. 

Only bring the essentials, such as water bottles and your keys. Headphones should be fine, as long as you have a sturdy pair that will stay in place. The more you have to adjust them and take them off and put them back on, the more likely you are to touch your face (which is a route of transmission).’

Remember that gyms are high-risk environments 

‘Economic uncertainty is looming,’ comments Dr. Atkinson, ‘which means governments want to start reopening businesses. 

But this comes with risk. It is incumbent upon all of us that we do everything we can to protect ourselves and those around us if we decide to go back into and participate within our local economies. By this, I mean going to pubs and restaurants, shops and, of course, the gym.

But certain industries or types of industries are safer than others. One of the reasons gyms and fitness centres have reopened later than shops is because they tend to be higher risk places. 

What comes to mind most is that they’re enclosed spaces with lots of people breathing heavily and sweating around each other, and the equipment can be difficult to keep clean between uses. For example, most weights have rubber handles that are full of small ridges and crevices to help with grip, and it’s easy for pathogens to get into these areas.

So take extra precautions. Take a hand sanitiser with you if you can, to prevent having to go to the wall dispenser for it so often. Take a mask, or have one handy, in case your gym implements a mask policy. Take plenty of water with you, so you don’t have to go and queue at the fountain as much.’