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As gyms reopen, is it safe to go? 8 tips to avoid coronavirus at the health club

Here's why it may be best to keep more than 6 feet apart and not exercise behind someone.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the state will be moving into a "full Phase One" on Monday, May 18, allowing gyms to partially reopen.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp lifted restrictions on health clubs, allowing them to reopen on April 24.

If you are a fitness buff and you're thinking about going back to the gym, here are some tips to help protect you against getting the coronavirus, according to NBC News:

1. Keep at least 6 feet of distance, but preferably more.

No one really knows what’s ideal when it comes to social distancing, Sexton said. The standard recommendation of 6 feet may not be enough in a gym.

“There’s been some simulation that looks like particles might travel farther than that when people are strenuously exercising, but we don’t know a lot about how that applies in the real world or clinically in terms of being contagious,” she noted.

So keep your distance and be extra careful in more confined spaces like the locker room, or try to avoid it all together.

2. Wear a mask and gloves.

Doing cardio with a face mask on may not be possible, but lifting weights could be.

“If there’s anything you’re doing where you can tolerate having the mask on, I would,” Sexton said. “The mask you’re wearing helps to protect other people and the masks other people are wearing help to protect you.”

Gloves can also serve as an extra layer of protection.

3. Don't exercise next to or behind someone.

The exercise equipment should be at least 6 feet apart in all directions since people turn their heads when they’re working out, Sexton said. You may also want to leave at least one empty machine between yourself and others, depending on how far apart the machines are.

People could carry respiratory droplets behind them, especially if they’re moving fast on a treadmill, so don’t pick a treadmill right behind someone.

4. Bring your own towel and water bottle.

If your gym provides towels, make absolutely certain they’re individual use only and immediately go to a laundry service after you use them. Sexton would prefer to bring her own towel.

She also recommended bringing your own water bottle since many people touch a communal water cooler, increasing your risk of catching the virus if you then touch your face without washing your hands.

5. Wipe down the equipment before and after use.

The gym staff should be doing that in between users, but if cleaning agents are provided, members should be wiping down the machines, too, before and after using them.

“You certainly would contaminate the front of a treadmill or an elliptical by coughing or breathing if you’re walking or running without a mask on,” Sexton said.

She cautioned against bringing your own cleaner to the gym since some products contain bleach and others ammonia, so mixing the chemicals could be a concern. Go with what the gym is providing.

6. Stick to virtual classes and training.

Sexton would avoid working out with a personal trainer or going to even a small fitness or yoga class with a handful of people. Keep your distance and use virtual options, for now, for training and classes. 

7. Stay away from others in a swimming pool.

The chlorine in the water will inactivate the coronavirus, but social distancing and frequently-touched surfaces continue to be an issue.

Sexton wouldn’t want to share a lane in a lap pool with somebody. Swimmers should also wash their hands after touching railings, ladders and tiles.

8. Avoid the gym if you are at high risk for COVID-19.

That means anybody who is taking significant precautions because of their medical history or age. If you’re still tempted, review the gym’s safety protocol with your doctor, Sexton advised.

“Right now, older people and people who have medical conditions are in a group that’s been told to be very careful,” Sexton said. “But the fact is we all need to be that careful because we all have the capability of carrying coronavirus back to those people.”

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If you are considering going to a gym that has reopened, Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an infectious disease expert and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta, recommended calling ahead and asking the staff to explain in detail what the new safety protocol is.

Ask questions such as:

  • Is the health club limiting the number of people who can come in at the same time?
  • Is the exercise equipment spaced out differently than before?
  • How is the equipment being cleaned in between people who use it?
  • Does the gym provide cleaning agents for members to wipe down the machines?
  • Does the club require members to wear masks for any activities?