A recent article has created quite a dirt storm about the general cleanliness of fitness facilities. It goes as far as to assert that a study showed free weights to have 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat clinging to any given piece of exercise equipment!
A fitness facility is a public space, and as such is subject to the usual cocktail of bacteria that is hitching a ride on any number of surfaces which will come into contact with the piece of exercise equipment that you are using.
Avoiding germs/bacteria/cooties (choose your own descriptor) is almost impossible. Being a demilitarized zone for their continued safety, however, is not so impossible. Some sites advocate that you shun your gym and opt for the home fitness alternative. But that might be a bit monastic.
Here are seven ways to limit your exposure to illness-causing pathogens while at the gym:
Lavese Los Manos
It is as simple as the same things that your parents told you when you were old enough to get your hands into the sink—wash your hands. Warm, soapy water, create a good lather and rinse with warm water.
You can’t do this after every rep (well, you could, but that would be one marathon workout!), so at the very least make sure that you do this before heading for home and especially before putting your hands in your mouth or handling food.
One of the quickest routes for any bacteria to do its worst is through an open wound. Make sure that any cut or scratch is attended to with a band-aid at the very minimum. Don’t forget the blisters, especially on your hands and feet. If you have callouses, it is a good idea to get those covered with antibiotic ointment and band-aid
Wipe, Wipe and Wipe Again
Disinfectant wipes are a regular feature in gyms now, but it can be useful to carry a canister or box with you, too. Wipe down those surfaces you come into contact with before and after you’ve used the machine or equipment. It may not completely remove all the bacteria on the equipment, but it will reduce it.
It’s also a good idea to give your equipment bag a solid wipe down after a workout too. You’ll find that you’ll have many more stowaways than you would have thought.
Sharing is not Caring
At the gym, there’s nothing wrong with being selfish with your personal effects. Use your own towel, water bottle, yoga mat or anything else that comes into contact with your being. Sharing your stuff usually leads to sharing the types of stuff you don’t want to share.
Keep your hands away from your face. Hand-to-face contact is the quickest way to introduce any illness-causing bacteria to your eyes, nose and mouth—three of the the main access portals for illness. And remember, wash them well as soon as you’re done working out.
If you are opting to use the showers or are going to be using the locker room, have a pair of waterproof sandals ready. Keeping any body part from contact with the locker room can be a good way of minimizing exposure to fungus and bacteria.
One cool tip is to mark your workout towel on one side (a skull and crossbones might be a bit much, though). Dedicate that marked-up side as the one that makes contact with the equipment. The unmarked side can be for wiping off sweat.
What The Facility Can Do
The Cintas Corporation conducted a survey a few years ago that identified the seven leading cleanliness factors that turned users away from a gym. In order they were:
- Unpleasant Odors
- Dirty Equipment
- Unclean Restrooms/Locker Rooms
- Dirty Floors
- Lack of Cleaning products to wipe down equipment
- Spills/Stains on floor/carpet
- Dusty Surfaces
Facility owners and their management are responsible for the overall cleanliness of their gyms and there are some steps they can take to minimize the amount of day-to-day pathogens. This athletixproducts.com article offers some good insights into what is used to clean facilities as well as some tips on how to keep exercise equipment and a facility clean.
So what steps can management take to help keep the germs at bay?
Wipes on Tap
Have wipes available in numerous locations around the gym—especially around machines and free weights. Disinfectant wipes are a better alternative to sprays as there is less chance of spilling or overuse on equipment. This seems simple, but it can help to get your members involved in minimizing pathogens as well as promoting the perception that the facility is a healthy user environment.
It is important to have a cleaning schedule posted so that your staff can see what needs to be done and when. Checking each item off with a marker is also another good way of informing any member that sees it that you are doing your best to make the workout environment as pristine as possible.
Start With the Staff
Your staff are your first line of defense against the host of germs that will make their way into your facility. If you promote cleanliness with them, you can minimize any major pathogen outbreaks before they begin.
If you’re leaning, you’re cleaning. If your staff aren’t doing anything, have them wipe down “hotspots” (door handles, mats, rollers, countertops, free weights). It is also a good way for members to see that you are invested in cleanliness.
Suck it Up
High-filtration vacuum cleaners are instrumental in picking up all of the remnants of bacteria that can provide a breeding ground for future generations. Plus, as one of the things that users are most put off by, a clean floor and carpet will put a lot of exercisers at ease.
Biofilm and Probiotic Cleaners
However, they aren’t effective against biofilm—the layer of organic material that bacteria will excrete to stick to a surface. Biofilm acts like a shield for groups of bacteria who can then use it to protect themselves or use it for a staging environment to colonize other surfaces.
Common cleaning agents (think bleach) do not eradicate the biofilm; they leave behind enough of the biofilm for the pathogens to set up shop again.
There are newer studies that suggest by using probiotic cleaners (and not anti-bacterials) to add beneficial bacteria instead of trying to eradicate harmful pathogens with chemistry, you do so with biology. The beneficial bacteria will actually crowd out the harmful bacteria that causes the health issues by removing the biofilm and then starving them.
Probiotics are also proving useful in limiting resistance in these “bugs” who eventually develop a means of combatting the disinfectants.
Prevention is usually the best cure. And a little of it can go a long way. So when it comes to the health of a facility and its users, practicing clean (and cleaning) habits can go a long way in getting healthy at the gym and making sure you stay that way when you leave.