In the time of the coronavirus, a home gym offers the safest workout

Like so many people these days, I decided the new year was the perfect time to get serious about fitness. Upon my return from the notoriously junk-food-laden CES technology showcase in Las Vegas in January, I started a workout routine and diet in hopes of getting into tip-top shape. So far, I’ve managed steady progress and positive results. Then came the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

Our way of life is rapidly changing due to the growing concerns surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. Each day presents new challenges, as many state- and city-level organizations are implementing some drastic plans to combat the spread. Gyms, a space where people do nothing but get sweaty and touch shared objects, are sure to see strict closures during this pandemic. In fact, multiple states have declared local state of emergencies that ban large gatherings or mandate closures of facilities including gyms.

Breeding ground for germs

Since gym equipment inevitably ends up covered in sweat, it’s no surprise that it’s a breeding ground for germs to thrive, multiply, and spread. Several studies affirm this. 

A piece published by HealthDay listed the dirtiest places at the gym, which include the handlebars on elliptical machines, treadmills, and bikes. Weight machines were germ-infested, too. Bryan Combs, a nurse practitioner at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing, shed light on a practice that few people think about when cleaning machines.

“Even if the handlebars are cleaned regularly, handlebars are going to be covered in bacteria,” said Combs. As a best practice, Combs recommended not only cleaning machines after each use, but before.”Once you clean the equipment, hang your towel on an area that you know is clean. When you get done, clean it again for the next person,” he said.

FitRated conducted its own test of 27 different machines and had a laboratory, EmLab P&K, test the samples for bacteria levels based on colony-forming units (CFU)s. Treadmills and exercise bikes were the worst offenders, with a sample reading of over 1 million CFUs — versus a toilet seat, which measures in at 3,200 CFUs. Over 70% of the bacteria found in samples from gym equipment were deemed harmful.

Another study, from 2014, found staph bacteria in every sample taken from gym equipment. This bacteria can lead to staph infections of scratched or dry skin. Minor staph infections can result in minor skin problems such as boils on the skin that can break open and drain pus. Severe staph infections (often caused when an open wound is infected by staph bacteria) can be life-threatening if they’re not properly treated and lead to toxic shock syndrome.

What gyms are closed because of the coronavirus?

In response to the aggressive nature of the coronavirus outbreak, many national gyms and fitness centers have adopted new procedures. Here’s what they’re doing.

Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau recently sent out a memo outlining some of the new guidelines and best practices that the national gym is conducting in response to the outbreak concerns.

“Team members conduct regular and thorough cleaning of all equipment, surfaces, and areas of the club and gym floor using disinfectant cleaning supplies. In addition, they regularly complete overnight cleaning of the club, said Rondeau. “We continue to closely monitor the situation as it evolves and are following guidance from health authorities and government officials.”

Retro Fitness

Similarly, Retro Fitness is adding new protocols to maintain a safe environment in its 150+ locations. Based on the information on its website, the company follows many of the same practices as Planet Fitness, but is also displaying signage pertaining to best practices to follow — such as cleaning equipment after each use, avoid touching your face, and washing your hands.

Gold’s Gym

Gold’s Gym has closed its U.S. locations until March 31, 2020.

LA Fitness

LA Fitness has closed its U.S. locations until April 2020.

SoulCycle

SoulCycle’s locations are closed until further notice.

Equinox

As of March 16, all of Equinox’s clubs have closed until further notice. A spokesperson from the company said, “As we have been, we will continue to prioritize everyone’s health and safety by taking all necessary precautionary measures and following the advice of public health officials. With that and our community in mind, as of 8 PM March 16, all clubs are closed until further notice.”

Other closures

While gyms are remaining open when possible, some gyms are being forced to close due to local or state ordinances that mandate all nonessential businesses close their doors. Gyms that have yet to order a nationwide closure are operating on a case-by-case basis as local governments announce new regulations.

Why it’s time to switch to a home gym

Home gyms provide alternative workouts that are just as effective as going to the gym. When it comes to cleanliness, you’re in total control. The cleanliness of the machine and equipment can be maintained to keep germs at bay.

Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and Bowflex fitness adviser, explained some of the advantages of a home gym. “Better to be safe than sorry if you do have the option and to get those works in at home, where you’re exposed to only the people in your home,” said Holland. “You don’t have hundreds and hundreds of people working out.” Obviously, reducing the amount of interactions you have with people, known as social distancing, reduces your chances of getting infected.

Home gyms can cover a gamut of workout options, ranging from cardio-centric machines all the way to specialized ones for lifting weights. Bowflex offers a wide variety with its lineup, but as Holland pointed out in our interview, you don’t need equipment for an effective workout. “Push-ups, planks, squats, and running in place have been around forever because they’re super-effective.” I personally know, from my own routine, that these exercises can deliver results when combined with a healthy diet.

If you’re looking to take things to the next level, Holland recommends a home gym that consists of one piece of cardio equipment and one piece of strength equipment. This combo can be quite effective, if utilized with correct form. While home gyms cost more upfront, there’s the long-term benefit of saving time. Commuting to and from the gym eats up precious time, which can be better spent on other things when you have a home gym.

High-tech options

Aside from the usual home gym equipment, there’s plenty of high-tech options that can add variety to existing routines or help you exercise in a small space.

The uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is making us all rethink our habits. Now that the state of New Jersey has indefinitely mandated gyms to close, it has forced me to look at the prospect of using a home gym for the foreseeable future. I value saving time, money, and my health. Don’t you?

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