There’s nothing quite like a sweaty gym sesh to release endorphins, reduce stress, and leave you feeling empowered. But all that spinning, lifting, and stretching happens in the same place where thousands of other gym-goers sweat it out.
Germs lurk all over the floors, yoga mats, treadmill and stairclimber handles, dumbbells, benches, medicine balls, and generally anything else you touch at the gym. We don’t want to scare you away from the gym, but we do want you to be aware of the risk for picking up viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
To beat the bad bugs, add these five simple tactics to your daily gym routine.
1. Spray down machines — and wipe them with your own towel.
Every gym should offer some type of antimicrobial spray to clean machines, weights, and other equipment. If yours doesn’t, ask an employee about their cleaning routine: Not having cleaning supplies for members isn’t a good sign.
Most gyms offer towels to use with the spray, but who knows how many hands touch them each day (and clean towels are often transported in the same bins as dirty ones — yuck!). Bringing your own towel can minimize your exposure to germy material.
If your gym uses disposable antimicrobial wipes instead of towels and spray, you can use those without worry, but you should still bring your own sweat towel and shower towel.
2. Get the right kind of water bottle.
The less you touch your water bottle cap, the better. Every time you do, you transfer germs from whatever you just touched to something that’s going in your mouth. A push-top bottle is best because you can leave it open (thus minimizing contact with your hands), but wide-mouth bottles with screw tops also work.
If you must open and close your water bottle with every sip, consider keeping a portable hand sanitizer bottle in your gym bag. You don’t need to sanitize every single time you sip (that can lead to dry or cracked hands), but it’s a good idea to do so every 20 minutes or so, especially after using handheld weights or doing floor exercises.
3. Keep your feet covered (especially the bottoms).
You should always wear closed-toe shoes while working out, but this tip mainly refers to protecting your feet in the bathroom and locker room. Warm, wet, and steamy, locker rooms provide bacteria with the perfect place to fester, and bathrooms.
If you shower at the gym, always wear flip flops or shower shoes and let them air-dry in an open space after use. Don’t toss them back in your gym back while they’re wet, or your trusty duffle will become a breeding ground for microbes.
Maybe you don’t shower at the gym, but you still need to change your clothes and shoes. Still keep flip-flops in your gym bag so you don’t have to put your bare feet on the ground while you’re changing.
4. Bring a separate bag for sweaty clothes.
Like locker rooms, bundled-up heaps of sweaty gym clothes are wet and warm: the perfect place for bacteria and fungi to thrive. Don’t put your sweaty clothes in the same bag that carries your clean clothes. Instead, dedicate a cheap bag — like a nylon drawstring one — to carry your post-workout clothes.
5. Carry your own yoga mat.
Studies have shown that gym mats are among the dirtiest areas of the gym: People lay their entire sweaty bodies on them and many people put them back on the rack without wiping them down. Sweat is a culture for bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus (staph), so be extra mindful of this tip.
If you like floor exercises, it’s safest to bring your own mat. Even if you rub down the gym mats with cleaner, you probably won’t get rid of all the absorbed germs. Make sure to keep your own mat clean (wash it periodically according to the product instructions) and wipe it down after use at the gym. If you can, let your mat air dry after use instead of rolling it up and storing it while it’s still sweaty.