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Is it Safe to Go Back to the Gym? Here’s What to Know

By Leigh Weingus
July 27, 2021
Photo Credit: Santi Nunez

We’re officially in peak summer, which means outdoor workouts can be a little rough. Between extreme heat waves in some parts of the country and humidity in others, a well air-conditioned gym seems awfully appealing right now. But is it safe to sweat it out inside with a lot of mask-free strangers?

We talked with Dr. Katrine Wallace, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Illinois. Here’s what she has to say:

Vaccination and Gym Safety

The very first thing you should consider is your vaccination status. If you’re vaccinated, the gym is mostly a safe space for you.

“Studies show that being vaccinated lowers the chances of developing COVID-19 by 90%,” Dr. Wallace explains. “Being vaccinated definitely means we can do more things, like unmasking indoors, and according to the CDC, we can resume most activities that we did prior to the pandemic, like going to the gym.”

But it’s not 100% safe, especially now that we’re dealing with the delta variant, which may be up to 60% more transmissible, Dr. Wallace says.

It’s a good idea to monitor the vaccination and infection rate in your area to help you decide whether or not you feel safe going to the gym. “Both of these can be found on your city or county’s health department website,” says Dr. Wallace. “Additionally, always still watch out for symptoms of COVID-19, especially if you’ve been around someone who is sick.”

If you’re not vaccinated, gyms are not a safe space. Per the CDC guidelines, for your own safety and the safety of those around you, it is not recommended that you unmask indoors in public places if you’re unvaccinated,” Dr. Wallace says. “Nationally, 99% of all recent covid-19 deaths are also among unvaccinated people.”

We know indoor spaces are generally less safe than outdoor spaces when it comes to COVID-19 and this is especially true of gyms, where heavy breathing makes it easier to spread respiratory droplets. Need proof? “There is a recent example of a gym facility in Oklahoma where the delta variant caused an outbreak among gymnasts,” says Dr. Wallace. “The outbreak resulted in 47 COVID-19 cases, 91% of whom were either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.”

How to Make the Gym a Safer Place

If you’re wary of the gym even if you’re vaccinated, that’s understandable; luckily, there are ways to make it safer.

1. Avoid peak hours.

“The virus spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets and aerosols, so avoiding crowds will decrease the amount of people you come into contact with,” says Dr. Wallace.

2. Keep your distance.

It’s a good idea to allow for ample social distance between you and the person next to you, says Dr. Wallace. Choose a treadmill that’s next to one that isn’t occupied. And skip the weights if that area of the gym is over-crowded. 

3. Stay clean.

“Make sure to wipe down equipment, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer,” suggests Dr. Wallace. It’s also a good idea to ask what sanitation practices are in place at the gym you use. 

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