After a split-second decision, I sat down on a sweat-smeared bench left by the big, hairy Russian dude. The guy to my right decided to sneeze 16 times in a row, setting a new gym record. I quickly winced, then glanced up at the TV to see more breaking news concerning the Ebola virus. I blinked twice, then took a look around me. A large room of people swapping sweat with each other. It’s like a fitness orgy.
The Ebola epidemic has dominated everything we have heard about for weeks now. It’s been devastating and people are now getting fearful about it spreading here in the United States. One thing we tend to forget about is all of the diseases, infections, bacteria and germs we come in contact with almost daily.
You’ve been told to “wipe off the equipment” like that’s going to really help. It doesn’t make the germs go away, it just prevents the bench from turning into a slip-n-slide.
But, you ask, what if I use sanitizer? Ah, yes. Well, that’s better, but still isn’t 100% effective in killing all germs/bacteria. The CDC has a report that says washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If your sanitizer has between 60-95% alcohol concentration, chances are, it will help kill more germs.
The next issue: if you’re using your gym facility’s sanitizer, are they supplying a cleaner that is anti-bacterial or one that just cleans away dirt, sweat and oil? You need to ask or bring your own. Regulations are different in each state, so don’t assume you’re zapping away germs.
One of the best things you can do is to create a barrier between you and the machine. Most people bring a towel. The problem that occurs is how do you remember which side of the towel you’re using? My little trick is to bring a towel that has writing or a print on just ONE side. That way I always know the “safe” side and the “wtf” side.
Some guys will act like you’re not a man if you use lifting gloves. I beg to differ. I enjoy the hand barrier, personally. Just don’t forget to wash your gloves….think of them as you would think of your underwear. It is important they are cleaned on a regular basis.
Many gyms also provide waterless hand sanitizing stations. This is great to use and not just stare at. Use it often: pre-workout, during workout, and post-workout.
Also, don’t use your fingers and palm of your hands to wipe sweat off your face. Use the back of your hands or (better yet) a clean towel. You don’t want to encourage germs and bacteria to get near your eyes, nose and mouth. That’s just sending an invitation to Aunt Flu to visit for a week.
Oh, and think about where you’re placing your water bottle. Is the nozzle touching any of the equipment? It’s also best to use a bottle that you don’t have to “open/close” at the mouth opening with your fingers. If that’s all you have, use your teeth.
If you shower at the gym, please, for God’s sake, wear shower shoes. Buy some $1 flip flops for all I care. Toe fungus is real, people. If you don’t shower, make sure you soap up your hands up to your elbows and (I’m not kidding) sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. I wouldn’t do this out loud unless you want a left hook to the jaw. Supposedly, by the time you sing the Birthday song you have properly cleaned your hands.
Once you get home, wash your clothes. Do NOT think you can or should wear them again until you’ve cleaned them. Remember that really smelly kid named “Pig Pen” that was friends with Charlie Brown? Yeah. Don’t be that kid.
Another rule of thumb: spray anti-fungal in your shoes or (better yet) wash them too.
If you have a cut, scrape, abrasion….make sure it is NOT exposed. This isn’t just for yourself, but for the common courtesy of others. This is the easiest way to get infected and also to spread infection. If you see someone that has an exposed wound of any sort, I wouldn’t use the equipment they were on. Not to be a tattle-tale, but it may be wise to alert someone at the gym to talk to this individual.
On the same note, if you are sick – stay home! Exercise at home when you feel sick and try to avoid areas of the gym where people are coughing and sneezing. It might not be a bad idea to down some Airborne in your pre-workout during the flu season.
Gym environments can be an ideal breeding ground for infectious diseases.
Here are things you can bring home from the gym (besides muscle):
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a bacteria called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was recently found in recreational athletes. Although, MRSA is a version of the common staph bacteria, it is resistant to the methicillin antibiotic, which makes it especially hard to treat. While “normal” staphylococcus aureus is a microbial skin infection easily treated with antibiotics, MRSA is more difficult to treat and can infect the blood and bones–a potentially life threatening complication. MRSA’s antibiotic resistance also makes it more likely to spread, since the normal course of treatment does not eliminate it and the infected person remains a carrier. The CDC cites close physical contact and equipment sharing as reasons for outbreaks. Researchers have also found E. coli, strep-bacteria and the influenza virus in gyms and on athletic equipment.
I didn’t write all of this to terrify you. I promise, this isn’t a ‘Nightmare on Gym Street’ post right before Halloween…though, that would have been a better title! Seriously, this is just a warning to help protect my fellow gym-goers out there. We’re like a family, so let’s spread the love, not our germs.