September 18, 2020 2 min read

As more and more gyms begin reopening businesses, you might soon have the option of going back to your local gym. While the idea may be exciting—you’ll get access to all that equipment again and be able to work out with your favorite trainer!—you might also be wondering just how safe it is. It turns out, that’s not super easy to figure out.

The first thing to realize is that the coronavirus hasn’t gone anywhere. “Just because social distancing rules are relaxing doesn’t mean the risk from the virus is disappearing,” says Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Every time you interact with others, there’s a chance for virus transmission, so you need to think about your individual risk factors and tolerances.” In other words: How risky is it for you personally to go to the gym (do you have other health issues that could result in more serious complications from Covid-19) and how comfortable are you with that?

Here’s the other thing to keep in mind: Gyms are basically big germ magnets (you can thank all those sweaty people sharing an enclosed space). “Prior to Covid-19, there were studies done looking at different areas of the gym and they found bacteria like staph and E. Coli in a lot of different places,” says  Peter Gulick, D.O., an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University. “The locker room was the worst.

To keep dangerous germs under control, your reopening gym is about to look very different from the one you went to a few months ago. The specifics will vary, but common approaches are limiting how many people can be inside at any one time, setting up hand hygiene stations throughout, spacing out equipment more, and upping the frequency equipment gets cleaned. “Those steps decrease the risk of transmission, but it doesn’t make it zero,” says Adalja. “You’ll need to decide for yourself if the risk is too much for you or not.”

If you do decide to head back, there are a few things you can do to help stay safe. “We know Covid-19 can be transmitted through other people breathing, so you’ll want to maintain at least a six-foot distance from others, if not more,” says Gulick. In other words, pick a treadmill or elliptical that isn’t right next to someone else’s machine. On top of that, try to plan your visit for off-hours so there are fewer people there, wash your hands frequently, and don’t touch your face. You might also want to avoid using the locker room if you can (try to come dressed in your workout clothes already).

Still not sure about heading back to the gym quite yet? Get creative by asking if you can rent some of their equipment or do a virtual training session from your home. After all, the most important thing is working out—no matter how you do it.