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Exercise Caution: 10 Rules for Gym Hygiene and Etiquette

Hitting up the gym means adhering to some basic rules along with a round of barbells. 

When contemplating your gym visits during cold and flu season, try paraphrasing Shakespeare. To work out or not to work out? That is the question. 

The gym—a closed, indoor environment where people sweat profusely—is a petri dish for many infectious diseases, usually spread through the exchange of bodily fluids (like lots and lots of sweat). Yet we mostly ignore this fact, despite the fact that fear of the H1N1 virus is nipping at our collective sanity. And why? Because we go to the gym in pursuit of better health, which usually means sweating our butts off. Aye, there’s the rub. 

The following ten tips should help keep you away from the nasty germs that lurk in the recesses of any gym, from workout mats and weight machines to door handles and free weights. And who knows—maybe you’ll also pick up some good gym etiquette while you’re at it. 

1. If you’re not feeling well, going to the gym is not a great idea. Do everyone else a favor and stay home. While there’s something to be said for “sweating it out,” all you’re doing is spreading your germs around. 

2. Wash your hands before and after your workout. Doing so prevents you from bringing any germs in—and from leaving the gym with any you may have come in contact with. It might also be a wise idea to bring a little bottle of antibacterial gel with you. 

3. Avoid touching your face with your hands as much as possible. Between the free weights and the door handles, your hands are the parts of your body that have most likely been in contact with some sort of germ. The more you put your hands on your face—especially near your mouth and nose—the more you’ll increase germs’ chances of entering your body.   

4. Give your fellow gym rats room to breathe. If there are plenty of treadmills to choose from, don’t set up shop right beside the lone runner in the place. And try not to fight for space near a mirror, no matter how much you need to see yourself lift those dumbbells. If you can smell the body odor or chronic halitosis of the person next to you, then you’re too close for comfort. And if that person is coughing (and has obviously ignored item number one on this list), chances are, you’ll catch whatever he or she has. 

4. Wear appropriate gym clothes. While no one wants to wear too much clothing, too little clothing is a sad, sad sight to behold. And sweat falls more freely from a scantily clad individual, leaving germs everywhere. An appropriately clothed body also avoids contact with dirt and germs from other people. 

5. Leave the equipment the way you found it—or the way it should be left. Remove extra weights from each machine, return free weights to their racks, and wipe everything down with a dry towel. Some gyms even provide antibacterial wipes to clean equipment with after you use it. 


6. Speaking of towels, most gyms provide you with one, but that won’t suffice. Be sure to grab two towels: one for wiping your sweat off any equipment you use (including free weights) and the other for wiping yourself down. Always keep the towels separated, and never dry yourself with the towel you used to wipe down the equipment. And be sure to put all dirty towels in their right place after you are done with them. Leaving them around for someone else to pick up is not only unsanitary, but rude as well. 

7. Bring your own water. Whether it’s bottled water from a store or just your own water bottle filled with filtered water from home, it sure beats the water fountains at the gym. I’ve actually seen a very sweaty individual leave his man juice on the water fountain at my gym. Yuck. 

8. Bring your own workout mat. While your gym may provide mats, it might not offer antibacterial wipes to clean them, so play it safe. 

9. Try to shower before leaving the gym. Washing the dirt and sweat off your body is always a great idea, especially if some of that grime comes from another dirty, sweaty person at the gym who didn’t heed item number four on this list. 

10. Wear flip-flops in the shower. There are too many people walking around the gym with skin ailments on their feet. So don’t worry which came first, the disgusting shower floor tiles or the yellow, cracked toenails—just keep your feet clean and invest in a cheap pair of flip-flops. 

 

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