Gyms are filled with germs, here’s how you keep from getting sick

by Ryan Wagner

I came across an article today on Reader’s Digest entitled, “15 Things Your Gym Doesn’t Want You to Know.” Naturally, I had to click through and give it a read. Much of it was spot on with one particular item standing out, that the equipment is rarely clean. One of my early posts here on Motus was about wiping down gym equipment. It remains to this day one of my most popular articles. It turns out that many people are wondering if gyms are filled with germs.

Since publishing it back in 2013, I can’t say that gyms have gotten much cleaner. Indeed, the many pieces of equipment and the surfaces throughout modern gyms can support all sorts of germs. Now, I am a guy that spends a lot of time in the gym. Throughout my workouts I’m either laying on a bench, rolling around on the floor or a mat, grabbing dumbbells, weights, etc. But I rarely get sick. So, what’s my secret?

Well, it’s probably no secret at all: I live a healthy lifestyle, eat well, get 7 – 8 hours of sleep, and so on. But I do have some pretty important habits in the gym that I stick to. Religiously.

Here’s the thing: for many years now, I’ve accepted that gyms are dirty. There’s constant turnover of sweaty bodies checking in, exercising, and checking out. And among the relative discomfort that many a gym goer experiences during their fitness program, few are inclined to bother wiping down equipment with a cleaner. And if you read my earlier article on the subject, you’ll know that although somewhat effective, there’s little chance that your quick wipe of the equipment is going to kill all the germs.

So, I’ve made my peace that gyms are, and probably always will be, somewhat dirty places.

But the good news is that your body has a pretty strong defense against most harmful bacteria and viruses: your epidermis. Your skin, that is.

Here’s how I keep germs at bay:

Keep your hands off your face

When I’m working out, I rarely, and I mean rarely, touch my face. If I have an itch that absolutely must be scratched, then I’ll use the back of my hand or a knuckle, presumably a part of my hand that hasn’t directly gripped a dumbbell or a mat. And I never rub my eyes or put my hands near my mouth.

Your nose, mouth, and eyes are easy ways for germs to find their way in your body. That means that each time you set down that kettlebell and rub your eyes you’re raising the stakes for a possible infection later on.

It may take some time to get into the habit, but train yourself to be very cognizant of what you touch (and don’t touch!) while at a busy gym. After your workout, your first stop in the locker room should be the sink to wash your hands with soap and water.

gyms are filled with germs

Wrap any exposed cuts or scrapes

This one is probably common sense. If you have a cut or scrape anywhere on your body, make sure that you have a bandage on it. If you have a band-aid on your finger, for instance, wrap with athletic tape to ensure that it won’t come off later.

Don’t trust that gym towel

I’ve never visited a gym that I didn’t believe had properly cleaned their gym towels, but I’ve also seen where those towels go in the locker room and where members, um-mm, use them.

Similar to my first tip, keep these towels away from your face and anywhere else that bacteria might find a way into your body.

And definitely don’t use a towel that isn’t white, you should at least be able to see that it’s clean.

Wrap up

Just yesterday, while on a rest between my shrug sets on the parallel bars / leg-raise rack, a guy worked in doing some leg raises and very quickly left the equipment covered in sweat. He saw me waiting nearby (I don’t think he realized that I was still using the machine) and after hoping off, asked if I wanted to wait for him to wipe it down.

I took a look at the equipment, wiped it down myself, and said “nah, it’s fine.”

Clearly, I’m no longer the hypochondriac that I once was. Instead, I’ve accepted that gyms are just going to be dirty places.

So, are gyms are filled with germs? Well, sort of. But adopt the precautions above, live a healthy lifestyle, and I think you’ll be just fine.

Happy lifting and see you out there!


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