Protect Yourself from Gym Germs

December 28, 2016

Protect Yourself from Gym Germs

How many times have you seen someone leave the restroom without washing their hands as they head out into the weight area? What about that gal that coughs into her hands then grabs the handle of the elliptical machine? And, let’s not forget about the guy that drips sweat all over the weight bench. What do all these people have in common? All of them are potential shedders and spreaders of infection.

Infections can be spread in the air, but they are also transmitted by fomites. Fomites are inanimate objects that can become contaminated by an infected person then serve as a source infection for others. The best fomites are non-porous, solid objects like door handles, elevator buttons and counters just to name a few. Once infected by sweat, saliva, and other bodily secretions, these surfaces are capable of transmitting bacterial, viral and fungal infections without discrimination to anyone that touches them.

If you haven’t already figured it out, gyms are a perfect breeding ground for infection. And, to make it worse, dumbbells, benches and locker rooms floors are excellent fomites.

According to a position paper released by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the nature of athletics exposes the skin to a wide variety of stresses. Vigorous exercise, environmental factors and infectious agents act together to continually attack the integrity of the skin and challenge the immune system. The successful results of these attacks are infections and colds. By far, the most common infections are those of the skin, the body’s largest organ.

Common fungal, viral and bacterial infections

Here is a categorized list of infections commonly found in locker rooms and athletic centers:

Fungal infections
• Tinea capitis
• Tinea corporis
• Candida

Viral infections
• Herpes simplex
• Molluscum contagiosum
• Influenza
• Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

Bacterial infections
• Klebsiella
• Escherichia Coli (E. coli)
• Staphylococcal (staph)
• Impetigo
• Folliculitis
• Furuncles, carbuncles

Some of these infections list above can be addressed with oral and/or topical medications, several are incurable and a few require painful medical interventions. While the list of infections is extensive you should not give up on going to the gym all together. Continue reading for a couple of ways to reduce your risk.

1. Use disinfectant Sprays – If you use disinfectant spray provided by your gym, you’re certainly doing the right thing. The reality, however, is that sprays are only partially effective.
A study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrated that twice-a-day equipment disinfection was not effective in reducing virus exposure. The study found that 63% of the exercise equipment in two gyms was contaminated with viruses, namely rhinovirus. Rhinovirus is the primary cause of the common cold.
Certainly I’m not suggesting that you stop using disinfectant sprays because they do help—a little. Honestly, you may even want to purchase your own personal can of disinfectant spray versus using the watered down stuff that your gym provides.

2. Don’t touch your face – If you’re in the gym, just assume that you have touched an infected surface. Believe it or not, but your hands are actually the way many viruses like the rhinovirus and influenza can enter your body. If you touch infected surfaces, rub your eyes or wipe your mouth, then you have just introduced an infection to your body. The solution is to stop touching your face, period.

3. Create a Barrier – I would suggest that you create a barrier between yourself and the equipment that you use. A simple towel and long sleeves can provide you with an effective barrier of protection. In addition to being used with equipment, towels should be used on locker room benches—including those in the steam room.
Shower shoes or flip-flops are also a must as fungal infections like athlete’s foot and plantar warts, caused by HPV, are easily spread in warm, moist locker rooms and shower stalls. If you have any open cuts, sores or skin abrasions you will want to cover them with a bandage or Band-Aid.

4. Shower with antimicrobial soap – Showering with an antimicrobial soap from head-to-toe is recommended to kill any germs you may have come into contact with. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends that you shower prior to leaving the gym. Why? Because you can easily transport germs from the gym to your car and/or home if they happen to be on your clothes or skin.

If you are unable to shower for some reason or another, be certain to wash your hands and arms thoroughly before leaving the gym.

5. Wash all athletic gear daily – While non-porous materials are the best fomites, your clothes, weight gloves, weight belt and gym bag can also become infected if they come into contact with viruses, bacteria or fungi. Practicality aside, the authorities recommend that all fitness gear be washed daily. At a minimum, you will want to use disinfectant spray.

6. Sleep and supplements – Getting eight hours of sleep is an effective way to ensure a healthy immune system. During sleep, your body undergoes a repair and recovery process that will aid in your ability to heal, prevent infections and/or reduce the severity of illness. Supplements like a multivitamin, provide your immune system with essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to your overall well-being.

Through careful planning and adherence to the above tips, you can go a long way towards protecting yourself from potentially serious infections.

Expected & unexpected sources of infection
The list of expected and unexpected culprits involved in the transmission of infections is fairly extensive. Here is an abbreviated list of the more common culprits that can be found in any standard gym.

• Shower stalls
• Locker room floors
• Locker room benches
• Steam rooms
• Weight benches
• Water fountains
• Your clothing
• Weight gloves
• Gym bags
• Yoga and stretching mats
• Dumbbells
• Cardio equipment


Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, Prospective Study of Bacterial and Viral Contamination of Exercise Equipment
National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Skin Diseases