How to Be the Cleanest, Most Hygienic Person at Your Gym

There are few public places as covered in bacteria as your local weight room

How to Be the Cleanest, Most Hygienic Person at Your Gym

I’ve seen some things at the gym.

Bench pressers who compulsively cough into their hands before every set. Allegedly “clean” towels concealing swaths of depilated hair. Octogenarian testicles. I made a shaky truce with the grossness long ago, the same way that I learned to hustle past rats fencing with Auntie Anne’s pretzel sticks at Penn Station in order to reach my end destination.

But with the global spread of coronavirus looking like an inevitability at this point (it’s already shut down marathons and turned the world’s most over-touristed city into a ghost town), it’s a reasonable time to revisit the question: How do I avoid getting sick at the gym?

Below, a few thoughts on how to continue building your body without having to worry about it breaking down.

How often do these benches really get cleaned? (Raúl Lazcano/Unsplash)

Basic rules apply

As with every other task you’re looking to complete throughout the day, wash your hands. Before a workout, after a workout, put 20 seconds in at the sink and make sure you’ve done your part. When I head to the gym, I will generally touch anywhere from 6-15 communal bars, bells and screens. As a decent member of society, it’s crucial to wash up before all that picking up and putting down. You can do it.

Assume the worst

According to a recent survey by the UK’s Tap Warehouse, 46% of gym-goers readily admit to never sanitizing gym machinery. Oof. That isn’t necessarily surprising — have you ever seen someone cleanse a barbell? — but it also doesn’t have to be that way. Most gyms carry anti-bacterial wipes that eliminate 99.9% of germs. If there isn’t a readily accessible receptacle on every floor of your gym, talk to the manager; in this day and age (and considering how bloated gym memberships have become), there really isn’t any excuse. Also, it’s not just free weights or other equipment that gets passed around to be wary of. Cardio equipment, according to another survey, from 2017, has 74 times more bacteria than a public water faucet.


That stands for bring your own mat. It’s all of 2-3 extra pounds to carry around, and ensures that you don’t have to take one from the sticky pile in the corner. A ton of regular yoga-goers routinely bring their own mats for class, and that’s great, but I’d also encourage those looking to do a core or full-body workout to bring one, too. Plus, it’s in your best interest to become a towel person. If you’re wiping sweat from your forehead and cheeks over and over again with your hands, you’re increasing the likelihood of germs and viruses entering your facial mucous membranes. In general, we all need to touch our faces a little less. It’s a unanimous and understandable human compulsion, but that’s also when you’re most likely to get yourself sick.

Respect the duds

WASH YOUR GYM CLOTHES. And your gym bag. At least every couple months or so. Beyond protecting yourself from the bacteria you were exposed to during your workout, this also a general good idea for protecting your skin’s pores from dirt, grime and dead skin cells that collect and linger on tight activewear.

Shower, stat

On the off chance you currently do not shower immediately after exercise, here’s a fun image: fungal spores. C’mon, you’ve seen what people do in those locker rooms. Don’t bring that home to your apartment or home and sit in it for hours. It’s a one-way ticket to ringworm. Or jock itch. Or molluscum contagiousum. Just learn to take cleaning your body as seriously as you take training it. And if you tend to hit the gym on the way to work and want to shower there, make sure you bring a pair of flip flops. They should protect reasonably well, albeit not perfectly, against bacteria in the shower. (Word to the wise: be careful when putting boxers on post-shower that your feet don’t brush up against the lining of the briefs — it’s one way that bacteria spread to a region where you definitely don’t want them.)

Check your phone

Scientists at the University of Arizona have confirmed what we already knew to be true; our phones are 10 times dirtier than toilet seats. That fact isn’t helped by the fact that many of us bring our phones … to the toilet seat. I also bring mine to the gym, and have a bad habit of perching it on ledges and seats around the gym as I work out, then tapping away at it while my hands are filthy and covered with germs from all the weights I’m throwing around. As Emily Martin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health told TIME back in 2017: “Taking a cell phone into the bathroom and then leaving with it is kind of like going in, not washing your hands and then coming back out.” Similar logic applies to phone use in the gym: you can wash your hands after the sweating is over, but if your phone doesn’t get some sort of cleanse, and you’re taking calls, reading it during lunch, bringing it into bed … how clean are you, really? Try this DIY solution to spruce up your mobile, or invest in this high-tech UV sanitizer.

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