Please note that this is written from the presumptions that you are not experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 and have no reason to believe that you are infected. We also assume that you are not subject to a local ‘lockdown’ or mandatory quarantine. If you have any suspicion that you carry any kind of transmissible disease then you should not use a gym in any case until you have seen a Doctor.
Like any influenza type virus, COVID-19 is transmitted by droplets generated by breathing, sneezing and coughing. It is also transmitted on surfaces which have been exposed to oral and nasal fluids, such as hands, and everyday surfaces which are touched by an infected person.
In most places, it is a reasonable assumption that the general public isn’t going to be breathing heavily whilst wiping their sweaty face before touching everything around them. This is the challenge of the gymnasium and is going to be a generally accepted risk for anyone who wants to return to the gym.
Gyms will need to manage their capacity and observe social distancing practices, whilst enforcing a strict cleaning regimen in order to make it work. If you visit your gym and you suspect that this is not the case then proceed cautiously (or go for a run in the park instead)!
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CONSIDER ALL OF THE FACTORS
When trying to decide if you should be worried about going to the gym in a post COVID-19 world, the question is really broken into three parts:
What forms of gym-based exercise are riskier than others?
Should you personally be worried?
Are you physically ready to return to training?
PART ONE: WHAT FORMS OF EXERCISE ARE MOST RISKY?
For part one the answer is fairly obvious. Your 6pm group spin class carries significantly more risk that you will be exposed to COVID-19 from the forced breath of an asymptomatic gym-mate than if you were quietly lifting weights next to an open window during the mid-afternoon quiet hours; particularly if you wash your hands before and after using the equipment and don’t touch your face. Contact sports like rugby carry more risk to other sports like football because of how people interact. Combat sport gyms can certainly utilise bag work, skipping, shadow drills and circuits but will struggle to make sparring or pad work hygienic enough to enable a low transmission risk.
PART TWO: SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED?
Part two is more subjective than just looking at what the government says and deciding what exercise you want to do. In order to assess your individual risk, you should consider your personal situation and the demographics of your gym membership. If you fall into low-risk categories (based on things like age and medical health) then the effects of you catching the virus are less of a worry than a high-risk person, as the survivability rate of people who develop COVID disease is significantly higher amongst young people than old. Your personal risk can then be added to the risk of the people you live with to judge the impact of bringing the virus home. It may be that you judge that you should stick to outdoor exercise until the COVID-19 threat becomes even more resolved.
All of this is subject to the ever-changing COVID-19 data in your local area. If you live in a high incident area then the odds of catching the virus are multiplied compared to the odds of a low incident area. All of the information you require to assess this can be found online from the government website. From there you can see the up to date information from COVID-19 testing results. There are other tools you can use to see how your local area is affected too.
As a rule, if you see the number of positive cases in your area rising then you should reassess how you interact with people.
PART THREE: MAKE SURE THAT YOU’RE READY
Finally, for part three, now that you’ve assessed yourself and determined how much risk you are willing to tolerate in order to get back to the gym, you should ask yourself if you are physically ready for it. Since March, it has been difficult for all, including professional athletes, to maintain their fitness levels. You should be open and honest with yourself before going back to your pre-March training plan, as injuries could pose a larger medical risk to you than COVID-19!
About the author: Sean Heveran, Biomedical Scientist
Sean Heveran is a Specialist Biomedical Scientist, working within Immunology and Transplant Sciences. He has an MSc in Biomedical Science Research, is a Licentiate of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences and a Reserve British Army Infantry Officer.