The recent COVID19 pandemic has forced us all to come to terms with living a more isolated existence. That’s especially true for those who’ve enjoyed their gym time.
As gyms close and gym members follow the recommended social distancing and self-isolation procedures, more of us will be doing our workouts at home. However, the hygiene rules of the gym still apply to your own home fitness equipment – especially at this crucial time. When it comes to the equipment you’re touching and sweating on, hand washing is vital, but it’s just one of many things you can do to help keep the coronavirus, among other infections, in check.
Common Sense Defense
This woman knows she's made some kind of hygiene faux pas, but she hasn't put her finger on it ... or has she?
Fortunately, all of these practices are simple, straightforward and sensible. Besides washing your hands, you can avoid touching your face. Both habits are admittedly harder to master than you think, but you can make them second nature with a little concentration. The same goes for practicing those gym rules at home. Washing your hands scrupulously or showering can get viruses and bacteria off of you, but that effort’s wasted if you pick them up again by touching exercise equipment you forgot to clean.
It’s important to know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. The first process removes grease and organic material and usually requires a water/antibacterial soap mix and a cloth you can dampen in it. Don’t soak it, as water will run into working parts and corrode them. Once you’re done washing, wipe your equipment with a dry cloth, let it dry further then move on to the second process – disinfection.
Disinfection kills the germs that might have hidden under that grime, incubating in the textured handles designed to give your hands a firm grip. You can stop them with another cloth dampened in a proper solution. Some sources will advise you only to use solutions specifically manufactured for this task. Others will tell you DIY solutions made from mixtures of water and household chemicals are okay. Just remember that too rich of a hydrogen peroxide mix can give you a rash, Borax and baking soda will clean but won’t disinfect, and bleach will kill germs, but it might also damage your skin. Meanwhile, some manufactured products don’t live up to their billing. Rubber mats, handles, wood floors and the vinyl seats of exercise bikes can wear, age and crack because of how certain solutions dry. You can inform yourself about what’s best for your machine and yourself by consulting your manufacturer’s advice and cross-referencing it with information like this list from Health Canada.
Gym wipes are another way to go, as they can both clean and disinfect, providing the grime layer isn’t too heavy. Regular use of a gym wipe or a disinfecting solution isn’t just good for your health. It could cut your cleaning chore time down to once a week.
Putting It Into Practice
UNPLUG any powered machine. Scrub away any sweat, dust or foreign materials from all exterior areas like treadmill belts and rails, indoor bike seats and handlebars, and elliptical handles. Let your machine dry then start disinfecting. Get into all those nooks and crannies, like seat seams and the areas around handles. Monitor screens can be cleaned with a suitable spray and dry-cloth wipe. Let your machine dry for at least 15 seconds before coming back at it with a dry cloth or towel. If you use a towel, make sure it’s not the same one you use to wipe your sweating brow. The solutions used to clean machines aren’t good for your skin (and sometimes vice versa).
Yoga Mats:Yoga might be healthy but your yoga mat can catch buckets of sweat and harbour tons of germs in its creases and crevices – smelling up a room and posing a serious health hazard. Thankfully, they’re easy to clean and disinfect. After each use, take a dust mop to them, wipe them down with a disinfectant cloth and let them dry. Just be careful not to apply a solution that could make your possibly pricey possession disintegrate.Rubber yoga mats can be wiped on both sides with a water/antibacterial soap solution and rinsed in the tub or with a garden hose outside (weather permitting). To dry, hang your mat over a shower curtain or take it outside if sunlight won’t cause deterioration. Once it’s dry, you can disinfect it with an approved disinfectant or a solution containing either 70% alcohol or a bleach solution with 0.5% sodium hypochlorite. Just make sure your solution is safe for your mat and that you administer it in a properly ventilated area. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleanser.
Equipment Mats and Rubber Flooring:
Like yoga mats, the mats or rubber flooring under your equipment can collect germs, but they’re also easy to clean and disinfect. Just vacuum away lint or dust, mop with warm water and antibacterial dish soap and leave them dry in place. Don’t let water get underneath them (especially if they’re on top of a wood floor) and don’t use any harsh chemicals that can damage them.
The process for benches closely follows the one prescribed for machines – a light, damp-cloth cleaning when necessary then careful disinfection. Wipe your bench down with a disinfectant like Lysol. Allow it to dry before using your bench again, as this provides time needed to kill germs and protects you from taking a slide on a slippery bench.When it’s dry, wipe it down again with a dry microfiber cloth.
See Benches (above). The cleaning method for dumbbells and kettlebells is virtually the same. Be careful with selectorized free weights, though, as you don’t want to do anything that might rust their intricate weight selection systems. Unlike benches, free weights directly contact your hands, so be extra vigilant.
Resistance bands may be inexpensive strength-training tools, but they’re tricky to clean. They flop and stretch and can be damaged by most cleaning solutions and direct sunlight. So dip and swish them around in a warm water/ antibacterial dish soap mix then rinse and let them air dry.
Weekly/Monthy Maintenance Habits
Two weeks of self-isolation will give you plenty of time to appreciate cleanliness and develop a long-term maintenance schedule.
On a weekly basis: Dust off weights, machines and other fitness equipment. If it requires electricity, make sure your plugs and outlets are dust-free, too. Vacuum around and underneath your equipment to clear away dust and debris. You also might want to give your equipment a fairly rigorous scrubbing.
On a monthly basis: Give your rubber floors a deep cleaning. Mop them as usual then let the floor soak for about 10 minutes before giving it a final cleaning with a wet-vac full of clean water.
Look after yourself, too.
The point of exercising – and of self-isolation – is protecting and bolstering your health.
Take a day to really concentrate on not touching your face. Scrub every finger including the tips and under the nails. Spend enough time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Silly isn’t the worst way to feel these days.Hand sanitizers with a minimum 60% alcohol are a great defense against coronavirus. Washing your hands and/or taking a shower should ideally happen at either end of your workout. If you shower, wear flip-flops to keep your feet safe from bacteria, fungi or other floor contaminants. Put on clean clothing and bag up your workout duds for ASAP laundering. Cuts, scrapes and friction burns can occur during exercise. Wash, disinfect and cover them quickly. Don’t wait to moisturize dry, cracked fingertips, either. Finally, personal items like towels, clothes, water bottles and sweatbands can bring in contaminants. See to them as well.
Exercise activates your pride in accomplishment and diminishes feelings of helplessness. Some equipment can restore your sense of connection through online classes and chances to share results with your friends. Even if you can afford little or no equipment at all, there are still several surprisingly productive exercises you can perform in your own home.
These may be uneasy times, but dedication and common sense hygiene habits can pull you through. They might also make us all better gym-goers and more thoughtful citizens when life returns to normal.