If I were to list the cleanest places on earth, my local gym wouldn't be the first location to spring to mind. With everyone sweating on the machines, rolling around on yoga mats, and walking around barefoot in the locker room, there's no denying it can be super difficult to avoid germs at the gym. And sometimes even more difficult to avoid getting sick.
As fitness and nutrition expert Mike Clancy says, "Even the [cleanest] fitness center cannot disinfect every piece of equipment and matting, so the risk of coming into contact with many types of bacteria is very high in the gym." While that doesn't mean you have to live in fear when you lift some weights or jog on the treadmill, it is a good idea to keep in mind all the hygiene mistakes we make while working out. Whether it's not laying down a towel before doing crunches, or prancing out of the gym without washing your hands, we all let our guard down while exercising. And it's kinda gross.
The good news is that you can turn you next trip to the gym back into the endorphin-pumping, de-stressing activity you know and love. It's more than possible to go the gym and return home unscathed and germ-free. Read on for a few mistakes you might be making, so you can officially know what to avoid.
1. Assuming Those Yoga Mats Are Clean
If you've been known to unfurl a gym yoga mat without a second thought, it may be worth pausing to consider what you're about to roll around on. Because I hate to say it, but those things can be dirty. As gym owner Grant Harrison tells me, people often roll them up after a class without cleaning them first, thus creating the perfect sweaty breeding ground for germs. Yuck.
2. Not Washing Your Hands After Using Weights
Gym goers are usually pretty good about wiping away visible sweat on cardio machines and weight benches. But Harrison tells me they rarely (if ever) clean the dumbbells. That means those 15 pound weights you're using for bicep curls are super germ-y. So please, go wash your hands.
3. Drinking Out Of A Dirty Water Bottle
It's definitely a good idea to stay hydrated at the gym, but when was the last time you actually washed your water bottle? "Many of us don’t remember to, simply don’t have the time to, or just don’t realize that we need to clean our water bottles regularly," cleaning expert Becca Napelbaum tells Bustle. If you don't want to sip on that bacteria, consider washing it after each use.
4. Forgetting To Put Down A Towel
While that shiny weight bench may look clean, it's most definitely covered in sweat and germs. So get in the habit of carrying a towel or t-shirt while at the gym. "Sweaty or not, you want to create a barrier between your skin and any padding," Clancy says. "Of course, washing your hands after the gym is just as important, too."
5. Never Cleaning Your Own Yoga Mat
As I said above, shared yoga mats can be all sorts of gross. But your own mat can get pretty nasty, too. As Napelbaum tells me, you should be cleaning that thing at least once a month, especially if it's starting to smell or look dirty. She suggests using a solution of water and vinegar to wipe it down and restore the rubber.
6. Letting Your Headphones Get Sweaty
A workout is the perfect time to put in your earbuds and catch up on your favorite podcasts. But wearing them while sweating means they're getting even grosser and waxier than usual. If you don't want that in your ears, Napelbaum suggests using a cotton swab to remove any dirt, followed by a swipe with a slightly damp cloth. Your ears will thank you.
7. Laying On The Ground To Do Crunches
Working out on the dusty gym floor isn't ideal, but it's probably even grosser than you think. "Not only are you putting your body on the same surface where feces, dirt, and bacteria run rampant from the bottom of people's shoes, you're also increasing your risk to have those germs transfer to your body, causing fungal infections, body acne, and more serious infections like staph," says fitness instructor and co-founder of TrapAerobics Chavonne Hodges. Yikes.
8. Forgoing Gloves When You Lift
Weight lifting often causes calluses on your hands, which can in turn create small tears in the skin. That's why, as Harrison tells me, you should always wear some form of hand protection when pumping iron. It'll help prevent dirt and germs from getting in and causing infection.
9. Skipping A Shower
If you have the time, you should most definitely take a shower after your workout. "It takes just one hour for staph (commonly found in gyms) to colonize all over human skin," Dr. Azam Anwar tells Bustle. Staph is pretty darn scary, but an infection can be avoided if you clean up and follow proper hygiene.
10. Walking Around Barefoot
After washing away the stench of your workout, how often do you get out of the shower and walk around barefoot? If the answer is "always," you could be putting yourself at risk for Athlete's foot from the dirty floor of the gym, Harrison tells me. So get thyself some flip flops.
11. Throwing Everything Into Your Dirty Gym Bag
OK, so you usually remember to wash your gym clothes. But how often do you wash your bag? As Harrison tells me, gym bags can quickly build up bacteria from toting around all your dirty clothes, sweaty towels, and equipment. So unless you want that coming in contact with your skin, do yourself a favor and throw the whole thing in the laundry.
While you shouldn't walk around the gym feeling terrified of germs, it's a good idea to know which areas are extra dirty and why. Knowing can help keep you protected and germ-free at the gym. And that's always a good thing.
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