You've been dedicated to your YouTube workouts and hill sprints during the pandemic, and maybe you were even lucky enough to snag a kettlebell or two before they all disappeared from the virtual shelves. But if you've been missing your spin class or barbells, you're probably wondering when it will be safe to go to the gym again. In some states, like Georgia and Oklahoma, elected officials have deemed it acceptable to re-open their gyms. But according to medical professionals, it won't actually be safe to return to the gym for quite some time.
Is It Safe To Go To The Gym If It's Open In My State?
As of April 24, the state of Georgia opened their gyms, along with tattoo shops, hair salons, and bowling alleys, provided they follow certain protocols like social distancing, screening workers for illness, and enhancing cleaning requirements. On May 1, gyms will also be able to re-open in Oklahoma and in Utah, with similar guidelines. Wyoming gyms will open their doors on May 1, though locker rooms will remain closed and staff will be required to wear face masks. West Virginia plans to let gyms open during weeks three to six of the governor's re-opening plan announced on April 27.
Assuming everyone at a newly-re-opened gym wears masks, there is still a risk of spreading the virus, says Dr. Dennis Cardone, D.O., a sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone Sports Health. "The current recommendation is still to exercise at home or safely in the outdoors," he tells Bustle. So even if your favorite fitness center is open again, you might still want to stick to livestream workouts.
"I would be very careful going to the gym right now," says Dr. Peter Gulick, D.O., an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University. Even if there is a full six feet of distance between each machine (which is very unlikely in most facilities), Dr. Gulick tells Bustle that the spacing might not matter, given how hard people tend to breathe while working out in a confined space. Additionally, he says, each machine would have to be cleaned thoroughly after each use.
While wiping down your machine or bench is considered proper gym etiquette in the best of times, it's reasonable to expect that not everyone will do a thorough enough job of spraying and cleaning down their equipment. What's more, dumbbells, barbells, and weight plates are rarely if ever sprayed down after each use by gym patrons, and it's unclear whether gyms would begin to require that (or even be able to enforce it).
In terms of group fitness classes, Dr. Gulick tells Bustle that even with severely restricted class sizes, the closed-room settings of these classes means that six feet of distance just won't be enough if someone coughs, sneezes, or even breathes extra heavily (which is expected in something like a boot camp). Masks might be an option for some kinds of workouts, but Dr. Gulick says that exercising in masks can be extremely tricky or even dangerous. "Many cannot use one while working out because it inhibits breathing," he says.
So When *Will* It Be Safe To Go To The Gym?
As for when you might be able to get back to your designated treadmill, medical experts say it'll take a while. "It will be safe to return back to the gyms when there is either a therapeutic cure, an effective vaccination, or widely available and accurate antibody testing for the virus," Dr. Cardone says.
If you're chomping at the bit to get back to your gym, I feel you. But as with everything during the pandemic, it's not that simple. "Workouts are important to well-being and mental health, but right now they need to be done in a safe environment," Dr. Gulick says. "If you want to go to the gym, just remember that even though you may be young and may only get a minor infection, if you live with someone at high risk, you may want to think again."
Dr. Peter Gulick, D.O., infectious disease expert at Michigan State University
Dr. Dennis Cardone, D.O., sports medicine specialist at NYU Langone Sports Health