5 Tips to Get Back to the Gym Safely

By Leslie Goldman |

News flash: If you’re vaccinated, the gym is safe! Here’s what you need to know before heading back to the indoor fitness world.

back to the gym

So, you’re fully vaccinated and ready to sweat somewhere other than your living room. Great! Experts say the vaccines work extremely well at protecting you from COVID-19.

In fact, if you’re fully vaccinated (meaning it’s been two weeks since your second Moderna or Pfizer shot or two weeks since your Johnson & Johnson shot), then it’s safe to participate in an indoor, high-intensity exercise class, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How exciting is that? Besides being a welcome sign of a gradual return to normalcy, exercise is vital to healthy aging, says Monica Gandhi, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. It’s critical for maintaining muscle mass and balance—and shoring up the immune system, she adds.

If you took an extended break from the gym during the pandemic and have noticed you’ve lost some muscle or gained a few pounds as a result, you’re not alone.

“As a physician, what I’ve noticed most among my older patients who stopped their weight training during the pandemic has been muscle atrophy, problems with balance, and more general weakness,” Dr. Gandhi says.

Ready to get back to the gym? If you’re not sure if you’re fully vaccinated or have a health condition and have questions about what’s safe for you, start by talking to your doctor. When you have the green light, use these tips to return to the gym safely.

Gym Safety Tip #1: Follow Any Local or Gym Guidelines

As of May 13, the CDC says fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear a mask or stay physically distanced from other people—unless there are rules or guidelines in specific settings that say otherwise. Public transportation, medical offices, and businesses, for example, may still have COVID-19 safety rules in place to protect everyone in those locations.

When it comes to fitness facilities, each gym or studio may have its own guidelines for masks and physical distancing. Some may ask for proof of vaccination before allowing you to work out without a mask, while others may rely on the honor system. Hours or services may also be different.

Because each facility may be individually managed, it’s a good idea to call or check its website for the latest information and COVID-19 guidelines.

Haven’t had a chance to get your safe, effective, and free COVID-19 vaccine? It’s easier than ever. To find one near you, search vaccines.gov, text your zip code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.

Gym Safety Tip #2: Prioritize Your Personal Comfort Level

If your gym allows you to exercise mask-free and that feels good to you, go ahead and do it, says Ashley Artese, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health and exercise science at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. But if you’re still feeling cautious—and that’s 100 percent normal—look for a facility that requires mask usage by all.

“If you’re personally comfortable, then you’re more likely to go and exercise,” Artese says. And after a year of pandemic living, exercise is a public health priority. “It’s a lot easier to talk yourself out of going if it doesn’t feel safe to you,” she adds.

You may want to visit a few facilities and see what jives with your preferences. One gym may allow more people in group classes, while another hasn’t even started group classes back up. One gym may practice a standard cleaning protocol, while another leaves it up to gym-goers to wipe down their machines. Even though surfaces are no longer believed to be a primary way that COVID-19 spreads, you may simply prefer facilities that prioritize general safety.

Gym Safety Tip #3: Ask About New Peak Hours—and Plan Accordingly

Before the pandemic, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. was often the busiest time to exercise at many gyms, with people coming in straight from work. Now, “9 a.m. or 10 a.m. has become really popular because more people are home,” Artese says.

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If you’d rather work out when traffic is low, ask the fitness staff about any new peak hours. You can get specific, depending on your favorite type of workout. Perhaps the weight room tends to be packed in the morning, but it empties out in the afternoon. Or maybe afternoon SilverSneakers classes are pretty full, but morning ones usually still have openings.

Gym Safety Tip #4: Think Outside the Weight Room

Getting back into a workout routine doesn’t have to mean pumping out sets with communal weights or waiting for your turn to thoroughly wipe down a machine. In fact, this might be the perfect time to freshen up your routine by trying a new—or old—sport!

Sports are an excellent workout, plus many are naturally socially distanced—pickleball, tennis, golf, or swimming. That last one is a favorite of Laurie Steelsmith, N.D., a Honolulu-based licensed naturopathic physician and author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health. “I’ve already rejoined my swimming pool,” she says. “The lanes are naturally spaced out, and chlorine kills germs.” It’s a win-win!

Gym Safety Tip #5: B.Y.O.W.B.

Wherever you decide to sweat, don’t forgot to bring your own water bottle. Many fitness facilities and parks still have their water fountains taped off, but staying hydrated is just as important as it’s always been.

Fill up a reusable bottle before leaving home, and be on the lookout for lesser-known signs of dehydration, such as sugar cravings, bad breath, or lightheadedness.

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