If you’re a gym newbie, you’re probably psyched about hitting your new fitness center to try out all of the classes, machines, and free weights. Taking charge of your fitness goals can be empowering. However, because it’s a communal space filled with sweaty bodies, there are some gross things that can happen at the gym that might make you wish you had stayed home and done that quickie Scientific 7-Minute Workout instead.
Before you cancel your gym membership — if you’ve ever tried to do this, or seen that episode of Friends where Ross and Chandler try to break up with their gym, you know it’s about as easy as beaming yourself to the moon — there are some ways to avoid getting gross at the gym. When it comes to the gym, knowledge is power, and educating yourself can keep you from picking up any number of infections you can’t pronounce. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that personal hygiene, surface cleaning, and disinfection schedules of fitness facilities create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
It doesn’t matter if your gym is super fancy or bare bones, similar to bed bugs (which you can also bring home from the gym), bacteria can live anywhere. “A high degree of microbial diversity originating from inanimate surfaces of fitness centers may be alarmingly implicated to poor personnel hygiene of facility users as well as to the inadequate cleanliness of the facilities,” the study concluded. Gross, right? Here are some things you can pick up at the gym so you can learn how to avoid them like that plague you don’t watch to catch.
Tinea pedis, more commonly known as athlete’s foot, is so common among people who work out that it even has a fitness-appropriate name. According to Consumer Reports, you can pick up athlete’s foot from wearing tight sweaty shoes for too long, or from walking barefoot on damp surfaces at the gym. Like the shower or pool deck.
This itchy fungal infection usually appears on the feet in the form of a scaly, red rash, and it can quickly spread to other parts of your body. Want to avoid it? Of course you do! Don’t walk barefoot at the gym, and if you shower there, wear flip flops. Additionally, remove your gym shoes and socks immediately after your workout. If you do get athlete’s foot, you can treat it with an over-the-counter fungal cream.
Never hear of klebsiella pneumoniae infection? Me neither. According to WebMD, “Klebsiella pneumoniae [bacteria] can be dangerous if they get into other parts of your body, especially if you’re already sick. They can turn into ‘superbugs’ that are almost impossible to fight with common antibiotics. The germs can give you pneumonia, infect your wound or blood, and cause other serious problems.”
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health study reported that this bacteria is found on rails and stationary bikes. If you’re healthy, you’re probably not going to get this. However, if you’re already sick or you have a compromised immune system, you should take extra precautions. Wipe down equipment with a clean towel before you touch it, and wash your hands immediately after you finish.
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, then you know it can be one of the most painful and uncomfortable conditions out there. You can get UTIs from not drinking enough water, not changing out of tight, damp gym clothes, not peeing after sex, and from a rare bacteria known as aerococcus viridans. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported in their study that this bacteria was found on gym equipment like leg press machines.
Symptoms of a UTI come on suddenly, and include a frequent and urgent need to urinate as well as pain and burning when you pee. You can also experience chills, lower back pain, and a fever. If you do have these symptoms, see your doctor ASAP. To avoid this bacteria, wipe down that gym equipment, drink plenty of water, wash your hands before and after using the bathroom, and change out of your gym clothes as soon as you’re done with your workout.
According to the study, serratia marcescens is a bacteria that can cause everything from UTIs to respiratory infections. This bacteria that you can’t pronounce is found on a lot of gym equipment, including free weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, leg press machines, and more. It’s spread by direct contact, like touching a piece of equipment and then touching your body. To avoid catching this, disinfect equipment before you use it, and wash your hands before you touch your eyes, nose, mouth, and before you go to the bathroom (to avoid getting a UTI).
If you love to watch gross stuff, like giant pimple-popping and tonsil-stone-removal videos, you can go down a horrifying (and oddly satisfying) plantar warts rabbit hole on YouTube. If this is not your jam, the above video is tame, so you’re safe. Plantar warts are caused by a strain of human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which can enter your body “through tiny cuts, breaks, or other weak spots on the bottom of your feet,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
You can pick up plantar warts by walking barefoot in the gym locker room, shower, yoga studio, and on the pool deck. Seriously, shoes and socks have never been so attractive. The good news is that plantar warts aren’t serious, and sometimes clear up on their own. If you develop a lot of them, or they look anything like these plantar warts YouTube videos, see your doctor to have them removed.
Staph infections and MRSA present as skin infections that can cause sores and boils. Sometimes these infections can be treatment resistant, and can pose a serious health risk, according to WebMD. The study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that staphylococcus is one of the most common types of bacteria found in indoor environments, and can live on pretty much any surface.
You can reduce your chances of picking up this nasty bacteria by wiping down your equipment before you use it and washing your hands. In fact, it’s a good idea to use an alcohol wipe or alcohol-based hand sanitizer after using each piece of gym equipment.
The best way to avoid the cold and flu virus at the gym during flu season is to put your gym membership on vacation because you can get the flu just by talking to someone who has it. If you’re determined to get your workout in anyway, follow the hand-washing and machine-disinfecting protocol, but don’t go to the gym if you’re feeling even a little sick. When your immune system is weak, you’re more likely to catch a cold or the flu.
These are just a few of the gross things that can happen to you at the gym, but you get the general idea. To avoid catching something gross at the gym, practice good hygiene, disinfect your gym equipment (including yoga mats, medicine balls, and free weights) before and after use, avoid touching your face, don’t walk barefoot, and remove tight and sweaty clothes and shoes immediately after working out.
Additionally, bring a clean towel to the gym every time you work out. If you use the same dirty towel all week to wipe your face after running on the treadmill, you’re basically just spreading bacteria. Because, when it comes to avoid getting gross at the gym, it’s really a case of #TheMoreYouKnow.