Phoenix Ignition Fitness Company

Fitness Science: Germ prevention and the risk of dirty fitness equipment

by Ron Kennedy • October 24, 2016
Being a fitness trainer, going to the gym is more than just a routine part of my day. If our bodies are temples, I treat going to my favorite fitness facility like going to church. You wear certain outfits that make you look and feel good, meet and greet with locals about their results and day to day, even take time to reflect on life. It might seem silly, but I very much enjoy the feeling of taking a shower BEFORE my exercise session. That feeling of being fresh and clean before you start your weight loss focus, strength training pursuits, or wherever your fitness goals take you is invigorating to me! Yet, there is another purpose of taking the responsibility of cleaning myself before I go and use equipment that others have or will be using directly before or after me, germs and bacteria that are very common in most gym settings.

Let’s examine the setting for a typical gym. Almost everything is shared, including equipment, exercise mats, lockers and showers. People are wearing exercise apparel exposing bacteria covered skin. And for most, a good workout means a good sweat, which equals increased moisture on various surfaces. It’s not too surprising that a gym, with its public showers, lockers and sweaty clothes, is highly attractive to fungi, bacteria and viruses that thrive in warm, moist places. Direct or indirect contact with moist surfaces that may contain the secretions of others - including sweat and fluids from abrasions or lesions - increases the chances of getting an ugly skin infection.

Some infections are more serious than others, but after conducting some research into some of the more common culprits for fitness enthusiasts, allow me to share my fugitive list:

Staphylococcus (or “staph”) is a group of bacteria capable of causing infection of various body tissues. Staph is normally present in the nose and on the skin of about 30 percent of healthy adults and causes no harm; but, an exposed opening in the skin may allow the bacteria to penetrate the skin’s natural barriers and cause a localized infection. Staph is transmitted by direct or indirect contact with someone who has an active staph infection. The affected area becomes red, abscessed and painful, with a boil-like appearance. Treatment usually involves antibiotics. In rare cases, the staph bacteria can enter the bloodstream and spread to other organs, causing more serious complications.

Warts are acquired through direct contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Although there are more than 100 types of HPV, the ones that cause warts - particularly warts on the feet, or plantar warts - are often found in damp, warm environments. The virus enters the body through broken skin, and can be transferred from one person to another by touching or sharing personal items such as towels, shaving implements and shoes. Over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid are commonly used to treat warts; freezing is another option.

Now I am certainly not sharing this to convince you or anyone on that note to not go and exercise, that seems like a rather silly concept for a professional fitness trainer! Yet I share this for you to take caution when you are challenging your fitness goals in the hopes you can prevent simple errors from making those fitness pursuits more challenging than needed. Showering directly after exercise is very effective, but here are a few other tactics to take into consideration:
  • Keep any cuts or blisters covered with secure bandages. Wearing an article of clothing over an open wound is not enough; sweat easily transmits bacteria or viruses.
  • Do not share towels, bar soap, shower slippers, yoga mats or any personal items that you encounter bare skin.
  • Wipe down equipment with antibacterial wipes. At the very least, use a personal towel as a barrier between your skin and any shared equipment.
  • Wash your hands before and after working out. Use antibacterial liquid soap or a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content.
  • Minimize bare feet’s exposure to surfaces, whether wet or dry. Wear slippers or shower shoes to keep feet off communal shower floors, changing rooms and pool decks.
  • Wash workout clothes between every gym visit, and wash them as soon as possible after wearing, preferably in hot water.
Common curtesy goes a very long way in the fitness and exercise world. I hate to admit it, but normally I assume that someone didn’t wipe down the equipment I am preparing to use and that they are a walking talking petri dish. Also, as I mentioned, I love my workout apparel, and it’s not uncommon for me to be sporting a cutoff muscle shirt or a skin-tight Superman logoed workout top. Those items do show case the results of a very disciplined fitness regimen, but also exposes me to higher risk of the aforenoted infections. I also wipe down any piece of exercise equipment I use, especially cardiovascular machines for the sweet they produce. If you apply these practices and take into consideration your fellow fitness enthusiasts well-being, and certainly the lazy ones that don’t care about anyone else (I looking at you hairy, sweaty 60-year-old still wearing your Jane Fonda head band from the 80’s while you drip all over the quad extension machine) then you significantly lower your risk of coming toe to toe (pardon the pun) with these nasty little buggers.