Exercise can boost the immune system and calm anxiety, benefits that have been especially valuable during the coronavirus pandemic. After months of at-home and outdoor workouts, heading back to the gym safely means taking a few simple precautions to protect your health.
“There isn’t a ‘safe’ way to work out in a gym, but there are ways to make a gym workout safer,” says Dr. Eleanor Murray, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University. Public health guidelines for gyms are similar to those for other indoor spaces. “It’s important to keep the number of people in an enclosed space as low as possible, to regularly sanitize surfaces, to keep your hands clean and away from your face and to wear a mask,” Murray says.
We sought advice from medical experts about the best ways to reduce your risk while working out at the gym. And with input from a personal trainer, we rounded up the top gear to pack in your bag for a fun and safe return to your favorite fitness facility.
Supplies to protect yourself and others
In order to reduce the transmission of respiratory droplets, breathable cloth masks are the way to go. Keep in mind that “as masks get wet, they get less effective,” Murray says. “If you plan to work up a sweat, it’s a good idea to have a few masks available and change as they get too damp.” Cleaning your hands before and after changing your mask is also important, Murray adds.
Uniqlo Airism Face Mask, 3-Pack ($14.90; uniqlo.com)
These masks are made with Uniqlo’s signature Airism fabric, which wicks away moisture. They also have a built-in filter for breathable protection.
Everyday Nonmedical Masks, 5-Pack ($30; athleta.gap.com)
Designed specifically for exercise, these editor-approved masks from Athleta fit comfortably on the face and are extremely breathable for both indoor and outdoor workouts.
Care Touch Hand Sanitizing Wipes, 110-Pack ($19.99; amazon.com)
Sanitizer wipes are versatile, whether you’re cleaning your hands to change masks or wiping down equipment. “Gyms should keep an appropriate disinfectant solution available for users to clean equipment after use, or for new users to clean it before,” says Dr. Chad Asplund, professor of family medicine and orthopedics at the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine. These wipes, formulated with 62% alcohol, will do in a pinch.
Bring your own necessities
As an extra layer of precaution, there are essentials you can bring instead of using what’s provided at the gym.
PackTowl Luxe Microfiber Towel (starting at $12.95; amazon.com)
“I would recommend bringing a towel to place on equipment,” Asplund says. PackTowl’s microfiber towel fits compactly into your gym bag and dries off quickly.
Kiehl’s Facial Fuel Set ($55; nordstrom.com)
“Skip the locker room and shower at home,” Asplund suggests. To clean your face, either at the gym or back home, Kiehl’s face wash and moisturizer are an invigorating step in any washup routine.
S’well Stainless Steel Water Bottle ($45; amazon.com, swell.com)
Asplund also suggests bringing your own water bottle to avoid using a shared drinking fountain. This 25-ounce bottle from S’well was our pick for the best at holding temperature in our best water bottle test, meaning that that extra cold water you fill yours with will stay icy for hours.
Top gear to get moving
Nike Metcon 6 ($130; nike.com)
Refreshing your workout game starts from the ground up with a solid pair of sneakers. Maillard Howell, owner of Dean CrossFit and creator of The Beta Way, a holistic wellness program, likes the versatility of Nike’s Metcon. “They’re stable enough for squats and load-bearing movements while still being light enough for jump rope and box jumps,” Howell says.
Nike Epic React Flyknit 2 ($94.97, originally $150; nike.com)
Nike Flex Training Shorts ($40; nike.com)
For shorts that can keep personal items close at hand (from your wallet and keys to hand sanitizer), Howell goes for Nike’s Flex line. “They’re flexible enough for any movement in the gym.”
Thule Subterra 34L Travel Backpack ($115, originally $159.95; amazon.com or $159.95; dickssportinggoods.com)
A roomy and practical bag will make bringing additional items to the gym that much easier. “The Thule Subterra 34L bag helps me carry as much or as little as I need,” Howell says. A backpack works well on any form of transport, whether you’re biking, driving or riding the subway.
AmazonBasics Packing Organizer Cubes (starting at $15.20; amazon.com)
“I use Amazon brand packing cubes to keep things compartmentalized,” says Howell, whose bag often doubles as his on-the-go office. These organizers help keep everything you need separate and easily accessible.
Mix it up at home and outside
“If you have underlying health conditions, or a family member who is at higher risk, you may want to stick to exercising outdoors” or at home, Asplund of the Mayo Clinic says. Even if you do head back to the gym, it’s always nice to have options for outdoors or at home.
Nike Therma Training Hoodie ($50; nike.com)
As temperatures start to drop, layers for staying warm and comfortable are key. “Nike’s Therma Tech apparel is genuinely warm and functional,” Howell says. This training hoodie has a high collar that can act as a scarf.
Black Mountain Resistance Band Set ($26.77, originally $39.99; amazon.com)
In the absence of weights or other workout equipment, resistance bands can be used for full-body exercise at home or in the backyard.
Gaiam Performance Dry Grip Yoga Mat ($59.11, originally $69.98; amazon.com or $69.98; gaiam.com)
BalanceForm Wide Grip 3-Piece Kettlebell Set ($65.39, originally $70.30; amazon.com)
You don’t need a whole rack of weights to train your full body. BalanceFrom’s set of three is designed for easy grip and durability.