Is It Safe to Go to the Gym During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Medically Reviewed on 11/9/2021
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many people's routines. Even if you are vaccinated, going to the gym does still come with some risk of getting COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many people's routines. Even if you are vaccinated, going to the gym does still come with some risk of getting COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed many people's routines. Most people had to stop going to the gym, at least for a little while. Now that we have coronavirus vaccinations and case numbers are going down, though, you may be wondering if it is safe to go to the gym during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even if you are vaccinated, going to the gym does still come with some risk of getting COVID-19. However, everyone has a different level of risk they are comfortable with, and only you can ultimately make this decision.

6 health risks to avoid at the gym (and associated tips)

Going to the gym is safest for fully vaccinated people. You are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after you have received the last dose of whichever vaccine you got. If you are not fully vaccinated, experts recommend sticking to home or outdoor workouts.

Additionally, if you are at high risk for coming down with a severe case of COVID, you may want to keep working out at home even if you are vaccinated. 

If you are not at high risk, though, here are six ways you can practice gym safety:

Avoid high-intensity group classes

The CDC says that this type of fitness class has a particularly high risk for spreading COVID-19 because everyone is breathing hard. This may put more respiratory droplets into the air and may send them further into the air than normal breathing patterns.

According to a study observed before vaccinations were available, 68% of members of one high-intensity exercise class in Chicago came down with COVID-19, even though they were spaced 6 feet apart. 

Always wear your mask and keep your distance

Even if your area doesn't require them, wearing a mask at the gym is a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is true for anywhere you go but is especially important at the gym, where people are often breathing hard and fast from exertion.

The people in the high-intensity exercise class in Chicago mentioned above were allowed to remove their masks during the class. Experts believe this may have contributed to the spread.

Physical distancing, meanwhile, is another safe and effective method for reducing the spread of COVID-19 anywhere, but especially at the gym. Make sure you have at least 6 feet of space between you and other people, whether you're working out alone or in a fitness class.


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Go during off-hours

Gyms are more crowded during peak hours, giving you more chances to get exposed to COVID. Ask your gym when their quieter hours are, and try to go during that time. As an added bonus, there will be less of a wait for the most popular pieces of equipment!

Wash your hands and don't touch your face

You may have heard it 1,000 times over the course of the pandemic, but here is another reminder that washing your hands is an effective way of reducing the spread of COVID, other viruses, and many bacterial illnesses. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after you work out.

Touching your face, particularly when your hands haven't been appropriately washed, can introduce germs to your mucous membranes, which is how you can get infected with viruses like COVID-19.

Wipe down all equipment you use

The CDC says the risk of COVID transmission via surfaces is low. However, it is still possible, especially if someone who is positive for the virus has used that surface in the past 24 hours and the surface has not been cleaned.

Most gyms provide disinfecting wipes to wipe down equipment. Use them on everything you touch before and after you use them, including benches, cable machine handles, barbells, and dumbbells.

If wipes are not available, soap and water will also work to remove COVID-19 from a surface.

Don't go to the gym when you're sick

You should not go to the gym if you have symptoms of a respiratory illness like COVID-19 including:

In the previously mentioned spread of COVID in a Chicago exercise class, 22 out of 81 class members came to the class while they were experiencing symptoms.

What can gyms do to reduce the spread of COVID-19?

Your gym can also make a safer environment for exercise during the pandemic. They should:

  • Open windows and doors when possible to allow for the flow of fresh air.
  • Use air purifiers to cleanse particles, like germs, from the air.
  • Create more usable outdoor space for safer workouts.
  • Play music at a low volume so people don't have to get close or yell to hear each other.
  • Place hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes throughout the gym for easy access.
  • Post signs to remind people to wear their masks, wash their hands, and wipe down equipment.
  • Post signs to let people know they shouldn't come to the gym if they have symptoms of COVID.
  • Post signs to clearly communicate any other COVID-related policies your gym has.
  • Ask gym employees to enforce all COVID policies.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/9/2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "COVID Data Tracker," "COVID-19 Outbreak Among Attendees of an Exercise Facility — Chicago, Illinois, August–September 2020," "Guidance for Wearing Masks," "Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments," "When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated."

County of Los Angeles Public Health: "Exercising Indoors."

Houston Methodist: "COVID-19: Is It Safe to Go Back to the Gym?"

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for the United States of America: "Social distancing decreases an individual’s likelihood of contracting COVID-19."