There’s a lot more to worry about at the gym than out-benching your training partner. A recent study at the University of Arizona found that 28% of gym surfaces tested positive for contamination—some at extreme levels. And the top offenders aren’t the usual suspects (toilet seats, for example, charted as some of the cleanest surfaces you’ll find). Follow our advice to outsmart stealthy bacteria and ensure that muscle gains are all you bring home from the gym.
1) Cold and Flu Virus
Germ Hotspots: Interior door handles are the No. 1 area for flu germs, but these critters are also heavily concentrated on dumbbells, free-weight benches, and cardio and weight-training machines. A gym’s front check-in area, childcare center, lobby tables, and water fountains also scored poorly in the study.
How to Avoid It: “The easiest way to prevent getting sick is the simplest one,” says Diane Emo, VP of marketing at Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System. Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Always wipe equipment down with a disinfectant before and after use—you’ll be killing off any germs you may have picked up along the way, as well as cleaning your germs off for the next person.
2) Fungal and Wart Virus
Germ Hotspot: Shower floors are the worst.
How to Avoid It: Never, and we mean never, walk around the changing room barefoot. In fact, the research indicated you should wear flip-flops even in the shower area. Also, never reuse socks you’ve trained in.
3) MRSA Staph Infection
Germ Hotspots: Staph infections are quite rare, but since they can be life-threatening, they should be taken seriously. The MRSA virus is found in the same locations as the cold and flu virus—meaning, basically any surface someone else may have touched.
How to Avoid It: MRSA has to enter the body through an opening in the skin, so the best way to protect yourself against it is to cover up any cuts especially on your palms (that goes for blisters and calluses, too). Gloves may not be the way to do it, though, since they lock the wound in a moist area that collects a lot of bacteria.
Best solution: “Something as simple as a piece of tape can prevent MRSA from entering through an open wound,” says Emo.
[See: Locker Room Lurker]
Funk in Your Gym Bag
Gym bags are havens for germs. Inside, sweaty socks and damp towels are a breeding ground for bacteria. Outside, it’s probably worse. “Ninety percent of bags have fecal bacteria on the bottom,” says Emo.
Wash your workout gear in hot water—cold won’t help at all. And ditch your duffel for an antimicrobial bag. We recommend Apera; its new line of bags resists forming bacterial odors, to keep all that funk at bay as long as possible. We like the Duffel Pack with ventilated compartments and a waterproof base. Check it out at aperabags.com.
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