At the Gym: To Mask or Not to Mask…

Face masks, Japan

Ohio has had in place masking orders for those in public for quite a while now. These orders are based on the solid science showing that wearing a face mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the more people masking the more effective it is.

There are, of course, exceptions to the governor’s order, including gyms and fitness facilities. Where I work, the policy is that a mask must be worn in the building except while you are working out–which, if you asked me (and you didn’t), is the same as having no policy at all.

I have seen the following scenarios where I work. Adults and especially teens will wear the mask into the building but take it off the minute they walk into the fitness center; some even place it in their mini-locker. I have seen unmasked members with earbuds singing out loud to their music–annoying during normal times, but especially germ-spreading during a pandemic. I have seen members sitting on different pieces of equipment or benches talking to each other across the gym without masks. I have seen members use equipment and not wipe it off afterwards.

To be fair, there are those who are very cautious. I have seen members wearing a mask at all times–even while doing cardio (as I do). I have also seen members being conscientious about wiping down equipment. In the final analysis, I don’t know how much good this does when there are so many others who seem to throw caution to the (literal) wind.

We have had one employee of the Fitness Center and one member in recent weeks diagnosed with COVID-19; neither was asymptomatic. I think we are lucky it hasn’t been worse. What solutions are out there? Some establishments (in the fitness industry and elsewhere) make a point of enforcing hygienic standards. Employees and supervisors make sure that folks are compliant, and if they are not they are made to leave the facility. They believe (and rightly so) that the “honor system” doesn’t work with this pandemic. I spoke with a family member a couple of days ago who teaches yoga at a fitness facility; the facility is “open” for 90 minutes then “closed” for 30 minutes during which time the entire building is fogged with disinfectant. This seems extreme, but I’m willing to bet that this place has a lot more people coming through their doors as opposed to the masses who are staying away out of concern for disease transmission. It seems to me that fitness facilities should be going above and beyond rather than aiming for the bare minimum; it would seem to fit into our mission of promoting health and wellness.

The fitness world has a long way to go in this pandemic to make facilities safer. In the meantime, my recommendation is to PUT ON THE DAMN MASK! If you are strong enough to bench press (insert your max.) pounds, you can do it with a mask on as well; remember, weight lifting is an anaerobic activity. As for cardio, unless it is really intense (like running), a mask should only impede airflow slightly; the Nu-Step or a stationary bicycle can probably be used with a mask.

As for my own practice, I keep the mask on always. I will find the days when it is warm enough outside to run outside. If I am doing a cardio workout, I will do it at home. If we all are a little more conscientious about safety/health precautions we can help bring an end to this pandemic. Start by wearing your mask.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Doors

That is the big question now in the United States. At the Federal Government’s urging (and to the dismay of many health experts) states are beginning to “open up” again. The last couple of months have been difficult, and everyone has faced different challenges. So we have this question: should I stay or should I go?

I have only gone out when there was something that I needed to accomplish that couldn’t be done online. Most everything that my family needs is delivered to the house. I teach an online workout every morning. My clients train with me via Zoom. I avoid contact with others when I am out–including appropriate physical distancing and always wearing a mask. As things open up, we all have to figure out what is the right thing to do.

Earlier this week, the local JCC where I work as a personal trainer announced that we will begin to open the facility in phases. Starting in about 10 days, the Fitness Center will be open by appointment only for personal training and Pilates only. It is not totally clear what any of this will look like, but we may train one-on-one with our clients in a separate designated area, wearing masks, no locker rooms or shower, etc.; in other words, nothing will look as it did before. This will be a huge adjustment for me and my clients.

We have to remember that one of the goals of any Fitness Center is to foster the good health and fitness of its users. What good is it to build up muscles and endurance if you end up exposing yourself to a debilitating and sometimes deadly virus? In a way, we personal trainers are like doctors in that we have to ensure that “first, [we] do no harm.” We cannot work on all the areas of fitness that our clients come to us for unless we can guarantee to a reasonable degree that they will be safe doing so.

Should we go or should we stay? Everyone will answer this their own way. Certainly those who have more than two of the categories that put you at risk should consider staying. Otherwise, we may want to think about all the steps that we can take to get back into the swing of things while staying safe and healthy.

For me, I think it will be like getting into a pool. I usually don’t just dive in, but rather put one toe in at first to test out the waters. Once it looks safe I slowly guide myself in.

I’ll keep you posted on how things play out when I’m back at the gym.