Workout Wednesday: 7 Ways to Avoid Getting Sick at the Gym

This weekend, I laid in bed as much as possible while I dealt with a lovely bout of the flu. While I’m pretty sure I picked up the virus from my sister, I naturally started thinking about all of the public places that we share as students at a large university.

One of the first things places that came to mind was the gym. It’s one of the places where everyone wears less clothing than usual, has more body contact with shared equipment than usual, and sometimes people have more body contact with each other than usual, depending on the sport.

Because the flu and all sorts of other cold viruses are running rampant this season, I looked up several suggestions about how to avoid getting sick at the gym!

  1. 51283190_d2d115fef4_m
    “Sink” by Kristen Andrus, Flickr Creative Commons

    Wash your hands! This one might seem obvious, but if you’re going to the gym between classes, it might slip your mind to wash your hands between working out and eating lunch! Make an effort to go wash your hands with warm water and soap as soon as you finish your workout or leave the gym.

  2. Wipe down equipment before AND after use. Think about how many hands and bodies have touched the elliptical dashboard, the handles of your stationary bike, or your yoga mat that very day! Use the disinfecting wipes provided in the SRC and Ram’s Head Rec to wipe down your equipment before you use it to avoid contact with other people’s germs! Do the person after you a favor by wiping your equipment down again after you finish using it to avoid the spread of any germs you may be carrying.
  3. Avoid contact sports during the peak of flu season or if you know several of your teammates have been sick. It can be hard to stay away from your favorite sport, but if your teammates and friends are dropping like flies to various sicknesses, it might be best to take a break until everyone starts feeling better. Contact sports cause players to share a lot of sweat and germs in general, so consider that possibility before you choose to participate.
  4. Take a shower as soon as you finish working out. Many workouts involve laying on mats or the floor, so washing your hands probably isn’t enough to de-germ completely. Showering washes away all of that cringe-worthy shared sweat and reduces your risk of infection.
  5. Cover any open wounds. Sometimes we only think about keeping our hands away from our mouths as a way to avoid introducing contagious infections into our bodies. However, many gym-goers may have an open scrape or cut, an open blister, or even a raw hangnail that creates an additional opening for infection to enter. Cover up your open wounds with Band-Aids, or even gauze and athletic tape to avoid rubbing them against equipment and other surfaces.
  6. Be very conscious about not touching your face while at the gym. Chances are, your mom has been telling you to keep your hands out of your mouth since you were a toddler. If you’re a nail-biter or otherwise inclined to put your hands near your face out of habit, it’s good to consciously remind yourself to keep your hands away from your face and mouth until you’ve had a chance to wash your hands after your workout.
  7. Avoid the gym completely if you’re feeling under the weather. Not only can you spread your germs to all sorts of pieces of equipment and make others sick, working out while you’re sick compromises your immune system’s ability to fight infection, so you may be extending your sick time. If you’re feeling bad, it’s best to stay home and rest until you feel better!

With these simple tips, you’ll reduce your chance of picking up an infection such as the flu or a cold while at the gym. Overall, the health benefits of exercise outweigh the risks of getting sick from something you picked up at the gym, but it’s best to be careful wherever you are so that you can do your best to avoid getting sick and keep yourself healthy year round!


Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tar Heel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on



Patel, Arti. How to Avoid The Cold and Flu At The Gym. The Huffington Post Canada. 06 October, 2014.

Wooldridge, Leslie Quander. Don’t Get Sick at the Gym: 7 Ways to Prevent Infection. U.S. News & World Report. 12 April, 2012.

Do I Really Need To Wipe Down At The Gym?

On any given day, those dumbbells and machines could be used by 100 or more people – and you know most of those people didn’t wipe down after they’ve used them. Not only is it kind of gross to not wipe down gym equipment after you’ve used it (no one wants to touch your sweat!), but it could put you and others at risk for catching what that person left on that dumbbell and make you sick.

germs, gym, wipe down
Image courtesy of Pascal on Flickr

A recent study at a university gym found that 10% of gym equipment had staph on it! Another study found that 63% of gym equipment had rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold. All it takes for you to get sick is to use an infected piece of equipment and then touch your eye, mouth, or nose. Some other germs that you might find at the gym may cause urinary tract infections, athlete’s foot, and warts.

Gyms present an ideal breeding grounds for germs – it’s warm, it’s moist, and there’s a lot of people coming through. Things like yoga mats and work benches may put you at a higher risk. Bacteria thrive on porous materials that get warm and damp. Medicine balls are also hotbeds for these germs.

Many of you may think that you’ve never gotten sick from the gym. However, it’s good to remember that many people may be carriers of illnesses without getting sick themselves.

While the reported cases of getting sick from the gym is not very common, there are enough reasons why wiping down is the golden rule at the gym.

Here are some tips to help prevent you from getting sick from the gym:

  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands using soap for 20 seconds before and after workouts, according to CDC guidelines. Make sure to also dry your hands.
  • Sanitize if you can’t wash. No soap and water? Then try alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Apply and rub all over all surfaces of the hands and fingers until hands are completely dry.
  • Disinfect your gym equipment. They’re at the gym for a reason. Use disinfectant sprays and wipe down equipment and mats before and after you work out.
  • Shower after working out. Your sweaty clothes are also ideal for bacteria to grow. Showering can help prevent this.
  • Protect your feet. If you’re going to use the gym showers, wear some kind of footwear, like flip flops. Wash your feet and dry them to prevent athlete’s foot.
  • Wash your clothes. Avoid re-wearing gym clothes if you haven’t washed them. This includes socks and swimwear.
  • Cover your skin. If you have an open wound, cover them with a waterproof bandage. You should also want to avoid pools.
  • Don’t share personal care items. If it comes into contact with someone else’s skin, avoid sharing. This includes towels, water bottles, soap, razor, combs, brushes, or make-up.

Next time you’re at the gym, don’t be caught being that person who leaves a trail of sweat everywhere.

Justin Chu is the Information and Communications Program Assistant at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He previously worked as a nutritionist in the clinical, community, and commercial settings after earning his bachelor’s in Clinical Nutrition at the University of California at Davis.