Avoiding gym germs: Maintaining hygiene at the gym

Staying healthy in the gym: a few simple tips for fitness hygiene.

How often do you think about hygiene at the gym?

A recent study from Malaysia took swabs from the surfaces of various pieces of fitness equipment and found that almost 75 per cent were positive for Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that can cause various infections, often involving the skin.

This study agrees with earlier research, which found similar results. A 2012 study of a US university fitness centre similarly found Staphylococcus on gym surfaces, suggesting it plays a role in the spread of the bacteria.

A US study in 2014 that collected samples from equipment at fitness centres found an abundance of bacteria, including Salmonella and Staphylococcus, on the skin-contact surfaces in gyms. Specifically, the hand rails, floor mats and exercise equipment itself.

The researchers in this study recommended that gym goers be more aware of sanitation and personal hygiene when it comes to public fitness centres. This can be especially true when it comes to free weights.

An older study from 2006 actually found that viruses stuck to strength training equipment more than aerobic equipment. A massive 63 per cent of hand contact equipment showed the presence of rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.
This was because disinfectants can’t necessarily penetrate into non-porous surfaces, such as the serrated surfaces of dumbbells and barbells.

(In fact, fitness facilities that also train contact sports, particularly martial arts, can be hazardous when hygiene standards aren’t rigorous. Research from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus aureus was on the rise among athletes at all levels of competition (2008). Athletes were susceptible to infection due to compromised skin surfaces, contact between teammates and inadequate personal hygiene.)

Tips to stay healthy in the gym

Thus, despite the best efforts of other gym goers and staff, it’s important to be careful in the gym when it comes to hygiene.

So, to avoid catching a cold or worse, here are a few simple tips to stay safe in and out of the gym:

Be considerate of your fellow members.

When you’re done with a treadmill or bench, use the provided spray bottles and paper towels to wipe them down.

Keep clear of the sick.

Try to avoid being around members who seem sick. Sneezing, coughing, etc. is a giveaway. If they’re on the next bench sputtering away, pick up your towel and move to another area.

Cover your cuts.

If you have any injuries that have broken the skin (scabbed shins from deadlifts maybe), keep them clean and covered up. This will not only protect you from bacteria entering your body, you’ll protect other gym-goers from your own bacteria.

Keep your gym bag clean.

Gym bags and their contents get dirty, so keep yours dry and clean by making sure you don’t have moist towels, wraps and straps in there. Wash and dry them after use.

Wash your hands.

Don’t touch your face (especially your nose, mouth and eyes) in the gym without washing your hands thoroughly. If the person using the bench before you hasn’t been the most hygienic, you could be picking up bacteria without even knowing it. (If someone with a cold touches a dumbbell before you, it can spread by entering through your mucous membranes.)

Hand sanitiser doesn’t go astray either.

Put a towel down.

Doing a warm-up or core exercises on a community yoga mat? Put your towel down first. Micro-organisms thrive in warm, dark and moist places.

Bring your own water bottle.

You probably already do this but bring your own water bottle pre-filled. Using that communal water fountain isn’t the most hygienic move, especially if the person before you has touched the tap directly.

Thongs in the shower.

If you’re going to shower at the gym, wear thongs.


1 Maurice Biling, L. et al. (2018.) ‘High Occurrence of Staphylococcus aureus Isolated from Fitness Equipment from Selected Gymnasiums.’
J Environ Public Health. 2018 Aug 28;2018:4592830. doi: 10.1155/2018/4592830. eCollection 2018.

2 Markley, JD et al. (2012.) ‘Are gym surfaces reservoirs for Staphylococcus aureus? A point prevalence survey.’
Am J Infect Control. 2012 Dec;40(10):1008-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2012.01.015. Epub 2012 May 22.

3 Mukherjee, N. et al. (2014.) ‘Diversity of bacterial communities of fitness center surfaces in a U.S. metropolitan area.’
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Dec 3;11(12):12544-61. doi: 10.3390/ijerph111212544.

4 Goldhammer, K.A., et al (2006). ‘Prospective study of bacterial and viral contamination of exercise equipment.’
Clin J Sports Med. 16:34-38. PMID:16377973

5 Kirkland, E.B. and Adams, BB. (2008). ‘Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and athletes.’
J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Sep;59(3):494-502. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2008.04.016. Epub 2008 Jun 11.

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