Doctor's Orders

Is it Safe to Return to the Gym?

Dr. Scott Allan


If you are wondering whether it’s safe to return to your gym workouts, the answer has a lot to do with individual circumstances and risks. Each person should consider their own risk factors as well as the risk factors of close contacts. Risk factors can include age, vaccination status, lung disease and/or underlying health issues.


As an example, a 25-year-old healthy individual with no high-risk contacts might have a different outlook than a morbidly obese 45-year-old diabetic with asthma and a parent at home undergoing chemotherapy.


Likewise, different gyms vary in their safety precautions and guidelines to minimize the likelihood of transmission. While there is a general consensus about appropriate safety measures to take, adherence of gym goers and enforcement by staff will determine how safe a gym is.


Some guidelines and suggestions from the CDC include (CDC guidelines and suggestions):

  • Proximity: maintain at least six feet of separation (about two arm lengths) and avoid close contact with other people.
  • Mask use: select a facility that requires all staff and attendees to wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose at all times.
  • Exertion level: limit high-intensity activities to the outdoors.
  • Ventilation: look for gyms, fitness centers, or studios that have high ceilings and use ventilation practices such as opening doors and windows and use portable air cleaners that have HEPA filters.
  • Clean hands: wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol before and after using machines.
  • Number of people: go during off-peak times to avoid crowding.
  • Duration: if choosing to stay indoors, keep your workouts as brief as possible to avoid prolonged exposure.


Frequently Asked Questions


Can coronavirus be transmitted from touching gym equipment?

Yes, frequently touched surfaces (machines and equipment) should be wiped down and cleaned after use. Coronavirus is most frequently spread by respiratory droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces has been less of a factor. However, precaution should still be taken.


If I’m vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask at the gym?

Yes. You should always wear a mask in situations where you would have worn a mask prior to vaccination. Vaccination does not eliminate the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and there is no method to verify who has been vaccinated and who has not. There is not conclusive data at this point to conclusively say that vaccinated individuals cannot act as asymptomatic carriers and transmit the virus to others. The data we do have is encouraging, but we still do not know for certain.


Is it dangerous to wear a mask while exercising? 

This depends on underlying health conditions. Please consult your physician. For healthy people, wearing masks during exercise has not been shown to be harmful.


Are gyms more risky than other public places?

This depends on how aggressively the gym is trying to make things safe. It also depends on the level of exertion of your workout—the greater the exertion, the faster and deeper your breathing, and the greater production of respiratory droplets. More respiratory droplets result in more likelihood of transmission from an infected person. Engaging in high intensity activities outdoors or in well ventilated areas will help decrease transmission.


If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID or are waiting for test results, do not go to the gym!


Considering the added stresses of the past year, it is important to relieve stress in healthy ways, including exercise. According to Mayo Clinic, exercise has direct benefits to improving your stress levels by reducing negative effects of stress, increasing endorphins and improving your overall mood. If you have determined that working out at the gym is a safe routine for you, you can benefit from the stress-reducing effects of exercise.