Following the Rules of the Gym Will Not Always Protect You

We trust responsible people . And because of this, you will notice that many of us have not asked, “When is it safe to return to the gym?” rather, “when will my gym open?” The Canadian spin studio outbreak is compelling evidence that listening to those in charge is not always the right move. The gym followed the rules, but the rules weren’t enough.

The outbreak, which involved at least 69 people , began in a spin studio. The bicycles were spaced apart so that people were six feet apart during exercise. Masks were required before and after exercise, but not during the exercise itself. As a result, up to 21 people without masks were breathing heavily in the same small room. Of course, people got sick.

Six feet is not a force field

Masks and distancing work together because neither is perfect on its own. Remember that coronavirus can almost certainly travel as droplets that are small enough to float in the air . The six-foot rule reduces your exposure, but does not guarantee your safety.

Masks are still important

The rules of many areas do not require the use of masks “during exercise” or “during active training”. This exemption is based on convenience, not scientific evidence. The coronavirus does not decide not to infect people if you exercise when you expel it from your mouth and nose. In fact, when you exercise, you are likely to breathe harder and are likely to put people around you at greater risk than if you did not.

We have known about this for a long time! A fitness and dance workshop in Korea in March identified 112 cases among participants and their acquaintances. “During outbreaks, exercise in confined spaces should be minimized,” wrote the authors of a report on the outbreak , published online in May.

Yes, mask exercises suck . This is indeed the case. (Often literally when you inhale a swig of tissue between reps.) As a result, even in areas where masks are required during exercise, people often pull the mask down. I’ve heard of a lot of gyms where the management doesn’t enforce the mask rules because they don’t give a damn about it. (Some may be worried about keeping members in a shaky economy; in a way, I understand.)

What to do

Personally, you wouldn’t find me dead in an indoor fitness studio right now with people around me doing cardio, whether I’m wearing a mask or not. I run outside, I’m lucky to have dumbbells at home, and if I go to the gym, I rarely go, take off-peak times, keep my distance from others, stay away from the cardio machine, and wear a mask over my mouth and nose .

Be wary of exercising in poorly ventilated areas because these aerosol droplets can still hang in the air. Six feet between bikes isn’t enough; neither is a plexiglass barrier unless it actually separates one person’s airspace from another.

Heavy breathing, along with singing and screaming, is the way these smaller droplets form. Studios with loud music can be especially bad, says the city’s sanitary doctor, due to the studio spin flash because people tend to scream to be heard.

Do not remove your mask even in less risky gym conditions, such as areas dedicated to resistance training rather than aerobics. If you can’t tolerate mask exercise that covers your mouth and nose, then during COVID-19, you probably should not do it around people at all. Yes, I also hate this fact, but not because I like being a crook; that’s just how a virus works.


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