Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Is the gym a safe place to exercise during COVID-19?

The pandemic doesn’t need to ruin your fitness plans

There’s a paradox at work in the fitness world when it comes to COVID-19. Research suggests that being generally healthy leads to far better chances of survival in the instance of infection. Regular exercise, of course, is a well-worn path to better health.

But if the gym is a frequent stop along that path for you, you share space with heavy breathers who are touching everything you need to touch. So, what do you do?

You needn’t give up, says Personal Fitness Trainer chair Kate Andrews, who usually attends classes at an Edmonton Crossfit gym (onsite classes have been temporarily suspended by the Alberta government, as part of efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, and gym capacity for individual exercising is currently limited to 25%). The topic of safety, updated in light of the pandemic, is one that she and program instructors often discuss with students – the next cohort of pro trainers.

“It's this awkward balancing act,” she says. “We have to make sure we’re not putting people in danger and we have to make sure we’re keeping people healthy.”

Awkward though it may be, it’s a balance she believes is being struck. “What I've seen in the Edmonton region, and heard, is that the gyms are doing an awesome job. The gym I go to is doing great. I feel safe,” she says.

Here’s a look at what “safe” looks like while working out in fitness facilities in the time of COVID-19, and why she’s sticking with it.

woman posting sign to indicate gym is open but that physical distance must be respected

The government has set rules, Andrews points out. Indoor gyms were made accessible as of June 12 as part of the second stage of Alberta’s pandemic relaunch strategy, but with recommendations and guidelines covering:

  • higher frequency of cleaning
  • use of hand sanitizer
  • proper use of ventilation systems and indoor air quality
  • rapid response plans
  • and more

“If they’re following [guidelines] the government has set out, then to some extent it should be safe, as long as everybody's doing their due diligence,” says Andrews.

young woman using hand sanitzer at gym

Masks are used whenever possible. During intense exercise, mask use isn’t possible because of the need for increased oxygen, says Andrews. According to the World Health Organization, it will also dampen the mask, leading to microbial growth. Instead, “The second that the workout is done, everybody puts their masks on.”

section of gym closed for physical distancing during COVID-19

The need for space is respected. Exercise machines should be at least two metres apart.

man disinfecting gym equipment

Equipment is cleaned. At Andrews’ gym, everyone is expected to sanitize their workout area and equipment they touched following the workout, during a block of time between the end of one class and the start of the next that prevents meetings between cohorts. The use of hand sanitizer is required when entering and exiting the facility.

water bottle and mask at the gym

She brings her own water. Even if there is a water fountain in operation, consider it a high-touch area to be avoided. “I would suggest bringing your own water bottle, filled up already,” says Andrews. Don’t forget to wash it when you get home.

woman doing box jump at crossfit gym

Gyms motivate her. Andrews knows everything necessary to keep herself in shape but admits she needs someone to keep her accountable. “I am not that person who stays motivated on my own.” For her, leaving the house for a gym is essential. “I know that my mental and physical health really depends on it.”

That comes with a risk these days, she acknowledges, but one that will be calculated differently by everyone. “Know what your comfort level is,” says Andrews, know what to expect of a good gym, and then choose what’s best for you.

Banner image stockstudioX/

Online alternatives

There is no shortage of online trainers who’ve responded to the distancing requirements of the pandemic. Whether you’re looking for group activities or individual programming, it’s never more than a click or two away.

The trick is to find quality instruction, says Andrews.

An easy place to start is with a search of #NAITPFT on Instagram, she adds. That said, “Make sure you're finding somebody that's certified. Not just somebody who’s popular.” Cross -reference names with an organization such as Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, which sets national standards for practice among fitness trainers.

In addition, NAIT students currently have access to Fitness on Demand, a virtual fitness instruction platform that offers a variety of classes that can be taken anywhere at any time.

Subscribe to receive more great stories every month

Find out more news about NAIT, stories about our alumni and their impact on their communities, and useful how-to content featuring our experts.