All around the world, the coronavirus pandemic is causing gyms to close for, well, we don't know how long. My town is no different. (And if your gym of choice is, in fact, closed, please check out my article "Avoiding the Gym? Here's a Week of Free Follow-Along Workouts.") However, the Bodybuilding.com company gym is currently open—for the time being—with strict standards about wiping machinery and maintaining personal space to keep from spreading infectious disease.
I get it: I'm spoiled to work here. If my only choice was a commercial gym, I'd absolutely skip it, totally embrace "social distancing," and train at home. But because it's a small, controlled gym space, it feels safe… as long as everyone who goes in plays by the same rules. And if you find yourself in a similar position and want to do everything in your power to limit the risk you pose to your fellow gym-goers—and everyone else—here are a few strategic choices you should make.
Do: Wipe Before, Not Just After
At this point, we shouldn't have to explain why to do this. No matter how fit you are or invincible you feel, you are quite capable of being a carrier of this highly infectious disease and giving it to someone who definitely shouldn't have it. So carry the towel, use the spray bottle, and clean everything you touch—or are going to touch.
Nope, I don't care how annoying it is. If you're going to set foot in a gym, be willing to do the extra work. And if you're not willing, you shouldn't be in the gym.
Do: Bring Your Own Handles Whenever Possible
My gym bag is also a grab bag of handles and grips I've gathered over the years. Each of them has their purpose, but I've only realized recently how a few of them can also provide a barrier against using public handles or dumbbells. Here are a few to consider, if you don't have something similar yet:
FatGripz: These are simply wonderful. They increase muscle activation throughout the upper body, make light weights feel heavy, and make for more productive workouts, period. However, if you own a pair, they also provide a thick barrier between you and a dumbbell. If you want to disinfect them at home, you can. Use them for all manner of presses (I even like the FatGrips Extreme for these), pulls, or anything else. Yes, you will have to go lighter, but that's fine.
Angles90 Grips: I discovered these ergonomic handles on Instagram months ago, and months after writing about them in Bodybuilding.com's Editor's Picks column, I continue to find new ways to use them in almost every workout. You can loop them around a barbell, bar, or any cable stack or machine to be able to pull more weight, and to avoid the public handles. With practice, you can do it even without directly touching the item you're looping them around.
Harbinger Fast Cable Handles: These are a comfortable, budget-friendly option that can work not only in a gym, but with a band workout at home. Seriously, the time of using the same handles as everybody else may be done, so embrace it.
Don't: Use Supersets Or Giant Sets
Pull-downs and rows supersetted? Sorry, not right now. Do one movement for your straight sets. Wipe thoroughly. Then do the other. Minimal time spent wiping and disinfecting means more time working out. And, let's be honest: The more objects you're trying to "hold down," the less careful you can actually be.
Do: Find One Spot Where You Can Do Multiple Exercises
Got a free cable stack? Use it not only for triceps, but for biceps, shoulders…pretty much anything else you can before you wipe it down and move on.
This can also be extended to benches. Did you just do chest-supported rows or PJR pull-overs on an incline bench? Do spider curls on it too, rather than using the preacher bench as well as the incline. Then, you guessed it, clean that bench and whatever else you touched.
Don't: Chase All the Angles or Perfect Workouts
One of my current favorite upper-body workouts goes something like this:
- A dumbbell or kettlebell press variation
- One row and one pull-down variation
- One lateral raise variation
- One movement apiece for biceps and triceps
Today at lunch, this workout felt really good—good enough that I found myself considering adding in some dips after the back moves. But I didn't. Instead, I set firm limits, and tried to do as much as I could with as few moves as possible.
Why? Because now (get used to hearing this) is not the time to do more than you planned, to pursue perfection, or to touch more things than are absolutely necessary. Do a few things. Do them well. Get in and out, and enjoy the privilege of still being able to be healthy and active when many can't.
This extends to your perfect pre- and post-workout rituals, as well. For example, shower at home. Do your mobility work or stretching at home, rather than on a public mat in a gym. Do cardio at home—see a trend? Do as little as you can in this public space, and get back into the "social distancing" space that is necessarily becoming the new normal.
Do: Keep Training
It doesn't have to be in a gym. In many cases, it definitely shouldn't be. But no matter how you do it, you absolutely should keep exercising as the world gets more ominous and restricted around us all.
Why? To burn off extra energy. To focus on something other than that thing you're trying not to think about. To feel intensity and self-control and "the good hurt" and all those other feelings that training is so good at giving.
Do it. But do it right, and do it safely and respectfully, while it's still an option.