While most gyms and studios closed their doors at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many fitness spaces have since reopened—though some may look a little different in terms of occupancy, procedures, and offerings. For instance, in many locations, the packed, shoulder-to-shoulder indoor fitness classes have been paused, and some businesses are offering outdoor fitness classes instead.
These closures occurred because of how the coronavirus is primarily spread: through respiratory droplets that circulate in the air. These respiratory droplets can be expelled from people with the virus who cough, sneeze, or talk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and people within close proximity—that’s the six-feet guideline we hear about all the time—are at the greatest risk.
It’s also possible that people can contract the virus by touching surfaces that contain the droplets, and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes, though this is likely not the main way the virus spreads. In addition, the CDC says that there’s potential for COVID-19 to spread via airborne transmission, as small droplets can linger in the air for some period of time or reach people farther than six feet away.
This all makes gyms and fitness studios—where you ride close together during indoor cycling classes, congregate at the dumbbell rack, and breathe heavily on the treadmill—potentially risky places. Indoor exposures, particularly in poor ventilated areas with people breathing heavily and talking, would carry much risk for infection if any of the class members are currently infectious—and people can be infectious before symptoms start.
Are outdoor fitness classes any safer?
Just like outdoor dining, health experts say that outdoor fitness classes are much safer than indoor ones because they allow for better airflow and ventilation. This can better disperse respiratory droplets, potentially reducing the risk of them landing on your mouth or eyes, or on surfaces that you may touch and then transfer to your mouth, nose, and eyes. It also likely reduces the risk of airborne transmission as well. The breeze — which aids airflow — also plays a role in making outdoor classes a safer option.
If you’re outdoors, the risk is not zero, but it is much lower than indoors. Exercise and heavy breathing may increase this chance, but it should still be low, as long as you are outside and social distancing is maintained. Mask wearing can further reduce this risk.
How can you stay safe in an outdoor fitness class?
Location and setup is one of these factors. The amount of spacing between participants matters more than its total size.
While the CDC recommends maintaining at least six feet apart from other people in public settings, health experts advise farther if possible. Chances are you’ll be moving in all types of directions during class, which can shorten the distance between you and the next person, so it’s best to spread farther apart if you can.
Six feet is not a magic number, so a little extra space beyond that would provide incremental additional protection.
If you’re still feeling anxious about working out in a group, you may also choose to wear a mask. Just make sure to choose a breathable mask for exercising and get used to it with lower-intensity work before taking it right into a high-intensity workout.
As for things you probably don’t need to do to stay safe? Wearing gloves can actually make things worse: They can give people a false sense of security, as well as an excuse to not wash their hands or sanitize them as frequently. Wash your hands frequently instead. If you don’t have easy access to a sink and soap, carrying a hand sanitizer made of at least 60% alcohol can help.
There also has been no data to show that people can transmit the virus through sweat.
If you’re worried about your risk and are unsure how the class you’re considering is handling COVID-19 precautions, the best thing you can do is gather information about it before you commit to going.
In Warrior Fitness, we make sure that all equipment are fully sanitized, washed and aired to dry before they’re used. Hand sanitizers are also provided in case you want to sanitize your hands after using shared equipment.