Gym Hygiene and Me

How many times have you witnessed the disgusting leftovers of “man sweat” imprinted on seats in the weight room, or passed a person in the gym with an odour that would “make paint peel”? If that wasn’t enough! You may have personally fell victim to “splash back” from the nearby cyclist on the recumbent bicycle and thought how bad could all this be for my health? . I would be lieing if I was to say it never happened to me any of the above mentioned situations, or whenever I got the flu it often happened after a gym session. What I would like to bring to your attention in this article, is the identifiable risks in the gym environment, the concerns and preventative steps to keep you healthy all day everyday while on your fitness journey.




Gym awareness ,what is really out there !


As a personal trainer and bodybuilder I can say from personal experience that we less then often consider the hygiene of the bench we sit on, or the medicine ball we hold. I truly believe we are too focussed in the task of the upcoming training session, that we couldn’t be bothered to walk a few feet to begin our clean routine (that is my excuse). Well after I got over the flu for the 3rd time running in 4 months, it really began to dawn on me the fact that the gym environment can house an incredible diversity of bacteria. So as a little wakeup call you may be interested to know what is really out there in the comforts of the local gym.




What is it?

As disgusting as it sounds, the bacteria are found in healthy human intestines and stool.



Klebsiella can result in a variety of infections, most commonly urinary tract infections and pneumonia[i]. Septicaemia is another more severe result of this bacteria, though it is all dependent on point of entry (example though the nose pneumonia).


How do you get it?

It is spread through contact. In the gym environment you can guess that, the cardio machines, yoga mats, weights, water fountains, medicine ball , Swiss ball and locker rooms would all be this particular bacteria’s home .




What is it?

  1. coli, is a common bacterium found in the intestines and stool of animals.



  1. coli infections cause cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting and can lead to pneumonia.


How do you get it?

This bacterium is usually transferred through eating contaminated food[ii], but it is possible to catch it from communal gym surfaces like, handrails cardio machines etc.





What is it?

Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as staph, is a bacteria that mostly causes skin infections.



Staph infections are usually mild and include superficial rashes, pimples and/or boils on your skin. Though the bacteria however can spread and can move deeper within the skin , it can become a life-threatening infection such as pneumonia, sepsis or meningitis.


How do you get it?

It’s spread through contact, so it can be picked up through a shared towel or razor, exercise equipment surfaces and grips or skin-to-skin contact.





What is it?

The most common culprit in fungal infections, this yeast-like fungus can lead to everything from athlete’s foot to ringworm to jock itch in men and yeast infections in women.



Ringworm is usually marked by ring-shaped skin rashes, usually on your toes, sometimes on your palms and between your fingers. Athlete’s foot gives you itchy, cracked, flaking and peeling skin between the toes or side of the foot, while jock itch causes a rash on your groin. If it’s untreated, it can escalate to blisters and severely cracked skin.


How do you get it?

Contact. It loves warm, moist areas, so locker rooms, saunas, swimming pools and showers are the perfect environment to pick up some tasty foot fungus.





What is it?

A type of bacteria that usually causes upper respiratory infections–strep throat. There are in fact many different types of strands of this bacteria





Symptoms can range from mild throat infections to pneumonia. It can also cause skin infections such as impetigo, which causes blisters, and cellulitis, which affects deeper layers of skin.


How do you get it?

This bacteria is very contagious and is spread through person-to-person contact, airborne droplets, and other surfaces. Sweaty exercise equipment, saunas, locker rooms and drinking bottles can harbor strep.





What is it?

You probably call it the flu. It’s a virus, which causes a nose, throat and lung infection that makes you feel like crap for a few days.



Fever, body aches, coughing, sneezing, chills, dizziness, flushed face, headache, lack of energy and, sometimes, nausea and vomiting that lasts between four and seven days.


How do you get it?

Through the air, so contained areas like airplanes, movie theaters and gyms are a great place to catch it. Breathe in the droplets from someone’s coughs or sneezes, or get the virus on your hands and touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.


Cases and concerns


The threat of disease-causing bacteria in Australia are shared on a global scale, particularly some of the mentioned bacteria above are witnessing more cases in the wider community. Take Staphylococcus aureus , In 1993, MRSA isolates with unique genetic elements were reported among infected western Australian aborigines who never had contact with the health care system[iii] . E. coli has currently been found in new south wales (Kariong and Mount Penang ) water supply and residents are urged to boil their drinking water and sponge bath their children current numbers of infected are at 5000,[iv] . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 80% of all infectious diseases are initiated through physical contact with other people or contaminated items (Blanton 2007)[v].


Steps to protect 



Take these 12 steps to protect yourself from pathogens in the gym environment   :

  • Regularly wash your training towel and drape over sections of a seat where skin contact can occur.
  • Use the antibacterial cleaning chemicals available to thoroughly wipe down any piece of equipment before starting.
  • Wash hands before exiting the change rooms, you can also use anti-bacterial wipes to disinfect hands.
  • Always shower.
  • Wear thongs in the shower.
  • Use appropriate hygiene etiquette with (sneezing and coughing)
  • Prevent the spread of bacteria or viruses if you are currently undergoing the symptoms.

( its best you avoid the gym , training will only aggravate the symptoms )

  • Regularly wash training clothing, wear the appropriate clothing. (Socks etc)
  • If you have open sores, apply bandage and antiseptic. (if bleeding avoid training all together )
  • Ensure your training partner is aware of hygiene and be aware of any pressing hygiene concerns, because it may impact on you.
  • Yoga mates should be thoroughly cleaned before use.


In conclusion this article is not intended to scare you, “so there is no need to equip your local gym with a disinfectant sprinkler or even completely avoid it “. I merely wish to address the concerns of hygiene, to help arm you with the necessary knowledge to stay fit and healthy on your fitness path.


Here is a link by webmd on the subject of good hygiene habits at the gym,  the article contains some basic principles to  germ proof yourself from any foreign viruses or bacteria.


[ii] Vogt RL, Dippold L (2005). Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with consumption of ground beef, June–July 2002″. Public Health Rep 120 (2): 174–8[i] Podschun R, Ullmann U (1998). Klebsiella spp. as nosocomial pathogens: epidemiology, taxonomy, typing methods, and pathogenicity factors”. Clin Microbiol Rev 11 (4): 589–603. PMC 88898. PMID 9767057.

[iii]     Udo EE, Pearman JW,Grubb WB

Genetic analysis of community isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in western Australia. J Hosp Infect 1993;25:97-108


Updated February 07, 2012 09:22:00

[v] Blanton, R. 2007. Health experts warn of bacterial dangers. Danville Register & Bee (July 25).

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