Sam Overton Headshot

When the pandemic hit and swallowed our favorite, most anticipated activities whole, I’ll admit that I was extremely disappointed to see gyms go. On the days I wasn’t swimming laps, you could find me at my local YMCA for an hour-long fitness class or trying out the weight machines, dwarfed by the men next to me who had biceps the size of my head. The gym was my happy place for an hour every evening, when my midday productivity had run out and I desperately needed a break.

Let me preface this by saying that I understand that not everyone wants to go to the gym. Not everyone thinks that gyms are a mentally beneficial environment, from the ginormous mirrors to the near-constant feeling that everyone is watching you, even if they aren’t. Plus, memberships are expensive, and trainers even more so. That being said, the proximity of location and the fact that I was covered by my family’s YMCA membership made it a prime location for me to sweat for about an hour if I was having a stressful day.

When gyms closed indefinitely in mid-March, it was for the best. Even with routine cleanups, hot, sweaty workout equipment is the ideal breeding ground for gross bacterial growth. It would be too easy for an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier to forget to clean off their workout station after they finished, leaving dangerous remnants of the virus for hours, if not days.

They remained closed until June or so, when states began their cautious — some more so than others — reopening plans and gym owners began to find ways to incorporate safer practices into their spaces, from plastic pods to additional hand sanitizer stations and strict cleaning intervals multiple times throughout the day. North Carolina itself has moved into “phase 2.5,” allowing gyms to open with capacity restrictions. We’ve certainly seen some changes as NC State students, with Carmichael Gymnasium’s ambitious reopening plans. But is it worth it?

Common sense says no. Even though I’ve missed my treadmill at the YMCA like a phantom limb and found it hard to muster the motivation for workout classes via Zoom, the reopening of any indoor gym environment is a recipe for disaster. On one hand, outdoor gym spaces where physical distancing is implemented, such as NC State’s Miller Fields, are the safest option, and I do not have any complaints when it comes to outdoor activities. However, exercisers breathe more heavily while they’re working out — as anyone who’s ever sat on a piece of equipment that’s a little too close to the next person can attest to. A warmer atmosphere in which the air is thick with respiratory droplets, coupled with a lack of proper ventilation, can lead to infection for even the most careful gym rats.

Especially with the weather starting to cool down a little, we should take this time to get some Vitamin D and take our exercise outdoors for as long as possible. As someone who’s been to every open park in the Triangle area in the last five months, I understand that it’s boring to travel to William B. Umstead State Park every weekend to walk the same trail you’ve walked at least 12 times. If you’re still in the area, try some of NC State’s outdoor group fitness classes or a virtual class for convenience. Take a daytrip up to Boone to hike and watch the leaves change color, or DIY a barbell using jugs of water and a bamboo stick. There are plenty of options out there that allow you to huff and puff for at least 30 minutes without paying an arm and a leg and risking viral infection.

If you are going to risk the health of yourself and others and head to an indoor gym, there are precautions to take. Avoid high-intensity workout classes with other people, wash your hands frequently and don a mask, not a neck gaiter, as soon as you step off the elliptical, to name a few.

Ever since gyms were unceremoniously shut down, I have missed the environment just as much as the next gym fanatic, but until I’m inoculated, I’ll be avoiding the gym at all costs. To keep yourself and the people around you safe, you should, too.