Gyms have reopened: Here’s how to have a safe workout amid COVID-19 risks

A woman wipes down gym equipment.
Lenterra Daniels, an employee at Planet Fitness on Imperial Highway in Inglewood, disinfects an abdominal resistance machine while helping prepare the fitness center for its reopening.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

For those who rely on gyms, the past year has been challenging.

So when fitness centers got the green light to reopen in Los Angeles County on Monday, some members were eager to get back to work.

In Inglewood, Haqumai Sharpe hit the gym after not visiting his local L.A. Fitness for a year.

“It’s been awhile,” said Sharpe, 47. “I just missed my routine.”

He arrived before noon Monday so he could scope out an isolated area to lift weights. During the yearlong pandemic, he had to shift his workouts to playing tennis and running near his neighborhood.


“Now that I’ve been vaccinated, I feel like I can step outside of the norm and go back to the gym,” he said.

After months of COVID-19 closures, Los Angeles County unlocked a significant portion of its battered business sector Monday, allowing in-restaurant dining, gym workouts, movie-going and a host of other activities at indoor venues.

March 16, 2021

Sharpe joined a steady stream of gym members hoping to reclaim pieces of their old lives.

Frederic Osho said he lost all motivation to work out during the lockdown.

“I put on weight. I was depressed. It was terrible,” he said. “I did home workouts, but it’s nothing like the gym.”

Fitness centers across L.A. County are allowed to reopen at limited capacity and with social distancing and other restrictions now that the county has moved into the less restrictive red tier of the state’s color-coded reopening plan and the state has reached a vaccination goal. Some gyms continue to offer outdoor activities, which was the only way they could previously operate.

Restaurants, movie theaters, gyms reopen in L.A. County today

March 15, 2021

As L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer noted Monday, “just because certain activities are allowed, or certain reopening protocols are revised, does not mean that these activities are 100% safe and without risk.”

“We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and whenever there are more opportunities for interactions with people not in your household, there could be more transmission of the virus,” she said during a briefing. “We do, however, have the tools to protect ourselves from increased transmission. We just need to use them and not get complacent.”

So if you return to the gym, how do you do it safely? Here are some tips:


Gyms reopened indoors in Los Angeles County on Monday at reduced capacity. If you’re heading back, here’s what you need to know.

March 15, 2021


Federal health officials warned that people should wear masks while working out at gyms. They released a study that detailed a coronavirus outbreak linked to the infections of 55 people who went to a Chicago exercise facility.

Published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the report detailed how, out of 81 attendees of in-person classes between Aug. 24 and Sept. 1, 68% were infected by the coronavirus.

Most of the exercise class attendees who shared information with scientists said they wore masks infrequently. Twenty-two participated in classes either on the same day their symptoms began, or after they began falling ill.

Of those who were infected, two were treated at an emergency room; one was hospitalized for eight days. No one died.

Returning to the gym shouldn’t become an exercise in recklessness, health experts warn.

March 9, 2021


Officials also advised that fitness facilities should improve ventilation, enforce consistent and correct mask use, and physical distancing — keeping at least six feet of distance between everyone and limiting physical contact, class size and crowded spaces.

The study authors said that the building where the fitness classes were held was not originally designed for group exercise. “Although the facility’s ventilation system was not assessed, inadequate air circulation might have exacerbated transmission in the building,” the report said.



Another report published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found 21 coronavirus cases last summer that were linked to a 37-year-old fitness instructor in Honolulu. In one of the instructor’s classes — a high-intensity stationary cycling class for 10 participants — all 10 later tested positive for the coronavirus and became sick with COVID-19. No one wore masks in the class, whose participants ranged in age from 31 to 50.

That instructor’s “shouting throughout the one-hour stationary cycling class might have contributed to transmission,” the report said. “Aerosol emission during speech has been correlated with loudness, and COVID-19 outbreaks related to intense physical activity and singing have been previously reported.”

That class occurred just four hours before the 37-year-old fitness instructor started feeling ill. The virus was transmitted even though the stationary bicycles were spaced more than six feet apart, the report said.

The CDC is urging stricter precautions for gymgoers after tracing coronavirus outbreaks to fitness centers where patrons exercised without wearing masks.

Feb. 25, 2021

Tips for gym workers

Here are some safety tips for fitness center employees from the CDC:

  • Stay at least six feet away from patrons, coworkers and service personnel when possible.
  • Follow workplace protocols and cues, such as floor markings, for maintaining social distancing of at least six feet apart.
  • Wear a cloth face covering or mask in public, and at work, when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Face coverings or masks may prevent people who don’t know they have the virus from spreading it to others.
  • Be careful when putting on and taking off cloth face coverings or masks:
    • Do not touch the face covering or mask while wearing it.
    • Do not touch your face, mouth, nose or eyes while taking off the covering or mask.
    • Wash your hands before putting on and after taking off the covering or mask.
    • Wash the covering or mask after each use.
  • Be aware of contact with frequently touched surfaces.
    • Encourage gym patrons to clean equipment (e.g., free weights, exercise equipment, cardio machines) before and after use.
    • Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes, especially when handling frequently touched items.
    • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after contact with or cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
    • Bring your own personal water bottle with your name on it.
    • Avoid sharing any personal items with coworkers or patrons.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You don’t need to wear gloves if you wash your hands regularly (unless they are already required for your job).