Uncommon Sense: Gym Cleaning Policies, a Year in Review

June 21, 2021 by
Courtesy of Element Mvnt: https://www.instagram.com/element.mvmt/

When it comes to the various ways gym owners had to pivot to accommodate COVID-19, nothing turned out to be as nonsensical as cleaning policies.

Remind me: When the pandemic hit, gyms collectively doubled and tripled down on cleaning, leaving no surface unscrubbed, no plate, no box, no band unsanitized.

  • It made sense at the time. It wasn’t clear whether COVID-19 could be transmitted from surfaces, and the limited evidence in the early days of the pandemic suggested it could. Surfaces on the infamous Diamond Princess cruise ship, for example, found COVID genetic material was present for up to 17 days after infected passengers left the ship, so wiping or spraying absolutely every corner of every piece of equipment and floor space in the gym after every single use, or investing in expensive electrostatic spraying devices,  seemed like the right move to make. 
  • And so that's what we did. And all the obsessive cleaning started to eat away at our precious class time. And at our equipment, which started to rust. And at our resistance bands, which became unbearably gummy. Meanwhile, we hoped to God that all the chemicals in the cleaning supplies weren’t harming our health. But still, it felt like the lesser of the possible evils.

Worth noting: Daniel Boyd, the owner of CrossFit Wichita Falls in TX, said he lost three rowing machines “due to over zealous spraying of the screens.” Meanwhile, Saul Garcia, a coach at Rio Gyms in Osborne Park, Australia said all the cleaning wreaked havoc on their barbells. 

  • “Barbells getting cleaned has led to stiff barbells. We’ve had to service them frequently since all the chalk is getting pushed to the sleeves. Gunk builds up,” he said.

New science rolls in: COVID-19 doesn’t spread on surfaces, science started to say. 

  • Over time, the science became more and more sound -- nobody is catching COVID from a bumper plate -- but still we trucked on with a more is better attitude, regardless of the unintended consequences on our equipment, and arguably on our skin and our lungs, perhaps out of fear, or perhaps to appease the most paranoid-acting person in the room.
  • In some places, this is still the case. As a coach in Vancouver, B.C., where we’ve still been in taped off boxes and wearing masks as only a small percentage of Canadians have received their second vaccine, I have noticed more and more people going through the motions, cutting cleaning corners when nobody's looking (myself included). Truth be told, most of us are putting on an inauthentic performance, blindly following senseless rules, because we’re more concerned with being nice and not offending the person next to us than we are with actually listening to the science. How Canadian of us (I can say that because I’m Canadian, right?)

Finally, some hope: Many gym owners have started listening to the science and are using science to reshape cleaning policies in a post-COVID world.

What they’re doing: Most gym owners who have loosened cleaning policies in recent weeks have settled on a rational, common sense medium that allows people and their equipment to stay healthy.  In many cases, this means more cleaning than before the pandemic, but less cleaning than during the height of the hysteria. 

  • “It’s crazy to think we never wiped sweaty mats before…so (now) things like mats and wall balls we will keep up, but not plates and bars, because it’s not best for them,” said Michael Atkinson, the owner of CrossFit Novato in CA.
  • We just wipe down high contact areas (now). If you are not wiping the door handles or toilet seal, no point in wiping down the plates. We wipe benches and barbells. That’s about it. (Our) members were excited that we changed the policy and I’m cleaning towels a lot less,” said. Jordan Karkwik, the owner of Golden Eagle Fitness in Pitt Meadows, B.C.
  • “Back to old school gym rules: Wipe it if you sweat on it,” said Brian Ellender, the owner of CrossFit Houma in LA.
  • “As soon as the science showed that COVID doesn’t spread from surfaces, we communicated that to our members and changed our guidelines,” said Daniel Moore, the owner of CrossFit Royal Coast in Pascagoula, MS.
  • “We switched from spray bottles, because that shit was getting ridiculous, back to disposable wipes. We have folks wipe down most equipment, but don’t require it for bumper plates, added Dan Hollingsworth, the owner of Kitsap CrossFit in Poulsbo, WA. 
  • "We are much slacker, and that was member driven,” added Kevin Schoepp, the owner of Tulum CrossFit in Mexico.
  • Finally, Forrest Jung, the owner of CrossFit South Bay in Hermosa Beach, CA. added: “We have gotten relaxed on certain things, like bumper plates, because we need to save some time during the classes. Overall, though, people are dirty bastards, so it’s nice for it to be a little cleaner now.

The bottom line: It’s safe to say most people appreciate cleanliness, but COVID-19 cleaning policies were (and in some places still are) doing more damage than good. It took us a while, but after well over a year of following senseless practices, it’s nice to see logic return. In some places, at least.

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