You likely wouldn’t think twice about using a set of free weights at the gym without cleaning them first, or hopping onto a treadmill that someone else just used. However, after reading this new report by Fit Rated, you might want to start stashing antibacterial wipes in your duffel bag. The fitness equipment-rating company ordered bacteria tests on equipment at several different health clubs—and their findings were nothing short of disgusting.
According to Medical Daily, Fit Rated hired a lab to collect bacteria samples from 27 pieces of gym equipment at three fitness facilities with locations nationally. In all, they swabbed three treadmills, three stationary bikes, and three free weights at each location. Their analysis revealed that, on average, the exercise bikes contained 39 times more bacteria than a reusable plastic cafeteria tray. Treadmills yielded 74 times more germs than a public bathroom sink. And even more horrifically, free weights had 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
Not all bacteria are bad, of course. However, each machine tested for Fit Rated’s report yielded gram-positive cocci, gram-negative rods, and Bacillus—types of bacteria that are linked to everything from skin and respiratory infections to pneumonia. While you won’t necessarily fall ill from coming into contact with these types of bacteria, they do raise your risk of getting sick.
Before you blame this gross discovery on the gym’s employees, keep in mind that they’re already doing their best to keep the area clean, Self points out. “Gyms typically have trainers and floor personnel wipe down equipment periodically, and after closing each day,” Doug Sklar, a certified personal trainer and founder of New York City-based fitness training studio PhilanthroFIT, told Self. “Some have maintenance staff specifically responsible for cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining equipment.”
However, maintenance staff also depend on visitors to wipe down equipment after use—which, face it, not everyone does. And since so many people “with varying degrees of hygiene” hit the gym each day, they’re bound to bring their germs and bacteria with them. Plus, our hands are covered in bacteria, and we touch a lot of things at the gym. All in all, it’s the perfect breeding ground for harmful microorganisms.
Keep in mind, of course, that Fit Rated's sample size of gym equipment was pretty small, so these results might not be indicative of all fitness centers. However, the main takeaway stays the same: When going to the gym, wipe down the machines with a sanitizing wipe before you use them. Also, make sure to refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth while working out, and wash your hands—and wipe down the equipment—after you’re done.
For more information on Fit Rated's findings, check out the below infographic: