The high traffic of people that your gym services could make it a breeding ground for germs and viruses, with the equipment serving as a petri dish for bacteria to thrive as you pump iron.
Those germs and viruses could result you contracting a common cold or something far more serious, like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is caused by staph bacteria and is one of the most difficult infections to treat, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not to mention every other condition from ringworm to athlete’s foot, folliculitis and plantar warts. Not fun.
A New York-based gym attendant with over 15 years of experience agreed to speak with MensHealth.com under the condition of anonymity to warn us about the five things you shouldn’t touch at your gym, no matter how much those fresh complimentary towels might make you feel like it has top-notch hygiene.
Your natural inclination while running or walking the treadmill might be to hold onto the handles in front or at your side. Don’t.
“People will commonly wipe their nose with their hands and then put their hands on the handles,” the gym attendant said about something he has witnessed gym patrons unconsciously do over and over through the years. “Or people will cough in their hands and touch the handles. All kinds of bacteria come into play with that. I recommend people washing their hands and getting antibacterial wipes.”
Or you can avoid treadmill handles altogether, by pumping your arms as you use the machine (that's better for your workout, anyway). If you need the handles to keep your balance, throw towels over them first.
This one should be self-explanatory. And if it’s not, let our gym attendant break it down for you:
“People go out of the bathroom and touch the doorknob without even washing their hands,” he says. “They leave bacteria.”
Bacteria that you’re touching after the guy who exited the bathroom before you refused to wash his hands — unbeknownst to you. But this gym attendant says he sees this at his gym daily.
Whether you’re doing bench press, chest press, using a sit-up machine, or doing a number of other exercises, your head is going to be exposed to bare pads. So, those complimentary towels your gym provides you with or the towels you bring from home? Use them.
“It’s common courtesy for members to bring a towel and we state that in their contract,” our gym attendant says.
He especially recommends wiping those pads down with your towel or an antibacterial wipe. He’ll even use a mix of rubbing alcohol and water to kill existing bacteria and germs hanging out on them — something he says gym members should consider doing as well.
Even after 15 years of working at a gym, this attendant says he has “never” taken a shower there. “But if you’re going to, make sure you have slippers or flip-flops,” he urges. “There are various types of bacteria that people can give you that you’re not aware of — like foot fungus.” Nasty.
Athlete’s foot is actually a type of ringworm and ringworm thrives in moist environments. “If you do go barefoot on those floors, you’re going to catch something,” he added. “It’s inevitable. It’s a high-traffic area.”
Just remember, you’re showering in a gym and not your personal bathroom. Take the simple precaution.
Swimming Pool Floor
Yes, chlorine kills germs in the pool. But you’re on your own when you climb out of the water and step onto the floor surrounding the pool. Again, make sure you have a pair of flip-flops or slides handy.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health