What I Learned on My First Trip to the Gym Since Covid-19 Lockdown

Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy. My happy place is the gym. Here's what happened when I went back to the gym for the first time since coronavirus lockdown in March.

Working out at home during coronavirus

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, things like going to a restaurant or air travel were pretty much impossible. And they might still be depending on the cases in your area, your personal risk tolerance, and whether or not you have underlying conditions. Also impossible? Going to the gym.

In fact, March 15th was the last time I was at the gym, my happy place. Call me crazy, but I’ve always found peace and solace in working out. In high school, it was running on the treadmill and kickboxing classes.

In college and beyond, it’s been the weight room. I feel confident with a barbell in my once-calloused hands with my impossibly long and shockingly varied gym playlist pulsing through my ears.

So when I finally accepted that home workouts would be the norm for a while, I stocked up on some essential gym equipment: bands, two kettlebells, ankle weights, and a jump rope. I stuck with a program from one of my favorite trainers, who thankfully adjusted the plan for at-home workouts.

When everybody was debating the best banana bread recipes, during those very early quarantine stages, I also toyed around with other workouts and online fitness classes, including yoga. Honestly, I just wanted to do a cool headstand by the end of quarantine. (Spoiler alert: I did not.)

Although yoga and group fitness classes are fun, they don’t compare to strength training. No matter the exercise, however, I didn’t have the same determination at home that I have at the gym.

Sure, political unrest and a global pandemic are more-than-legitimate excuses. But they’re also all the more reason to channel frustration into a productive sweat session.

selfie of emily dinuzzo at the gym post covid19Courtesy Emily DiNuzzo

Going back to the gym

In some ways, it feels silly, admitting just how much I missed the gym. I’m fortunate and privileged in so many ways since the start of the pandemic. (My family and I have been healthy and all kept our jobs.) But my living room is just not the same as my gym.

There’s a big difference in equipment options, but more than that, I’ve missed my gym buddies. After looking into my recently-opened local gym’s safety precautions in New York, I finally decided to go back. Here’s what it was like.

Gym safety measures

In my favorite workout leggings with a spare face mask and water bottle, I made my 10-minute journey to the gym at 7:30 am. I filled out a detailed Covid-19 survey on my gym’s app before stepping foot inside. It didn’t take long and gave me a chance to connect my wireless earbuds and pick out my playlist.

Although there are stickers on the floor for people to stand six feet apart while waiting, there was no line once I entered the doors wearing my mask. I checked in using the app on my phone and had my temperature checked, too. My gym is currently operating at a limited capacity, which may vary depending on your location. Everyone must wear a face mask to enter the building and to work out.

What it’s like inside the gym

The name of the game is sanitization. I’ve always been a stickler for wiping down equipment before and after use, and now it’s more important than ever. Tables are spread throughout my gym with spray bottles of both hand sanitizer and equipment cleaning liquid.

Some people took a bottle with them around the gym during their workout leaving fewer bottles on the tables. Still, it wasn’t a huge inconvenience to wait for someone else to finish spraying their paper towel.

Paper towels and sanitizer are now part of my equipment rotation, but boy, was I happy to see a barbell. I didn’t find any yoga mats, however, due to Covid-19 restrictions. So save any stretching and foam rolling for home exercising. Again, a small price to pay to be back in the gym.

Besides the equipment, the next best thing was the familiar faces. I’ve missed my gym friends, some of whom I used to see every single day. One gym employee came up to me and gave me an air hug. Not much has changed—people still aren’t putting away their equipment, he told me through chuckles.

The energy in the room wasn’t fear, but determination. Employees over the loudspeaker reminded everybody to keep their masks on, explaining why we needed to follow the rules in order to keep our gym open and safe.

It wasn’t especially busy and there were areas of the gym that felt completely empty. But the more popular stations—like the free weights—were a bit more crowded. The room for group fitness classes wasn’t available, per Covid-19 restrictions.

treadmills in a gymCourtesy Emily DiNuzzo

The challenges of gym workouts during Covid-19

I knew that I would lose some strength during the quarantine. But it has been humbling getting back to the heavy lifts. Although I’ve surprisingly maintained strength in certain exercises, the same isn’t true for others. I’m taking this as an opportunity to really work on my form. I’d rather avoid injury as much as possible rather than push, pull, or lift the same weight I did six months ago.

I always feel like I get a better workout at the gym, and for me, that includes lots of extra sweat. The problem is that sweat and wearing a mask are a recipe for maskne.

I did break out after my first time back, but have since found a strategy that works for keeping maskne at bay: changing disposable masks mid-workout and washing my face immediately after.

Bottom line: Stick to the guidelines

Please, keep your mask covering your nose and your mouth. I only saw two people wearing their masks improperly, and an employee had to call them out. Don’t be that person!

The best ways to avoid Covid-19 at the gym are to wash your hands, wear your mask, wipe down equipment, and avoid standing on top of other gym-goers. If you’re used to basic, good gym etiquette, it shouldn’t be too challenging.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.