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How to make your hotel workouts safer

REUTERS/Peter Andrews
Don’t assume the hotel gym equipment is being carefully maintained.

While staying in a hotel in New York City in February, I spent an hour or so working out early one morning in the hotel’s small and isolated (top floor) fitness facility.

Most of the equipment looked rather shopworn, but I dutifully jumped on the treadmill. Two other people were in the room when I arrived, but they soon finished their workouts and left. I remember being glad for the privacy, particularly given how small the space was.

Of course, weeks later, when Minneapolis native Dave Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey, died while working out alone at a resort gym in Mexico, I realized that it probably wasn’t a great idea for me to be using unfamiliar equipment in an empty gym.

Deaths in such situations are quite rare (although perhaps slightly more likely in a hotel gym than in a traditional health club). Injuries, however, are not.

Treadmills alone sent 24,000 people to the hospital emergency rooms with injuries in 2014, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Of course, most of those injuries were minor (sprains and strains) and occurred on treadmills in homes, not in hotels.

And that’s 24,000 out of the estimated 50 million Americans who use treadmills each year.

Signs of possible trouble

Still, as journalist Greg Daugherty points out in an article published last week in the New York Times, you should always carefully examine a hotel gym and its equipment before using it. Don’t assume the equipment is being carefully maintained.

“Litter on the floor, dirty mirrors, foul smells and a lack of fresh towels are all bad signs,” he writes, as are “rust, frayed cables, damaged pulleys or other signs of potential hazard.”

And it’s not just injuries you’re trying to avoid. The health experts Daugherty interviewed for his article also warned of potential perils that most of us don’t think about when we’re heading to a gym — any gym. These include foot fungus, hepatitis A, norovirus and community-acquired MRSA (an antibiotic-resistant staph infection).

Some simple precautions

The experts gave Daugherty a list of recommendations for travelers who like to work out in hotel gyms, including these:

  • Clean any exercise machine before using it. Bring your own disinfectant wipes for this purpose. Alcohol wipes or ones that combine alcohol and disinfectant are the best, one expert told Daugherty, because they work “in a matter of seconds, lessening the risk that you’ll touch anything before the worrisome organisms have been fully eliminated.”
  • Wear workout clothes that cover all of your skin. Also, put a towel on any exercise mat you’re using to make sure you don’t touch its surface. One of the experts told Daugherty that he “puts an X on his towel’s mat-facing side so he won’t come into contact with it later by accident.”
  • Always wear flip-flops in the shower room. “And when you get out of the shower,” writes Daugherty, “don’t sit naked on a locker room bench to get dressed; if you do… you’ll risk contaminating yourself all over again.” (Of course, this tip is for gyms in large resorts. At most hotels, you’ll be returning to your room to shower and change.)

Keep it in perspective

You’ll find more recommendations in the article, which you can read on the New York Times’ website.

One final tip: Don’t let the hassle (or the eww factor) of these precautionary measures put you off exercising in a public fitness facility — whether in a hotel or anywhere else.

As one health expert told Dougherty: “It’s so fundamentally good for you, and the likelihood of something bad happening is extremely small.”

Still, the next time I find myself wending my way through a hotel to its fitness room, I’ll make sure I go with alcohol wipes — and at a busy time.

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