Is It Safe to Go to the Gym During COVID-19? A Randomised Trial Tells Us

If you like going to the gym as much as I do, you may be wondering if it’s safe to go during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But depending on where you live, you may not actually have a choice. For better or worse, officials around the world have been closing down gyms in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. But do gyms really spread the virus? Researchers from Norway sought to find out.

They carried out a randomised trial of COVID-19 transmission in training facilities (Helsingen et al. 2020). The trial hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet, so its results should be taken with caution.

Still, the data seem clear: of the 1,896 participants in the training arm, only one had a positive SARS-CoV-2 RNA tests (the researchers found out he got the virus at work). Likewise, only 11 (0.8%) people in the training arm tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies, whereas 27 (2.4%) in the no-training arm did so (p=0.001).

This lead the researchers to conclude that “Our trial showed no virus transmission or increase in Covid-19 or associated disease, and no increase in SARS-CoV-2 antibodies related to opening of training facilities with hygiene and physical distancing measures” (Helsingen et al. 2020).

So, is it safe to go to the gym during COVID-19? If you live in an area where there is relatively little COVID-19 (like Oslo, Norway, during the study), and your gym provides good hygiene and physical distancing measures, these results suggest that yes, it is relatively safe. To see examples of gyms doing it well, see our guide Coronavirus, Exercise, and Health: An Evidence-Based Guide for Athletes & Lifters.

But keep in mind that the study participants were healthy people representative of gym goers. If you are older or have a medical condition, you are at increased risk, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (see the full list of medical conditions that increase your risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19).

So, how safe going to the gym is seems to depends on how much COVID-19 there is in your area, what measures your gym takes, and your own age and health. In the end, it’s your decision, and you should weigh its risks and benefits for yourself. To play it safe until the end of the pandemic, you can always work out at home (for inspiration, check out our guide on building muscle at home with bands).

Need more help getting in shape at home? You can also check our smart workout app Dr. Muscle. It’s like a trainer in your phone—and now it can guide you through a total of 21 home-based programs to get you in top shape with just your body weight or limited equipment at home. Try it free or read our reviews.