When Can I Go Back To the Gym After Being Fully Vaccinated?

Man exercising at the gym wearing a face mask.

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • As with any public space, people who are vaccinated should continue to wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of space between themselves and others while at the gym.
  • Make sure your gym is following state and CDC health guidelines, has good air filtration systems, periodically cleans the equipment, and enforces mask-wearing.
  • When returning to exercise at the gym, ease back into your workout routine.

So, you’re fully vaccinated and you’re ready to get your sweat back on.

Experts say the vaccines work extremely well at protecting you from COVID-19. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, people who are fully vaccinated can be indoors without masks on with other fully vaccinated people.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines or two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson shot.

But recent data shows that when people don’t follow safety protocol, gyms can be a hotbed of COVID-19. In a recent study, scientists identified 55 COVID-19 infections in an in-person exercise class of 81 people in Chicago last year. In Honolulu last year, a fitness instructor taught a spin class hours before experiencing his first symptoms. Every participant of that class and 10 of 11 participants from a morning kickboxing class taught by the same instructor tested positive for COVID-19 soon after.

So, until a greater portion of the U.S. population is vaccinated and we know more about whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, experts encourage people to take the necessary safety precautions when venturing into the gym.

Signs of a Safe Gym

The first thing to do when assessing COVID-19 safety at the gym is to feel out whether the management is adhering to guidelines.

“Is there a sign on the door that says that the gym takes it seriously?” Paul Pottinger, MD, DTM&H, a professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells Verywell.

Before returning, Pottinger says to check if the gym has a statement on its website acknowledging COVID-19. When you’re there, make sure the mask policy is being enforced and the management is screening for COVID-19 symptoms at the door.

Look for Good Ventilation

It’s also important that gyms have a strong air filtration or circulation process. Ideally, open windows and doors will provide some cross-ventilation and air handling systems will change out the air at least six times per hour.

“If you have good airflow—could be a room fan, could be an open window, could be an air handling system through the ducts—that's all really, really good,” Pottinger says.

Exercising in a room with strong circulation and ventilation is important, as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads predominantly through the air. But there may be no good way of knowing if your gym is taking the necessary precautions just by being inside.

Looking for high ceilings, open windows, and air filtration systems may give you some clues, but to really know whether air is being treated safely, Pottinger recommends familiarizing yourself with the gym's management.

“I think it's about figuring out, just through discussions with people at the front counter, what's their plan, and what's their process,” he says.

Make Sure Everyone Is Spaced Out

It’s also key to ensure that gym-goers are separated by at least 6 feet of space, even if masked. When working out indoors, it may be a good sign if there is a capacity limit and machines are spread out around the rooms. In settings where people are breathing heavily, like Zumba, spin, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes, masking up and maintaining space between yourself and other exercisers can be even more important.

“Yoga, spin, even some dance classes like Zumba—I think that's okay if everyone is spread out,” Irvin Sulapas, MD, a primary care sports medicine physician and assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, tells Verywell.

When using shared equipment, like weights, mats, and benches, thoroughly wipe down the surfaces before and after use. It’s also a good sign if gyms have periodic cleaning processes to also prevent the surface spread of COVID-19 as well as other bacteria and pathogens.

What This Means For You

When fully vaccinated, experts say you can safely exercise without a mask on around other fully vaccinated people. But because the majority of the U.S. remains unvaccinated, experts say it's important to continue wearing a mask and maintaining distance from others at the gym. This is especially important when participating in high intensity exercise like indoor cardio or dance classes.

How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe

Wearing a mask is one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. Sulapas says that while masks may seem uncomfortable to exercise in at first, they won’t greatly hinder your athletic performance.

“Studies have shown that no one loses oxygen content from wearing a mask—it's just a little bit of concerted effort,” Sulapas says.

He recommends looking for masks from sports apparel stores for models that are best for exercise.

According to CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people may spend time together indoors without masks on. Though the guidelines don’t explicitly mention exercise, the recommendations likely remain true for gatherings like pick-up basketball, soccer, and volleyball games.

But as soon as there is a possibility that one or more member of the group is unvaccinated, Pottinger recommends people consider masking up.

“I like that idea of a mask-optional game a lot, because that way if you personally are concerned for your own health, but you don't feel empowered to tell somebody else to put on a mask, you can always wear yours,” Pottinger says. “You can always walk away as well. I think that is unfortunate but, frankly, that is still the safest way to approach that kind of a competition.”

At the end of the day, staying COVID-19 safe is a matter of personally managing your risks and expectations.

“What one person feels to be safe might be different for somebody else,” Pottinger says. “I think we should respect that people have different thresholds of safety.”

Getting Back Into the Groove

As you’re transitioning back to the gym, Sulapas says to cut yourself some slack. If you haven’t had access to weights or other equipment that you had used regularly before the pandemic, plan to start with some easy workouts, and increase the intensity only when you feel your body can handle it.

“For some people, if you don't go to the gym for a while, it makes it harder to get that willpower,” Sulapas says. “Base the intensity of the exercise on the initial easy workout, and you ramp up as tolerated.”

In terms of COVID-19 safety, too, Pottinger says it’s smart to ease into your gym routine to make sure you feel comfortable working out in that space.

“Take it easy. Go back just a little bit make sure that you're comfortable with the process and protocol, and just get the lay of the land,” Pottinger says. Besides, “you’re not going to make up for a year of COVID-19 in a day.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lendacki F, Teran R, Gretsch S, Fricchione M, Kerins J. COVID-19 outbreak among attendees of an exercise facility — Chicago, Illinois, August–September 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(9):321-325. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7009e2

  2. Groves LM, Usagawa L, Elm J, et al. Community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at three fitness facilities — Hawaii, June–July 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(9):316-320.

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.