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5 Rules for Showering at the Gym

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Most men who exercise at the gym look forward to a shower after a hard workout. Leaving the gym sweaty is never very appealing. A shower leaves you feeling fresh and relaxed and washes away the sweat and waste matter you secrete during a workout.

However, there may be times when you wait to shower at home. Maybe you're in a hurry. Maybe you don't like the facilities at the gym. Maybe the showers are too crowded. At home you luxuriate under the faucet for as long as you like -- even sing if you feel so inclined.

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Either way, you should learn about the showers at the gym as soon as you join. How many are available? Will you have to wait for others to finish? Does the gym provide lockers? Towels? Soap? Can you store your workout clothes in a locker overnight? Are hot-air dryers available? Answers to these questions will help you determine whether to shower at home or at the gym.

For some, privacy is an issue. Are showers arrayed in one room or are they in individual stalls? Hygiene is also important. What are the gym's policies about cleaning and disinfecting showers? How often do they clean lockers, the locker room floor and other parts of the facility?

Keep reading for five tips to keep in mind when showering at the gym.

Germs love a warm, moist environment. That means they love locker rooms. Many people come and go there, and some may be carriers of illness even if they show no symptoms. Skin infections are the most common danger. These range from boils and impetigo to herpes simplex and ringworm. An alarming one in three Americans suffers from a skin disease [source: Brody]. Ordinary colds and flu can spread easily in the gym as well.

Precautions are even more important if you play a sport like basketball, squash or wrestling where you might have contact with another person. The combination of someone else's sweat and minor abrasions on your own skin can spread disease. Even if you're just using workout equipment, it's probably been touched by others. So, a thorough shower is your first defense against infection.

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To minimize the chances of catching something, always use your own soap (preferably an anti-bacterial soap), shampoo and razor. Be sure to lather your entire body, not just your armpits and groin. Afterward, dry yourself carefully; apply fresh dressings to any cuts or scrapes and put on clean clothes.

A shower is inviting after a hard workout, but you should never rush straight under the spray. Take at least 10 or 15 minutes to cool down. You should not be sweating heavily or breathing hard when you hit the showers. Otherwise, you'll still be sweating when you finish and likely to become chilled if you go out into the cold.

Cooling down after exercise has other benefits. It gives your heart a chance to return to a normal pace. It minimizes the risk that you'll feel light-headed or dizzy, which can result from blood pooling in your large muscles, like hamstrings and quads, during a workout.

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Start your cool-down period by doing light exercise like jogging or walking. Then take some time to stretch. Gentle stretching focused on the muscle groups you've worked will help speed your recovery and avoid tightness. You can continue stretching while you shower -- the warm water will relax your muscles [source: MyDr.com].

Hot shower or cold? It's an ongoing debate as to which is better. Some considerations:

  • A hot shower relaxes your overworked muscles.
  • A cold shower reduces inflammation and can speed recovery.
  • A hot shower dries your skin more by washing away oils.
  • A cold shower is a shock to your system.

There's truth in all these contentions. In the final analysis, as long as you soap well and rinse the sweat off, either hot or cold water can work. Some like the relaxing feel of a hot shower. Others like the invigorating sensation of cold water.

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Probably the best compromise is to alternate hot and cold water while you shower. Hot water increases blood flow to your skin; cold constricts surface vessels and forces blood inward. The combo has a good effect on your circulation. Going back and forth from hot to cold feels especially stimulating. Another good choice is to take a warm -- but not hot -- shower.

One bonus of a cold or alternating shower is that you use less hot water. And that's good for the environment.

It's not called athlete's foot for nothing. It really is a common problem for those who work out. Athlete's foot is a fungal infection of the toes and other parts of the feet. A shower or locker-room floor is a perfect place for the fungus to lurk and spread. The infection can be itchy and annoying. It can also be hard to get rid of and easy to pick up again. Some people, such as those with naturally sweaty feet, are more susceptible.

To avoid athlete's foot, make it a rule to wear flip-flops or shower shoes into the shower and locker room. Take them off to soap your feet thoroughly and replace them before you leave. Make sure you dry your feet well, especially between toes. Put on clean socks when you're done.

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Athlete's foot is not a serious ailment. You only need to see a doctor if it persists or affects your toenails. Take it more seriously if you suffer from diabetes or from a weakened immune system due to HIV infection or chemotherapy [source: Consumer Reports].

Keep in mind that you're sharing the shower with others. Some things that might be fine at home are to be avoided at the gym.

  • Don't hog the shower. Ten minutes should be the max, especially if there are limited showers available.
  • Don't socialize while in the shower. It wastes time and may annoy others.
  • Clean up what you mess up. Leave the shower and changing area as you found them.
  • Never pee in the shower. It should go without saying, but some guys forget they're not at home.
  • Dry off before returning to your locker. Don't stand and drip.

You also need to respect the privacy of others. Some guys are uncomfortable taking their clothes off in public or being around someone who's naked. Don't stare, whether in the shower or the locker room. Give others as much space as you can. Wrap a towel around your waist after you shower. Make it a rule not to be naked for longer than necessary.

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Sources

  • AskMen.com. "Locker Room Etiquette." (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.askmen.com/sports/bodybuilding_200/232_fitness_tip.html
  • Brody, Jane. "Be Sure Exercise Is All You Get at the Gym." New York Times, August 2, 2010. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/health/03brod.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print
  • ConsumerReports.com. "What is athlete's foot?" January 19, 2011. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.consumerreports.org/health/conditions-and-treatments/athletes-foot/what-is-it.htm
  • Dailey, Kate. "De-germ Your Gym." Men's Health, November 4, 2004. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.menshealth.com/health/de-germ-your-gym
  • Dailey, Kate. "19 Temptations You Should Resist or Indulge." Men's Health. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.menshealth.com/mhlists/choosing_life_s_temptations/Pee_in_the_Shower.php
  • HealthFitnessZone.com. "Post Workout: To Shower Or Not To Shower." October 16, 2009. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.fitnesshealthzone.com/healthy-living/post-workout-to-shower-or-not-to-shower/
  • McCarthy, Kevin. "Warning: Your fellow gym-goers could be spreading disease." (accessed March 3, 2011) ConsumerReports.org, August 5, 2010. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2010/08/methicillin-resistant-staphylococcus-aureus-warning-your-fellow-gymgoers-could-be-spreading-disease.html
  • McDougall, Christopher. "The Killer in the Locker Room." Men's Health, November 4, 2004. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.menshealth.com/health/killer-locker-room
  • MyDr.com.au. "Warming up and cooling down for exercise." January 10, 2010. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://www.mydr.com.au/sports-fitness/warming-up-and-cooling-down-for-exercise
  • Peterson, Josh. "Take a Cold Shower for Your Health," PlanetGreen.com, April 9, 2009. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://planetgreen.discovery.com/food-health/cold-shower-health.html
  • Piazza, Dean. "Hot or cold shower after exercise?" NineMSN, July 10, 2009. (accessed March 3, 2011)http://health.ninemsn.com.au/fitness/expertadvice/837008/hot-or-cold-shower-after-exercise
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