Tips That Can Help You Avoid COVID & Other Diseases at MMA Gyms


(Image Credit: Nick “THE TOOTH” Gullo via VICE Fightland)

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Due to the recent Coronavirus known as COVID-19 hitting the world in a massive way, we’ve seen many go into a major panic. This is all understandable, as it’s quite a scary time. Moreover, this has impacted businesses with many shutting down, limiting capacity, and instituting mandatory facemasks inside their establishments. Some states in the United States have made the masks mandatory too.

COVID-19 is very contagious due to being a virus. Like so many viruses known to man, they can spread like wildfire. The current COVID-19 impacts your respiratory system, as it’s essentially Viral Pneumonia that has become quite deadly. Millions worldwide have died as a result. That is why knowing how to keep safe but still live your life like normal is essential. This is especially true for those who want to go to gyms and exercise and/or train.

Martial Arts Gyms had to shut down for a while and many re-opened, with some attempting to take precautions. Others? Not so much.

This surprised us, as we feel there needs to be a discussion of how you can keep safe at a Martial Arts School or MMA Gym of any kind. Keep in mind, human to human contact is incredibly important in martial arts. This is especially true when grappling, as you’ll be right by a person’s mouth and nose consistently.

Even before the recent Pandemic began, there was a problem at some gyms involving skin conditions such as Staph. There were even cases of Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease passing at some gyms. Let’s discuss some “Stay Safe” options to change things!

Some stuff we put might seem trivial, but if you follow our instructions to the letter, we’ll all be safer for it.

Why Are MMA Gyms A Breeding Ground For Infectious Diseases?

People tend to forget that MMA Gyms are problematic places to be during spikes in viruses, but this could be the same with your regular workout gyms too. In the latter, it is often requested to wipe down equipment but you’re not fully cleaning them after each use. This is one of the biggest problems with mats at an MMA Gym.

Professional Wrestlers or those in training also deal with this problem. While some people might have sinus trouble or allergy issues from all of this when they first come in contact with it, that is a low-end issue. The high-end is seeing viruses spread around. It makes sense, as these mats are going to be carrying bacteria from a person’s feet, hands, mouth, nose, and even blood in some cases.

The mats are just one issue here. Keep in mind that you’re also going to be in close contact with another person in most places. MMA is a close contact sport, obviously. While you might be able to keep far enough from someone while practicing striking, this is not the case when you practice Wrestling, Sambo, Judo, or BJJ for instance. Of course, this is just the start of it.

If you’re going to a gym that practices one martial art specifically, such as Jiu-Jitsu or even Muay Thai, you’re going to be with someone in very close range at all times where there’s no social distancing at all.

What Kind Of Diseases Are Prevalent In MMA Gyms? 

If something is going around, it’s very likely an MMA Gym could spread it with so many people working with each other. This means small infections like a Sinus Infection could spread as well as other Respiratory diseases such as Strep Throat, Pneumonia, Bronchitis, and many more.

Yes, infections can pass in environments like this due to sneezing, heavy breathing, coughing, etc. Viruses are more problematic as those can spread by mere breathing.

Breathable Mask is an Effective Gear to Avoid Catching Diseases at MMA Gyms

Now the right question has come up to bat. How can people avoid not only catching but also spreading viruses among other things at MMA Gyms? In some ways, it’s hard for the person to do this on their own. It takes other students as well as the Gym Owners too. Simply doing obvious things will help here. The best thing one might be able to do currently is to look into masks that are breathable.

What we mean is, there are masks that unlike the medical masks you see all over the place, have an opening or a few openings. People then put specially designed filters in them that will be switched out off and on. The filters are not expensive to replace and often places like Amazon have them at a good price.

This will help your breathing, allowing you to wear the mask during training without getting too hot nor will you have to deal with too much carbon dioxide build-up.

Change Out From Your Gi When You’re Done Training

This one might seem obvious but for some reason, we’ve heard of or noticed people who have not changed out of their Gi when they complete training for the day. Some might go to a place to eat in their Gi or merely wear it in a partial form for a while afterward. Some might go to a friend’s house still in their Gi or see family members in it. More often than not this is a bigger problem with kids but adults have a problem with this too.

Keep in mind that your Gi is a great protector for you during training or fights. It prevents sweat, spit, fleam, and even blood from contacting most of your body. Yet like doctors and nurses, who use scrubs or coats in hospitals, they too must remember to take this off when they’re not on the clock. It is obvious for them to use common medical sense and change out of those clothes and even wash them on a routine basis.

Martial Artists MUST do this too, as we do not need to further spread stuff around that we came in contact with at the gym, If possible, take a change of clothes to wear when you leave the gym if you do have to go somewhere else before going home, like a store.

Nurses will have many scrubs to go through as doctors often have many coats. Yet Martial Artists might not have several Gi to choose from. Therefore, you need to be sure to wash it before you go back to your gym. This will, hopefully, help prevent possible viruses from spreading around. You’d be surprised how much gets on these things.

Here’s how to properly launder your Gi or other clothing to stop spread diseases according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC).

Avoid Touching Your Mouth Or Eyes During Practicing

Due to your hands coming in contact with those you’re training with the most, it’s probably a good thing to avoid touching your eyes or mouth while at practice. If you cannot help but do this or there is a reason to touch, many gyms will have paper towels around. You can simply use one or a few to touch your face with during times it’s needed.

Many find it best to bring their own towels from home, however. This ensures that they know where it came from, that it’s clean, and only THEY used it. If we had to choose which we’d prefer, gym paper towels vs towel from home, we’d go with the latter all day long. If nothing else, using your own towel to wipe off sweat can be a very useful thing. You never have to touch your face with your hands this way.

Once you’ve completed training for the day, you’ll then need to go to the gym bathroom to wash your hands or take some hand sanitizer with you to use after training. This all hinges on if the gym has a place to wash your hands and soap around. However, hand sanitizer can be useful for you and your training partner to use. This way, you’re helping his or her hands stay clean as well as your own.

Take A Shower Immediately After Martial Arts Class

When you’re done training, you’re going to likely be a sweaty mess. Going home and getting a shower is going to be good regardless. Yet in times like these, you’re going to need to do this even more so. If you come in contact with viruses or diseases, your body won’t always absorb them completely. In fact, our skin sheds small layers all the time.

This is why if you take a shower upon getting home, you could likely rid your body of prospective viruses or diseases that can affect you.

Do Not Practice With Someone Who is Sick

It is obvious that you cannot control the actions of others. If they get sick, it’s understandable that they might still want to train. However, they should not have come to the gym even if they felt good enough to be there. If you know they are sick, you do not have to train with them. It might be a bit weird to do. But the best thing to do in this situation is politely declining to train with them that day.

Do not feel bad nor feel uncomfortable declining to train with someone who’s sick because it’s your health in the end. You can only protect yourself in the end.

Stay Home If You Are Sick

Why risk getting others sick if you do not have to do so? We know some of these gyms can get expensive but you can always make up the day or two of lost training. World Health Organization(WHO) recommends people to stay home if you are sick and suggests the following:

Many viruses or diseases some of us can live with or survive can actually kill others. You can read more about this topic here. Sadly, this is the reality of some sicknesses.

Basically, we’re saying be cognizant of others if you are sick and just stay home. Of course, injuries are different. You obviously do not need to go to a gym if you’re unable to train properly. Nor should you go if you’re bleeding from an injury. Go to the ER!

Tell Your Coach Of Health Concerns

Like what we mentioned with possible injuries, you should also alert your Coach or Instructor if you have specific health concerns. For example, if you see something that is clearly unsanitary or hazardous, do not hesitate to talk to them about it. If he or she is not keen to fix this issue, then they do not care about their students.

If they do not bother to fix the problem and you see this even more than twice, we’d recommend finding a new gym. There is no reason to stay and train at a place where the owners and employees do not address your health concerns.

What Can An MMA School Do To Prevent The Spreading Of Diseases?

There’s quite a lot that an MMA School can do to stop the spreading of disease or viruses. In fact, a lot of the protective things involved at gyms will start with the owners and instructors. Responses from the schools need to be to make their place a clean, healthy place for athletes to train. What can they do? Let’s examine a few things.

Disinfect The Mats

It should be pretty obvious that mats are going to pick up a lot of bacteria during training. People also going to sweat on them and eventually, they are going to develop quite a funk if you do not clean them. This is why we’d recommend cleaning them at least 3 to 5 times per day.

Here’s the guideline by the World Health Organization(WHO) about disinfecting the surface:

In non-health care settings, sodium hypochlorite (bleach / chlorine) may be used at a recommended concentration of 0.1% or 1,000ppm (1 part of 5% strength household bleach to 49 parts of water). Alcohol at 70-90% can also be used for surface disinfection. Surfaces must be cleaned with water and soap or a detergent first to remove dirt, followed by disinfection.  Cleaning should always start from the least soiled (cleanest) area to the most soiled (dirtiest) area in order to not spread the dirty to areas that are less soiled. 

All disinfectant solutions should be stored in opaque containers, in a well-ventilated, covered area that is not exposed to direct sunlight and ideally should be freshly prepared every day.

In indoor spaces, routine application of disinfectants to surfaces via spraying is not recommended for COVID-19. If disinfectants are to be applied, these should be via a cloth or wipe which is soaked in the disinfectant. 
Source: World Health Organization

You want to do this after the day concludes, of course. However, if you clean them between classes as well, it’ll be very helpful. Essentially, you’re doing this to keep germs and bacteria from the last class off the mats so that it does not spread around. When we say 3 to 5 times per day, we’re using this number based on the average number of classes at a gym.

This number might be more or less depending on the gym. However, cleaning them at the end of each day is a must for EVERY gym.

Good Air Ventilation

While disinfecting mats is a good thing to do, you should also have good air ventilation to prevent airborne diseases.

This helps in a few ways. First, it helps with keeping a good temperature in the gym so that it does not get too hot or even too cold. At the same time, this ventilation will also help with removing air that has been contaminated from people coughing and sneezing.

Even breathing heavily can spread bacteria around in the air. CDC mentions the importance of indoor ventilation here.

This why a good circulation of fresh air in and bad air out will be very helpful to trainees in a gym. This is also useful for instructors! A good ventilator is useful but even something as simple as investing in some good fans can do wonders. Do keep in mind that gyms are typically hot, moist, and even dark enclosed environments. All are great breeding grounds for viruses and diseases.

By removing these issues in the gym, things become drier. This will, as a result, cut down on the number of bacteria as they are not great at living in this type of environment for too long.

Simply, Don’t Allow Sick People To Train With Others

It should go without saying that letting sick people train at your gym is not a good thing to do. You’re allowing them to possibly infect the place and that does not have to happen. If they are, simply do not allow them to train with others. They could work on the equipment away from everyone else if your gym has stuff like that lying around.

However, you’ll need to clean all of this as well as the area they are in. This is why it’s best to simply send them home. You can also always work out something cost-wise for them so that they do not feel cheated financially by missing a day. Removing any possible issue like this will cut down on the spreading of diseases like COVID among many more at MMA Gyms.

These Are The Most Common Skin Diseases Associated With Mats In Martial Arts Schools

Just on the normal end of things, you could catch at an MMA Gym are skin diseases like Impetigo, Scabies, and Cellulitis. You can also catch more severe things like Tinea Corporis, known by most as Ring Worm. It is also possible to catch the Herpes Simplex, as one Type can be spread by saliva. It tends to mostly spread during kissing or “other stuff,” but accidental spit flies through the air consistently in MMA Gyms too.

Finally, you could catch something that left untreated could kill you such as Staphylococcus Aureus, known mostly as Staph. There are various versions of it, but the worst possible form of this infection is MRSA. Here’s a micro image of MRSA.

MRSA spreads easily in athletic facilities, locker rooms, gyms, and health clubs because of shared equipment and skin-to-skin contact. Keep surfaces clean to prevent MRSA from spreading.

When should I clean athletic equipment and facilities?

Always keep athletic facilities, such as locker rooms, and shared equipment clean whether or not MRSA infections have occurred among the athletes.

Shared equipment should be cleaned after each use and allowed to dry.
Repair or dispose of equipment and furniture with damaged surfaces that do not allow surfaces to be adequately cleaned.

Clean equipment, such as helmets and protective gear, according to the equipment manufacturers’ instructions to make sure the cleaner will not harm the item.
Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC)

It puts people in the hospital all the time and it’s hard to get rid of once you have it, which is why you should always practice good hygiene before and after going to an MMA Gym. This helps to protect you and those you train with.

Meanwhile, MMA Gyms need to do the same by keeping their gym clean completely.

Jeff J.

Jeff J is a retired Gunnery Sgt. with the United States Marine Corps and a former Federal Police officer. He was involved with extensive training with weapons systems, and hand to hand combat, mentored and trained hundreds of Marines in high-level fitness programs.

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