Last updated on February 28th, 2021 at 06:15 pm
What if your home gym, the thing you built to improve your health, is actually making you sick?
What if an often overlooked factor was causing you health issues? Surprisingly, this is the case in more than a few home gyms. We put a ton of effort into choosing every detail in our gym. We stress over weights, machines, benches, racks, accessories, and more. We then often ignore one of the most important details… Air quality.
Mold, allergens, bacteria, pests, fumes, temperature, and humidity can all have a dramatic impact on our health and our performance. These risks are amplified by the simple fact that if you are working out with any degree of intensity, you are breathing very deeply. Combining air quality issues with heavier than normal breathing is a situation we should strive to steer clear of.
If we overlook air circulation, ventilation, and air quality in our home gyms, we risk more than just a musty smell or accumulated dust. We risk the very health we are trying to improve by being there in the first place!
Let’s take a look at the most common culprits that degrade the air quality in our gyms and how they can be addressed.
Causes and Cures of Poor Air Quality in Your Home Gym
Many of us have carved our gym spaces into dark, dank, and unused areas of our homes. Basement corners, dusty attics, and garages of all types play host to our coveted home workout space. Others have converted little used spare rooms or other repurposed areas of their homes. One thing all of those areas have in common is their susceptibility to mold.
Black mold has been linked to numerous ailments. Respiratory problems, allergies, headaches, fatigue and a host of other issues can be directly linked to mold. It’s something you don’t want in your home at all, let alone your home gym.
The first line of mold detection is your nose. If you notice a dank, musty smell in your workout area, you probably have mold somewhere. Sometimes it’s easy to spot. Sometimes you have to look a bit.
One big culprit can be carpet and the hidden padding underneath. As I noted in my Complete Guide to Home Gym Flooring, carpet and its padding are ideal spots for hidden mold growth. If you smell mold but don’t see it, check under the carpet. You might be surprised at what you find.
If you find it in other areas, clean up can be vary from cheap and easy to involved and expensive. Small spots can be easily cleaned on your own. Soap and water will usually do the trick. Surprisingly, bleach isn’t needed. Large areas may require professional cleaning. If you have more than just a bit, or you suspect it’s hiding out in places you can’t reach, see, or find, contact a local mold remediation company for help. Mold is a big enough health threat that it warrants the expense without hesitation.
Be careful when cleaning up. Disturbing the mold releases its spores. Those, in turn, cause the health problems listed above. A painter’s mask is never a bad idea when cleaning up mold.
Once the mold is gone, you’ll want to use a dehumidifier in the humid months. Keeping your humidity levels under 50% in your workout area will go a long way towards making it more comfortable and keeping mold and other problems at bay.
Part of working out in the basement or the garage is learning to coexist with bugs. A certain number of them are inevitable. Some varieties, though, are a health problem. Other vermin, like mice or rats, are things we really don’t want around at all. They will bring in disease via themselves and their excrement. Eliminating them before they make a home for themselves is critical.
What does this have to do with air quality? A lot. Cockroaches can carry salmonella. Dust mites and cockroaches can both cause respiratory problems. Mice and rats carry disease and can bring in other pests. None of them are things you want in your fitness space!
There’s a variety of ways to rid yourself of such pests. The key is that you take action and do it, preferably sooner than later! Once that’s done, it’s a good idea to get a dehumidifier. Bugs, in general, prefer a more humid environment (see the entire state of Florida for an example!). If you can keep the humidity level low in your gym, you’ll do a lot to discourage the little nuisances from going there in the first place.
VOC’s, otherwise known as volatile organic compounds, are the fumes that come from commonly found household cleaners, paints, lacquers, and other similar fluids. You know, the things you store in your garage or basement!
This is also the horrible smell you get from using horse stall mats as flooring and from buying inexpensive rubber weight plates. That smell is not only annoying, but it’s also bad for you. It’s one of the reasons I recommend using those mats in your gym.
When those types of liquids or materials are kept in an enclosed area, it tends to make the fumes even worse. And those fumes can be very dangerous to people. Not only can they cause respiratory issues, but they can cause more serious health problems like long term harm to your liver, kidney, and nervous system.
The fix is simple. Move these things to another, more well ventilated area for storage. Get them out of your gym completely (in other words, don’t just move them to the other side of the garage or basement). Your lungs and health will thank you!
In the case of the rubber plates and flooring, at minimum place them outside in direct sunlight until they off gas the VOC’s. This may take days or even weeks. Your nose and your health will thank you for the effort! If you can, go with rubber flooring meant for indoor use (NOT for outdoor horse stalls!) and buy a little nicer level of rubber plate.
Dust and Allergens
Ever try working out when you can’t breathe? In the middle of allergy season? It’s no fun. I can tell you that from experience.
While we can’t control mother nature, we can control what parts of mother nature we allow into our workout space. Keeping your space free of dust and allergens is a bit of a process, but it can be done. There are 3 key parts.
- First, clean regularly. Cleaning a home gym is a lot like any other room of your home, but there are some differences. Both in what you clean and what you clean with. Check out my Definitive Guide to Cleaning Your Home Gym for full details!
- Second, clean the air. This is done by getting a high quality air purifier. This is one thing I wouldn’t skimp on. Especially if you have allergies or breathing issues of any kind. These things can be a life saver. If you are looking for a really great air purifier, I recommend two from Blue Air. We sell these where I work and it’s the only brand we sell that customers consistently report as working well. For larger gyms, use the 211+, you can check its current price on Amazon here. I use the smaller 411 as it better fits my space. It’s usually under $100, but you can check it’s current pricing on Amazon here!
- Third, use a humidifier. In the cold months especially, this is extremely helpful. If the air is really dry, that means that dust particles and other allergens float around easily. By putting a little moisture in the air, those same particles now become bound to moisture particles. Those heavier particles then sink to the ground instead of flying through the air and eventually into your nose and lungs.
Another benefit of a humidifier in the winter is that it helps prevent dry and cracked skin. If you’ve lifted much, you’ll notice your hands really start to get dry and cracked in the winter. Having a humidifier really helps this. I use this one by Honeywell and have always had great luck with it.
If you keep your gym where you keep your car, lawnmower, trimmer, or other gas powered items, you are causing a problem for yourself. It’s simply not safe to workout where you can smell gas fumes.
During your workout, they can cause eye irritation, lung pain, and sinus issues. If you repeatedly breathe these fumes in, they can cause bone marrow and blood disorders. They have also been directly linked to cancer long term. It’s best to store these items elsewhere, choose a different space for your gym equipment, or at the very least, keep windows open and the space extraordinarily well ventilated.
For those of us that have our gym in an unused portion of the garage, this could cause an issue. At the very least, don’t keep the gas can for the lawn mower in there. Your car, if it’s a relatively new model, should be fine. If you simply don’t have anywhere else to put this stuff, I would highly recommend opening the door and airing out the garage prior to working out. This is serious business and gas fumes really should be avoided at all costs!
I remember when radon was first discovered to be a problem in some homes. It was all over the news. Radon detection and remediation companies sprang up all over the place. People panicked because of the nuclear source of Radon gas.
Radon comes from decaying uranium and it occurs naturally literally everywhere. It’s also the #2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon is no joke and if your gym is in your basement, testing for it should be a priority.
The issue arises when radon is allowed to concentrate and pool up in basements. Here, in higher than acceptable levels, it can cause serious problems.
It used to be that you had to hire a company to come check your radon levels. That’s not the case anymore. You can pick up a radon test kit at your local Home Depot or Ace Hardware. If your gym is in a basement area, it’s a really great idea to pick one of these test kits up just to be safe.
If the results are negative, now you know! If the test shows a problem, you have hopefully dodged a bullet. There are systems that can be installed in your home to eliminate unsafe radon build up, returning your basement to useable gym status. It’s probably best to have these installed by a professional, but will be well worth the money if you find yourself with a radon problem.
Defend Against Poor Air Quality in Your Gym
Having grown up with allergies, I’ve always had issues breathing at certain times of the year. Being an ex smoker, I’m overly paranoid about air quality and possible damage to my lungs. For that reason, I’ve developed a system to keep the air quality in my garage gym as clean and safe as I can possibly manage.
The system is seasonal and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Going back to my original point, we build a home gym to improve our health. We owe it to ourselves to make sure that home gym isn’t actually making us sick instead! Here’s my approach…
I keep an air purifier running year round. If I turn it off for even a couple of days, I can immediately notice the difference. I’ve owned and tried several different units. As I mentioned above, we actually sell them where I work.
After going cheap several times and not seeing any difference, I decided to bite the bullet and get a nicer one. It was an easy choice and what I should have purchased all along. Based on the crazy good feedback from customers, I went with a model by Blue Air.
Blue Air is probably the highest rated air purifier on the market. They make several different sizes and that allows you to pick a unit that works right for your particular space. I use the Blue Pure 211+. It’s an amazing unit and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
I pull out my dehumidifier (see the one I use here on Amazon) at the first sign of humidity in the late spring or early summer. It runs pretty much non stop until fall. I aim to keep the humidity under 50%. This helps prevent any mold or mildew build up. As a huge side benefit, it makes it much more comfortable to work out in the summer!
I also usually keep a fan running. Get yourself a nice sized model that moves a lot of air. Don’t worry about fancy fans, you can get a great one at Target or Wall Mart for just a few bucks that will work great! It will keep you cool and keep the air circulating. A fan is another really important step in the prevention of mold and mildew.
I resist pulling out the heater until it gets down into the 30’s outside. But once it does, I rarely work out in my garage gym without first turning one on. In fact, I wrote an entire article devoted to helping you keep your gym warm in the winter. A great space heater is a big part of that. I’ve gone through a few, and I suffered the same results as I did with the air purifier.
I started cheap and went from there. It gets cold here near Chicago. Like arctic tundra cold! Money spent on a solid space heater is money well spent, and I can’t recommend this one by Dr. Infrared highly enough!!!
Once it gets cold, it also tends to get dry. So along with the heater, I trade my summer time dehumidifier for a humidifier that can add a little moisture to the air. It significantly improves the air quality and also makes things a lot more comfortable.
Adding a humidifier will also help you and your equipment last longer. It will prevent drying and cracking of your hands as well as drying and cracking of things like your bench.
I’ve got two last tips for improving the air quality in your home gym. One obvious and one maybe not so much.
First, air the place out! Open a window or door. Install an exhaust fan. Do whatever you can to get fresh outside air into your workout space. It’s easier to do in the summer than the winter, but it’s equally important at both times of year.
Second, get a plant or two. Plants are nature’s own air filters. They breath in bad air and breath out oxygen. Having a couple of plants in your gym space can do wonders for the air quality. If you aren’t sure what kind to get, ferns and spider plants are known to do a great job of cleaning the air. They are also very easy to care for and low maintenance.
The best plant for cleaning the air is English Ivy. Nasa did a study on this and determined that this plant does a better job of cleaning the air than any other!
Hopefully some of these tips help you breathe a little (or maybe even a lot!) easier in your workout area. The better the air, the better the workouts, right? And not to mention, the more comfortable and inviting your home gym is, the more you will enjoy using it. And that leads to more use overall, which is always the goal!