Those who take part in combat sports aren’t averse to risk or to pain. Cuts, bruises, muscle strains, and even broken bones are the cost that many martial artists pay for participating in the sport that they love. Scars tell a story about the fights that they took part in. However, although the risks of injuries are high, there is something that can be much more dangerous to those who frequent your gym. After constant use, the equipment at your gym—boxing gloves, bench presses, and especially the mats that your athletes train on—are teeming with bacteria and other infectious germs.
In sports that involve bodily contact between two fighters, there’s bound to be transmissions of infections and diseases. And, in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic, sanitization is even more important, as you strive to limit the spread of transmissions among the athletes, trainers, and employers that frequent your training centre.
By following a strict cleaning regime, you can limit exposure to dangerous bacteria and germs. Diligence is key to setting up a cleaning schedule to limit the spread of bacteria. Missing one cleaning session isn’t an option in the fight against bacteria.
Bacteria and Skin Diseases Among Martial Artists
According to the article “Infectious Disease in Contact Sports, ” the most common bacterial infections that martial artists suffer include conjunctivitis, head lice, and warts1. Some other more dangerous viruses include the herpes virus, hepatitis C, and, less common than others but also more dangerous, HIV. Recently, the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has become a major threat to the health and safety of martial artists.
Staph infections pose a great threat to athletes, especially those who engage in skin to skin contact. Staph infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus—bacteria that thrives on the ground, on martial arts mats, and on human skin2. Almost a third of the population has been colonised with the bacteria that cause staph infections, and they’re asymptomatic, with the bacteria finding a home on their skin. The reason so many people are unaffected by the bacteria that causes staph infections is because it is usually harmless unless it gets under the skin, through cuts, scraps, or lacerations.
Martial artists experience the perfect storm of factors that lead to staph infections. Here’s an example. The scar tissue next to your eye is opened while you’re sparring by a single strike. After cleaning the cut, you practise arm locks with your sparring partner, and your head touches an infected portion of your sparring partner’s body. Bacteria has now found a way into your body through the cut next to your eye.
Once staph gets under the skin, it can cause an infection which may manifest itself in blisters, boils, and skin rashes3. These infections are usually minor and can be easily treated with antibiotics. However, if
the bacteria reach your bloodstream, the infection can be much more serious, possibly even life-threatening, and can spread to your lungs, bones, joints, or heart.
Elite martial artists suffer from the effects of staph infections all time. In 2007, Cole Escovedo, a featherweight who fought at UFC 130, battled a spinal staph infection that temporarily paralyzed him from the waist down and nearly ended his career4. But professional martial artists aren’t the only ones at risk of staph infections. In 2016, there were 103 000 adults participating in martial arts programmes in England5, and a comparable number of young athletes training. Proper cleaning and sanitising procedures can limit the spread of bacterial infections and viruses.
What Are the Best Cleaners for Foam, Vinyl, and Rubber Mats?
Since EVA and XPE foam mats are made from a closed celled structure, they’re nonabsorbent. Therefore, these foam mats are safe to clean with a damp mop. Start by sweeping away all debris, removing any dirt, and then fill a bucket with a mild household cleaner.
At British Martial Arts Mats, we recommend cleaning mats with sugar soap or soapy water. Sugar soap is one of the best way to clean the mats without degradation, since the gentle sodium carbonate mixture with an added abrasive compound easily lifts dirt and grime. Never use detergents as the mats will deteriorate when the EVA material used to make the jigsaw mats reacts with the chemicals in the detergents. Bleach, even diluted in water, will cause discolouration to your mats, so avoid using it.
Try not to flood the area with water, because liquid can get in between the jigsaw connectors pieces, and seep down into the interlocking seams. Scrub the area with the mop to properly clean up sweat and bodily fluids, doing your best to remove any bacteria from the area.
Rubber and Vinyl Mats
Rubber and vinyl mats should be carefully cleaned because they can both absorb water. Even vulcanised rubber, which has been treated to reduce the size of the pores in the rubber, can absorb water, and with it bacteria and grime. In addition, mats wrapped in vinyl absorb water through the seams, soaking into the foam (mostly open celled, absorbent foams like polyurethane). Be sure to limit the amount of water that you’re using with both rubber and vinyl wrapped mats.
After sweeping or vacuuming up the dirt, clean the mats with a damp cloth or gym rag. Be sure to still use a cleaner like sugar soap to clean the area.
Whatever type of mat that you purchase, know that you won’t have to go out and buy specialised cleaning products for them. Always test the cleaner that you’re going to use on a test piece or on the underside of the mats to avoid discolouration or damage to your product. I’ve found it incredibly beneficial to choose a small section to clean before attacking all the mats with the same solution.
Cleaning and Covid-19
The Amateur Martial Association (AMA UK) released the document “AMA COVID-19 Policy Guidelines and Recommendations”6, which is an incredibly helpful set of guidelines on how to adhere to the government guidelines, like social distancing, hand washing, and sanitising surfaces.
Here are some cleaning tips gleaned from the article:
1. Clean Mats Before and After Each Training Session
The entrance to the training centre, and the hall itself and also any public areas, should be cleaned and disinfected before and after each class. This includes the mats and equipment that you use regularly. This might involve mild sanitising products like Lysol wipes and other anti-bacterial sprays.
2. Hand Washing and Hand Sanitiser
Whenever an attendee arrives for a training session, provide hand sanitiser for them. Instructors should also sanitise their hands. Always keep bottles of hand sanitiser available for participants and trainers. Also, instruct the athletes and trainers to shower after their sessions.
3.Cleaning Punching Bags
Whenever bags or pads are used, be sure that they’re sanitised, both before and after each use. For striking pads, clean out the arm holders.
For more information, read the article and reach out to the AMA to learn more about government guidelines for martial arts training centres.
In terms of sports, martial artists have the highest risk of transmitting infectious diseases amongst each other. In order to limit the spread of infectious diseases, have a cleaning plan in place and stick with it. Educate your staff, athletes, and instructors, making explicit all the requirements of your hygiene regime. Limiting the spread of diseases can be as simple as regularly cleaning your mats with soapy water, but it can also involve teaching about the benefits of hand washing, using hand sanitiser, and showering after each training session.
Also, keep an eye out for any signs of staph infections on athletes training at your gym, which includes blisters, boils, and skin rashes. Separate infected athletes from the other athletes, urging them to seek medical treatment of antibiotics to clear up their staph infections. In the same way that you correct technique, also keep a watchful eye out for someone who might suffer from a staph infection or another bacterial or viral infection. Having each other’s backs, which is an integral part of the spirit of brotherhood fostered in the martial arts community, involves being vigilant when preparing your training centre, and this takes place way before your athletes enter the gym.
1.Peterson AR, Nash E, Anderson BJ. Infectious Disease in Contact Sports. Sports Health. 2019;11(1):47-58. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6299350/
6.”AMA COVID-19 Policy Guidelines and Recommendations – 6-230620,” The Amateur Martial Association, accessed at https://amauk.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/AMA-Covid-19-Policy-Guidelines-and-Recommendations-6-230620-1.pdf
Author – David Van Kooten