After more than 18 years of being a regular gym-goer, I have some tales of pain and woe. Any men who are reading this may wish to cross their legs at this point.
One of the worst was early in my lifting career when I was doing some lateral raises with 20-pound dumbbells. Unfortunately I wasn’t paying close attention to my technique, and rather than stop the weights at my sides I let them clank together right in front of me. During one repetition they knocked together rather close to my body and severely pinched a highly sensitive part of my male anatomy.
I instantly dropped both dumbbells, one of which landed on my foot. Then I fell to the floor, curled up into a ball, and waited to die. What followed was a number of embarrassing questions from my fellow gym patrons that I’d rather not get into.
That wasn’t the only significant injury I suffered in the gym. Back when personal music devices were the size of lapdogs I often had a Walkman cassette player in a fanny pack blasting an all-Rush mix tape. This required regular repositioning of the pack from front to back and vice versa depending on the exercise being engaged in. One time I was sitting back into an incline bench press and had neglected to move the pack to the front of my body. I felt the tape player dig into my low back and my automatic response was to lurch forward. Being that I was holding some rather heavy dumbbells at the time, lurching forward caused my low back to go out. I was out of action for a few days from that one.
In case you haven’t clued in yet, I’m a pretty clumsy guy. I’ve had a few other less dramatic injuries, but they all boil down to either not utilizing proper technique or not paying attention to my surroundings. The gym is a place with lots of people, heavy things and moving parts, and I’ve learned the hard way to treat it with respect and be careful.
One of the most common injuries seems to come from treadmills. It’s not from people who are running on treadmills, however; it is people who leave treadmills running. Then some unsuspecting person comes and steps onto said treadmill that is still running, and they go flying. Since you can’t control the behavior of stupid people who leave treadmills running, you simply need to be aware that this can happen and always look before you leap.
Beyond that, there are a number of basic tips you can follow to keep yourself safe from injury at the gym:
Get some instruction, and follow it. Your best choice for a personal trainer is someone who has a kinesiology degree and some high-level certifications. I’d steer clear of the person who has a simple weekend certification and half their job is selling gym memberships.
Watch where you’re going. Remember the image of the lateral raise? Try to not walk too close to someone who is performing this exercise. I would imagine that getting clipped in the temple by a dumbbell is no fun at all. Watch for the pointy ends on moving barbells as well. When you’re the lifter ensure you’ve got a safe zone around you to prevent hurting others.
Beware of moving parts. More than just watching out for rogue treadmills, many weightlifting machines have areas that you need to keep your fingers away from, so be careful while using them.
Don’t overdo it. I don’t want you to “underdo” it, but if you’re new at exercise then I advise a gradual increasing of intensity rather than just pushing yourself to the limit in the first week. You don’t want to be so sore that you can’t even work the TV remote control. This also involves ensuring the inclusion of ample rest time and variety in your routine.
Ensure that machines are properly adjusted for your size. Take a moment and ensure that things like seat height, leg length, grip position etc. on weightlifting machines are in the proper position before using them.
Get a grip. Remember that when you’re using dumbbells or putting plates on a barbell that these things are heavy. Ensure that you’ve got a proper hold so you don’t drop it on someone’s foot, like your own.
Use a spotter. You don’t need this for every exercise, but there are certain types where you wouldn’t want to be in a position of not being able to lift something heavy off your chest. Use your common sense and have a knowledgeable person there to help you if you need it.
Wash your hands. Regular exercise can boost your immune system, but that doesn’t change the fact that gyms are often crawling with bacteria. Don’t touch your face while in the gym, and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you leave.
Oh, and if you’re curious, everything healed up OK from the lateral raise pinching debacle.
James Fell is a writer for uk.askmen.com