Protecting Yourself in the Gym
There are lots of ways a gym can help you get in shape. But when used improperly, some of the most common equipment in a health club can be dangerous. The key is knowing how to protect yourself.
Start with the bench press. In a typical gym you'll see the bench and a rack to hold the bar at the end. If you watch what others are doing, most people put the weight (plates) on the bar, slide the collars in place to prevent the weight from slipping, lie down and start lifting; and they do it alone.
Seems OK, until the person on the bench gets tired. What happens if they can't get the weight back into the rack? If the bench presser doesn't have a workout partner helping or "spotting" them, there's nobody to assist with the weight if their muscles fail. Now the weight comes down on the bench presser's chest, throat or head.
That's not the end of the world if you haven't put collars on. You can twist to one side and the weight will dump off the bar, freeing you up. But if you put collars on to prevent the weight from sliding around, you're stuck.
You can minimize or avoid the problem three ways. Option one, when possible get someone to spot you lifting heavy weights. If you falter, your spotter can help you finish, make sure you maintain proper form or rescue you. But a spotter isn't always available.
Option two is, if you're alone, don't put collars on the bar when bench pressing. With no collars you can dump the weights if there's a problem.
The best choice is option three. That's where you do your bench press inside something called a power rack. With a power rack you can put collars on the bar to prevent the weights from sliding around and you can do the exercise without a spotter. You simply adjust the metal bars on each side of the rack so they catch the weight if you drop it, not your chest. If there's a problem, drop the bar and just slide out from underneath.
Alternative exercises include bench pressing with dumbbells instead of a barbell, so you can drop the weight to one side or the other if there's a problem. Pushups are a safer option as well.
Some people will use equipment called a Smith Machine, thinking it's a safer way to bench press. Instead of being able to move freely, the bar is locked into a vertical path. That's fine when you're doing exercises that have short ranges of motion, like calf raises or shrugs. But if you try and do a bench press with a Smith Machine, you're forcing your body through an unnatural range of motion. It puts way too much stress on your joints and stabilizer muscles pressing straight up and down. Avoid the Smith Machine for bench presses.
Another common piece of equipment to use safety precautions around is the treadmill. There's a cord or tether, often attached to a magnet on most treadmills. You're supposed to clip one end of the tether onto a piece of your clothing. Then if you stumble or fall, the tether pulls the magnet and the belt stops moving immediately. ALWAYS use the clip, here's why.
Depending on how fast the treadmill is moving, if you fall and the belt doesn't shut off, you can be thrown off the back of the machine. Even worse, you might slip and an exposed hand, arm or leg rubs against the belt, creating a severe friction burn. In some cases, people have fallen off the back, only to have the belt grab them and start to pull them under the machine. You prevent all that from happening by simply attaching the tether.
Use safety equipment whenever it's available and protect yourself. If you're not sure what you're doing, read the instructions on the machine or ask a professional.
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