Warning.. Unsafe to Train! How to Avoid Injuries in the Gym

How to Avoid Injuries

You must first believe in yourself to succeed

Forced layoffs. Don't you just hate them ? No self-respecting bodybuilder likes to lose ground through missed workouts, especially when the reason for the muscle-wasting inactivity is avoidable injury. Think you're above lamebrain dangerous gym habits that can sideline you for weeks on end? Well, maybe you are. Then again maybe not Check out what fitFLEX has to say on the subject before you take another workout.

Nobody likes to get injured. Certainly no one plans to. Still, injuries happen. If you train with weights, statistics show you will eventually suffer some sort of injury-while avoiding them is just using common sense. It's warming up properly, using training aids like knee wraps and training belts, and having spotters on maximum attempts, especially on exercises like bench presses, squats and incline presses where there is a real possibility of getting stuck with a weight. You'd think people would know better, but every year you read about some poor fellow who dies because he tries to do a max bench press training alone in his home gym with no one there to spot him. He can't make the lift, and he's found with the bar stuck across his neck.

A lot of injuries are due to showing off or ego. I remember an incident that occurred a few years ago when a top bodybuilder from Quebec was doing a photo shoot in a gym. He was heckled by some powerlifters about bodybuilders being weak and not having the power to lift heavy weights the way they did. Instead of ignoring them he became so upset that he literally ran over to a bench press to attack the 450-pound bar cold, without any warmup. He was in such a hurry to prove to these powerlifters how strong he was that he ignored the fact that his hands were covered in baby oil. He lay down on the bench, took the bar from the rack and proceeded to bench this huge weight. Halfway up his hands slipped from the bar and it crashed to his chest. He tore his pec so badly that his career ended right then and there.

That's an extreme example of not using common sense, but it just goes to show you what can happen if you don't use your brain when you train. I've come up with some safety rules you should always adhere to when training in the gym. If you follow them, you will greatly reduce the risk of suffering a serious training injury.


This is just common sense. You need to pre-pare the joints and the muscles for the heavy work to come. By doing light stretching and warmup sets, you loosen tight muscles, lubricate the joints, tendons and ligaments, and warm up the area by bringing blood into the muscles. It is especially important to warm up the knees and lower back before any thigh work, such as squats or leg presses, and the wrists, elbows and shoulders before any upper-body work, especially heavy bench presses and military presses. If you try to handle heavy weights before your body is ready, you're only asking for trouble.

It's also a good idea to warm up the whole body before you start to train, either by doing some aerobic activity for five or ten minutes, followed by a little stretching and light calisthenics (pushups, freehand squats, jumping jacks, etc.) or by beginning your workout with some ab-training, as well as warming up the specific muscle you plan to train. Many bodybuilders skip warmups because they are in such a big hurry to get to the weights, but a few minutes of warming up can prevent an injury that will set you back for months or even end your career. So be smart and take the extra few minutes to warm up properly.


One of the most common causes of injuries has to be use of improper form and excessive cheating. You know what I'm talking about: dropping into a deep squat with a heavy weight and then rebounding back up, or bouncing a heavy bar off your chest to try to do a heavier bench press, or leaning over backward to push up a heavy press or to curl a heavy weight. Yes, there is a definite relationship between how strong you are and how big you are, but in bodybuilding it means how strong you are for x number of reps of a particular exercise done in good form.

A bit of cheating on the final reps of an exercise to help drive the bar past the sticking point is one thing, but if you go overboard on the cheating you're only asking for trouble. If longevity is one of your goals, and if you want to avoid injuries, stick to strict form on 85 percent of your reps. Cheat only moderately and only when a muscle is really warmed up.


Some time ago I attended an all-day seminar sponsored by the Ontario Chiropractic Association at which one of the guest speakers, Dr. Bruce Corn-stock, gave a lecture on the causes and prevention of bodybuilding injuries. Dr. Comstock explained that most injuries suffered by bodybuilders are due to repetitive stress as opposed to trauma. Common injuries are caused by long-term wear and tear on the joints and tissues, not by one sudden traumatic experience such as dropping a weight on your toe or tearing a muscle while attempting a max lift.

The gist of his lecture was that certain exercises are far more dangerous than others. The exercises he listed that cause the majority of bodybuilding injuries were those that place tremendous stress on wrists, elbows, shoulders, lower back and knees.

For example, the behind-the-neck press, he explained, can cause a shearing action on the shoulder joint, as can bench presses to the neck. For building the delts he suggested avoiding behind-the-neck presses and doing dumbbell presses with the palms facing in. This way the shoulders are not in such a vulnerable position. Another example he gave was doing the bent-over barbell row with a rounded back, instead of arching up, because the latter style places undue stress on the lower back. He suggested avoiding straight-leg situps and leg raises, which place too much strain on the hip flexors and lower back. He recommended keeping the wrists locked on any curls to avoid a shearing effect on the wrists. He advised against lat pull-downs to the neck, which place too much stress on the neck and shoulders, suggesting chins and pulldowns to the chest instead.

The scope of this article doesn't allow me to go over every exercise, but to avoid injuries think safety and longevity when designing your workout. Avoid exercises that place excessive stress on the joints.


If you train at a commercial gym, the management has responsibility for ensuring all the equipment is in good working order, but, just the same, you're always wise to inspect a piece of equipment before you use it in case there is some kind of problem. This is especially important on such exercises as cable rows, lat pulldowns or any other cable equipment such as cable crossovers. Several times I have seen people get hit in the head or face and cut badly when doing cable rows because the cable broke or the S-hook slipped and came back and hit them.

You should also make sure dumbbell collars are tight whenever you do exercises like one-arm triceps extensions, lying dumbbell triceps extensions or dumbbell flys. If a collar is loose and the plates fall off, they can drop on your head, your foot or your face, give you a nasty bruise, or even break bones.

For the same reason you should always use collars on any barbell exercises you do. Most gyms that have a lot of Olympic bars also have plenty of the spring-loaded collars that are fast and convenient to slip on and off, so there is no excuse for not using them. If you fail to secure your plates with collars and you tip a bar to the side, the plates will fall off, causing a vicious whipping action as the heavy end of the bar crashes to the floor. If you're squatting when this happens, you'll twist your lower back severely. If it happens while you're benching, you're almost sure to hurt your shoulders and possibly your wrist and elbows too.


You should always ask someone to spot you whenever making a max attempt so that he or she can come to your rescue if you can't complete the lift. This is especially important on exercises where you can get stuck with a weight on your chest or shoulders, such as squats, bench presses, incline presses, close-grip bench presses, behind-the-neck presses and decline presses. In fact, when trying for a max squat, having two spotters is best-one at each end of the bar - because the kind of weights most people use can be too much for one spotter to handle. In training nothing is scarier than getting stuck with a ponderous weight on your shoulders in a low squat position or with a bar on your chest that you can't get up. Don't put yourself in a position where you can get stuck under a heavy weight. Never try maximum attempts on those kinds of exercises when you're training alone. Use a spotter whenever you can.


Good sense suggests use of training aids such as lifting belts, knee, wrist and elbow wraps to support your lower back and joints and to use wrist straps, gloves and sponges to reinforce your grip. Remember to think smart, think safety and think longevity when you train. Any time you take stress off a joint or your lower back you're prolonging your career and preventing the repetitive-stress kind of injuries that come from long-term wear and tear.


I never squat heavy unless I'm in a power rack or cage. I'm amazed to see guys take five or six plates off a step-down rack or regular squat rack, step back and squat with no safety backup - not even a spotter sometimes-while a power cage is ten feet away. That doesn't even make sense to me. If you squat in the power cage, there is absolutely no chance of getting stuck with a weight on your shoulders because of the catch racks set to rest the bar on in case you can't get back up. Your gym may not have a power cage, but if it does there is no excuse. Failing to use it is just plain dumb, especially if you're making max attempts on heavy squats.

The same is true of bench presses. If the bench you are using has safety racks, use them - even if you have someone to spot you while you bench. Who knows? Your spotter may not be watching you as you lose your grip, or he might get a bad cramp just as you need his help. That extra backup is always advisable in case you need it.


Holding your breath can cause what is called a Valsalva effect, or an impedance of blood flow to the brain. This can cause you to black out briefly. Can you imagine what might happen if you blacked out right in the middle of a heavy squat, bench press or behind-the-neck press? Even if you don't drop a weight on yourself, you could black out and fall, hitting your head on the floor or a piece of equipment.


Be extra careful when returning the bar to the rack on squats, benches, incline presses and behind-the-neck presses. One of the most painful injuries you can sustain is to pinch the skin of your hand on the catcher rack when returning the bar to the rack. This can happen very easily if you're not paying attention to what you are doing, especially on home-unit bench presses that have narrow uprights. A few years ago a guy at the gym I trained at caught his thumb between the bar and the rack while attempting to center the bar as he lay on the bench. It caused a nasty cut that bled profusely. Getting up from the bench, he went into shock and blacked out. Witnesses said his head bounced off the floor as he fell. He suffered a concussion, as well as requiring stitches to close the wound in his hand and being unable to train for weeks, proving you can never be too careful.


Always keep the gym floor uncluttered. Return dumbbells to racks, keep loose plates on the plate holders, and return any barbell to its proper place. Many injuries occur when someone fails to see a loose weight lying on the floor and trips over it. I've stumbled over loose equipment more than a few times in my life. Fortunately I've never suffered anything worse than a bump or bruise, but someone could just as easily break a leg, suffer a cut, or even tear a muscle. Everyone should do his part to keep the gym safe and tidy by returning any equipment used to its proper place once he's done with it.


Training in a busy gym is kind of like driving a car. You constantly have to be alert to what the people around you are doing, and you have to be careful where you are walking. Once, as I tried to squeeze past a guy who was doing leg extensions, he brought his legs up suddenly and the cross bar of the machine caught my shin and gave me a painful skin burn. I've also been clunked on the head as I walked too close to someone who was doing dumbbell laterals. I even had some jerk drop a plate on my toe as I was standing by a plate holder talking to someone. The moral of the story is, be alert. The more crowded the gym is, the more alert you must be.


The more you read and learn about the sport of bodybuilding, the less chance of your inadvertently doing something that can cause you harm. Read all the books and magazines you can. Also learn about yourself, which exercises cause you pain and discomfort and which ones don't. If an exercise has a potential for pain or injury, eliminate it from your routine and try another exercise in its place. Not everybody has the structure to do squats and heavy deadlifts. Not everybody can do behind-the-neck presses and dips. That's perfectly all right. There are plenty of other exercises to train a muscle group - dozens in fact. Find the ones that are safest for you. You'll avoid injuries and enjoy your training more too.


If you carefully follow the safety rules and tips in this article, you should have many years of injury-free training. Not only will you avoid injuries that force unwanted lay-offs, but you will also enjoy freedom from pain, which makes training and life more pleasant - and that is conducive to hard and productive workouts as well, so you can develop the kind of physique you want. Isn't that why you took up bodybuilding in the first place?

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