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How to Avoid Serious Injury at the Gym

We all probably have some stories to tell about pain and woe at the gym, and not just from working out a little too hard. Both minor and significant injuries can and do occur, usually due to improper technique or simply not paying attention to our surroundings.

One of the most common injuries happens on treadmills. People running on treadmills aren’t the problem, it’s people who leave the treadmill running when they are done. The next person comes up and steps on the already running treadmill and…you can guess the rest. Much as gyms may try to post notices reminding people not to leave treadmills running, this seems to be a common problem so look before you leap onto that treadmill.

Here are some general strategies to stay safe and avoid serious injury at the gym:

  1. Sign up for a private session. When you first sign up for a gym, sign up for a session with a personal trainer. This session will serve many purposes, and one primary goal is to acquaint you with the idiosyncrasies of the equipment in this particular gym. You may feel you’ve been to enough gyms to know what you are doing, but every gym has its own quirks and the personal trainer can lead you through them while also offering you an update on your own workout and techniques. So even if you don’t find anything new with the equipment, you’ll still get something out of the session. Choose a personal trainer with certification and education, and avoid people who seem to mostly spend their time selling gym memberships.
  2. Warm up. Many people skip warming up to speed up their workouts. It’s always a good idea to prepare your body for the effort of working out. You only need to spend about 5 minutes doing some light cardio to get your blood pumping and soften up those joints, thus reducing your risk of injury.
  3. Keep your eyes open at all times. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t get too close to anyone who is performing exercises with free weights or even on the weight machines. You could get clipped by a dumbbell and it could hurt. When you yourself are doing the lifting, ensure you have a safe zone around you before beginning each set.
  4. Watch out for the moving parts in weight machines, to avoid pinched fingers.
  5. Work your way up gradually. After not exercising for a while, many people leap back into the gym and try to do their former routines or even just keep up with the guy next to them. This is a recipe for serious soreness and possibly serious injury. Start out easy; go to the gym every other day and work your way up. Consistency and progression are the best ways to both achieve your fitness goals and avoid injury. This is another good reason for that session with the personal trainer.
  6. Vary your workouts.  If you never change your routine, it will lose its effectiveness and certain parts of your body may not be properly trained, which can lead to injury. Cross training will ensure balance throughout the body, which protects muscles and joints.
  7. Set the machines properly. Be sure your trainer shows you exactly how to set the machines properly for you. Seat height, grip position, and leg length all affect both effectiveness and injury risk. It’s worth the extra few seconds to get it right.
  8. Find a spotter. Certain exercises are much safer with a spotter, because you wouldn’t want to find yourself unable to lift something off your chest. They can also give you a little extra motivation when you need it.
  9. Wash your hands often. Although exercise is excellent for the immune system, gyms are notoriously bacteria-filled. Wash your hands before and after going to the gym.


Be careful of the competitive vibe you might feel at the gym. It’s tempting to either show off a bit or try to do a little more than the person next to you, but if it’s too much weight or too fast or whatever, you’ll only end up hurting yourself and being able to do less than you did before. Follow your trainer’s instructions and do the exercises that are right for you.

Another important thing to remember is to watch out for signs of a forthcoming injury. If you start experiencing a bit more pain than usual, don’t ignore it. Stop, take a break, and come back to that exercise in a couple of days. If it still hurts, consult your trainer before continuing. You may have a technique problem that is easily corrected, or you may have the beginnings of an injury. Either way, he or she will be able to get you back on the right track.

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