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Safety in the Gym - Are You Putting Your Athletes at Risk

Sep 1, 2007
Are you setting yourself up for disaster by not taking the following safety precautions when training athletes in the gym?

The weight room in a gym can be a very dangerous place for those more novice athletes entering the weight room for the first time. Often the ego will prevent the young athlete from asking for help and this is not the place you want to learn from experience.

It is up to the coach, trainer or gym staff to promote gym safety and teach athletes how to properly use the equipment.

The best thing to do is to book a one hour session with the gym staff and all of your athletes in the gym and have them go over all the safety issues, common mistakes and how every piece of equipment is used. It will benefit the gym staff and make their job easier in the future.

Rules of the gym should be posted at the entrance of the gym and should be clear for all to read. A photo copy of the rules should placed in the membership packet for people to read on their own.

General rules include:
Replace weights after use
Use a spotter
No food in the gym
No chewing gum
Must wear proper shoes, no sandals allowed!
Bring a towel to wipe down your own sweat
No "horse play"
Drinks must be in a plastic bottle, no cups.
Wear proper attire-no jeans as they can tear the vinyl on the benches

Floor Design:
Designing the outlay of the gym floor requires a lot of knowledge, experience and foresight. There are companies who have consultants that assist and advise new gyms when it comes to what equipment and where to place it in the gym. Restricting factors such as space and financial capital will also affect the way your gym is set-up. The floor space is extremely important as the floor will take a beating when the weights are thrown on the floor. There are several shock-absorbing rubberized materials on the market today.

Free weights will be located in a separate area to the universal machines. This area should contain the bench presses.

Another key point is to have the machines together with regards to the muscle/body parts worked. People will often do leg extensions followed by leg curls or calf raises so group these machines together.

All athletes should complete a short course on lifting technique. A 30-60 minute session early on will prevent a lot of injuries and problems in the future. I have seen many mishaps in gyms, which nearly all were preventable.

One such occasion was when I was a teenager and working out in the gym with a friend and his brother. My friend was using the leg press machine and was pushing out the last few reps when he took his legs off the platform prior to turning in the safety handles to prevent the press from coming down on the athlete.

Well, the machine and a lot of weight came down pinning his legs. With neither of us there to spot him during that particular exercise he was trapped. Luckily we were able to push the press back up and there was no damage to his legs. My friend went on to be ranked number one in the world for tennis and he had a great career, however, this may not have happened due to this weight room mishap.

Another common mistake is when athletes are loading and unloading the bar on the bench press. Some unload one side of the bar not realising that the bar will flip up if it becomes unbalanced due to excessive weight on one side.

The key is to have the athletes perform several exercises with only the bar and no weight. Then once good technique has been established, move on to adding some lighter weights. Having the correct technique is of the utmost importance.

I recommend demonstrating and having the athlete perform the following exercises. These are often the most common exercises performed as well as where a lot of the injuries occur.

Bench press
Dumbbell flyes
Leg press
Military shoulder press

These exercises can also teach the athlete how to spot. The more advanced power lifting exercises can be taught at a later date but require the most supervision and training (eg. Power cleans)

Shoes need to have good traction so as you don't slip. They need to be comfortable with laces tied up. They also need to support the foot and prevent lateral movement of the foot in the shoe.

Are recommended to prevent blisters and skin damage. They are also beneficial for keeping the hands dry and allowing for a better grip of bars. They also provide extra support.

No jewellery
Clanging items
No belts or jeans
Tie shoe laces
No sandals or open-toed shoes
No scarves as they get caught in machines
Remove pens from pockets, phones and other small items

Safety tips:
Use mirrors to assist with technique
The gym should provide for proper ventilation and air conditioning
Must have access to water
Provide small towels
Check machine cables weekly to prevent un-expected breaks
Conduct weekly maintenance checks of all equipment
Keep floor mats clean
No overhead hanging signs
Cover all power outlets
Have a safe distance between equipment
Always have gym staff on duty
Good lighting in all areas of the gym
Lookout for water on the floor around the water fountain

This list could go on indefinitely. As mentioned earlier, the gym is not the place you want to learn from experience. So foresee potential problems and devote a good hour to walking around the gym and looking for these potential problems before they occur.

Some of the dangerous things that I have seen over the years include:
Athletes tripping over the machine cords that were not properly covered
Improper unloading of plates on bars for the bench press causing the bar to tip over.
Athletes slipping on the wet floor near the water fountain
Nuts on the dumbbell not being tight enough and the plates sliding off landing on the lifter
Athletes not using a spotter on the bench press and squat exercises
Athletes falling off the back of the treadmill
Cables snapping during a lift causing injury
Improper technique
Spotters not paying attention or being distracted
Dropping of weights on feet

Any one of these mishaps could bring about serious injury and end an athlete's career. Some have made these mistakes and have become world famous athletes, some have suffered career ending injuries. Don't be a casualty!
About the Author
David Horne is a former professional tennis player who has created several online sports web sites including Global Sports Zone which is the Ultimate Sports Directory for all sports fans! You can also visit the global web site for Tennis Coaching at Global Sports Coaching
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