Health clubs and home gyms are supposed to be healthy places. But just about any kind of exercise can cause injuries, especially when it is intense or equipment is involved. This fact was brought home by the death in April 2015 of a well-known tech executive, David Goldberg, who suffered major head trauma from a fall off a treadmill in a hotel gym. And a few months earlier, Senator Harry Reid from Nevada suffered loss of sight in one eye as well as broken facial and rib bones, reportedly because his elastic exercise bands broke or slipped, catapulting him into a cabinet.
More than 60,000 Americans go to hospital emergency rooms each year for injuries caused by gym equipment (not including free weights), according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, though deaths are rare. Treadmills account for a disproportionate share of these injuries (about 24,000). In addition, free weights cause thousands of serious injuries every year, most often when people drop barbells on themselves.
Here are some basic safety tips to observe while exercising:
- Learn how to use new equipment by working with a trainer or reading the instructions carefully. Become familiar with the control panel on a treadmill, for instance.
- Focus on what you’re doing, and pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t be distracted by the touch screen on the machine or your cell phone.
- When using a treadmill, don’t stand on the belt as it starts moving; straddle the belt and let it move slowly before stepping on; gradually accelerate; don’t step off until the belt stops; know how to use the emergency off switch. If there’s a safety key, clip it to your clothing. It’s connected to the console, and should you fall, it stops the treadmill.
- Be careful about exercising alone, especially in a sometimes solitary place like a hotel gym. If you have an accident and are unconscious, there may be no one to help you.
- Make sure that the pin securing a stack of weights in a resistance machine is firmly inserted. If it pops out while you’re exercising, the weights will crash down and the sudden lack of resistance may send you flying; the pin may even become a projectile.
- Place home equipment a safe distance from walls, furniture, windows, and mirrors.
- Make sure home exercise equipment is well constructed. Flimsy or wobbly home machines are more likely to cause injuries.
- When using an elastic exercise band, anchor it firmly to an object that won’t move, so it can’t slip free and strike an eye or send you flying. Wrap it securely around your hand or foot so it won’t slip. If an exercise calls for standing on one end of the band, it’s safest to tie or loop the band around your foot; the knot should be secure. If you tie it to a doorknob, make sure the door won’t open.
- If you have long hair, keep it tied up so it can’t get caught in a machine. Don’t wear dangling jewelry.
- If you have children or pets, keep them away from home exercise equipment, especially when you’re using it. Keep machines behind locked doors; unplug treadmills.
See also: 7 Common Lies About Exercise Equipment.