Exercise Safety Tips

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It has often been said that Crossfit gyms (boxes) are dangerous places. Truth is they can be dangerous but just like any other gym. We must take action when in the gym to protect ourselves from injury and from injuring someone else.  Today I’ve put together 7 exercise safety tips to keep you rockin your workout.

From your first day in your new gym you need to familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Crossfit has what we call Foundations where you must attend either one on one classes or group classes that introduce you to the moves, safety, and your surroundings. Only then will your membership kick in.

So given that, here are my top ways to be safe in your gym.


Learn and Know the Equipment

In Crossfit, this is taken care of in your Foundations that I mentioned above, but leaning takes time so after you successfully complete foundations it is up to you to practice with the equipment before getting right into it.

If you are in a regular gym, try to hire a personal trainer to help you learn how to use the equipment, what to do with it and how to do it the proper way to get results and to not injure yourself.


Warm Yourself Up

No I don’t mean stand around looking at yourself in the mirror, but instead get to the gym early and spend good quality time on mobility (stretching). A great warm up routine can and will prevent injuries increase your flexibility so you aren’t restricted by your own body when attempting a skill. Stretching will also speed up your recovery time after your workout so I recommend a cool down stretching routine as well.

If it is warm out, go for a run. Run 200, 400 meters or yards. Grab a mat and do stretching exercises you already know or you learn from a trainer/coach. What ever you are going to be doing for your hour or more, concentrate on those areas of your body first, but just because you aren’t doing snatches doesn’t mean you don’t need to work on your shoulders. Wear your knee sleeves while warming up to warm up your knees. This improves blood flow to your knees.

Most gyms have large rubber bands you can tie to a pole and use them to stretch your limbs out. Grab a roller and roll your back out, your hamstrings and your calves. Rollers are a great mobility tool so if your gym has them use them.


Pace Yourself Not Only if You are New

Crossfit workouts are all centered around number of reps/rounds and time which means go fast to get a good time and go fast to get a high number of reps or rounds. These workouts are very intense, are made up of a few different disciplines, and can take upwards of 30-40 minutes to complete. The idea is to go hard and fast to get a great score.

The only way to accomplish the workout successfully or even complete i is to pace yourself. Pick a pace up to your ability and stick to it to the end. This way you won’t completely deplete yourself cardiovascularly and physically so you can’d do the moves with correct form and end up injuring yourself.

Sometimes you find your pace too much for you and your form begins to fail. Your grip on the pullup bar becomes a little lazy and you feel your hands ripping. Protect yourself in advance with a pair of hand grips.

The same goes if you are new to a gym. Pace yourself and don’t do too much that you pull a muscle, sprain a wrist, or even break something. You want to be at the gym so be careful. Your body only has so much energy to work with and needing a cane get you up in the morning isn’t what you want.


Follow the Rules of the Gym/Box

In the Crossfit box, the rules are always posted and have to be adhered to for safety reasons. It is not out of the ordinary to find 20 people in rows lifting and dropping barbells only a few feet from where you are doing the same. Health and Safety is of utmost importance in your gym even though you may not think so.

If it says to stay off the floor when a class is on, then stay off. If it says clean your equipment then clean your equipment. Getting sick is as bad as getting a minor injury because it keeps you away from where you want to be. If it says don’t drop the weights, then don’t drop them. At a Crossfit gym dropping barbells is what we generally want to do after a lift because a lift is a lift so be careful where the bar ends up when you drop it.


Hydrate

Take your water bottle with you to the gym to stay well hydrated. Drink water before you leave for the gym or drink BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) hydration before and during your workout. These will certainly hydrate your body for a great workout.

I’m not a big fan or over the counter sports drinks. Too much salt. Unless you are doing an extremely intense, long and depleting workout, you aren’t losing enough salt for what is in a sports drink. If you want a drink to hydrate and to help performance, choose a good BCAA.


FORM!

Crossfit Foundations show you the foundations of lifting and gymnastics movements. From there you have a certified coach running the class. At the beginning of each class the coach will spend time on correct lifting techniques for what you will be doing in the WOD (workout of the day). Listen and learn. Use free gym time to practice tour form on all skills you need and them use that form you learned. Proper form is intended for 2 things, first safety, and second technique to get the bar up efficiently or to get you to the top of a rope quickly and efficiently.

In a regular gym where you show up when you want and do what you want, get a trainer to show you how to lift a dumbbell, to use an elliptical, to bench press.

Lifting a barbell from the floor with heavy weight will require very good form to prevent a back injury. You can help yourself lifting heavy weight by using a lifting belt to aid in your form.

The number of times I have been in a gym other than Crossfit and seen horrible form I can’t even count. Brawn eclipses form there and injuries occur.

Rowing machines are popular these days. Many gyms are stocking the Concept 2 rowers. Rowing takes technique and proper form, but not many people ask for help from a trainer on how to correctly use them. Back injuries are common on rowers.


Use Protective Gear

Olympic lifting has risen in popularity in such a short time and Crossfit has spun a lot of styles of gym that feature many things Crossfit gyms are famous for and therefore where ever you are, invest in proper protection. Olympic lifting may require you to wear wrist wraps, pullups hand grips, and box jumps shin guards.

You are susceptible to injury at any gym and ignoring protection because you feel you don’t need it or don’t know about it is ignorance. Turn on the TV and watch a sport and look at the protection they wear. Are we as amateurs better than them, of course not

I’ve just covered what you should be doing in any gym you go to anywhere in the world. I have witnessed fellow Crossfit athletes injure their shoulder or back when form fails them. I have seen a barbell bounce across the gym with heavy weight on it when someone has dropped it from over their head.

 

Me, I’ve been an active fittness buff for as long as I can remember and 5 years ago I put all of my efforts into the great sport of CrossFit.  This sport has elevated my fitness to new levels through a lot of hard work and dedication and I want to share this with you. Fitness keeps us healthy so get out there.

32 thoughts on “Exercise Safety Tips

  1. Hey there – This is a fantastic article and one that should be written more often.  We run a couple of Pilates studios and at least once a week we have people come in who have hurt themselves in the Gym or doing crossfit type workouts.  We talk them through their injuries and how they got them.  I can guarantee you that there are three main causes of thier injuries which are:

    1. Not warming up

    2. Poor form in the exercise (I am a string beleiver that all of these forms of exercise are completely safe as long as the instructor is fastidious about form and technique in the class)

    3.  Previous injuries that are not revealed.

    These people always blame the exercise type when 99% of the time it is absolutely due to one fo the things you have listed.  

    We have a ‘things to look for’ tip sheet for our instructors which I have to admit is missing some of your tips.  Would you mind if I shared this page into my instructors group?

    Paul

  2. I am glad you mention form in your article. It is so important to learn to perform each exercise correctly and to make sure that you are doing it correctly 100 percent of the time to avoid injuries.  

    It is far better to do eight reps in perfect form than double the number with bad form just because you are getting tired. 

    This is important especially with cross fit as sometimes the speeds that you are moving at make it difficult to think about how you are performing the movements.  Remember that injuring yourself will end up keeping you away from your exercise.

    • Exactly.  It is so hard to maintain form in a Crossfit WOD especially a long one with a lot of reps.  I know for myself I can hardly think by the time my form starts to fail.  What keeps me focussed on the form is the warmup at the beginning when we go through the movements during the WOD

      Also, we have great coaches that walk the floor and correct and suggest, or even stop people to correct form.

  3. When I read your article on CrossFit and exercise safely, I  reached a part of your article that brought a little smile to myself. In m y younger years I always imagined myself as a fit person. I was tall and strong and played football. I was still a bachelor and I had just moved to seaside town in a small flat that faced the ocean. There was a gym nearby that looked enticing, so I decide to join. I got on that rowing machine, you know, the one that you said can cause you an injury. Nearby was an Australian woman swimming champion. Her muscles were bigger then mine , but I decided to show off my abilities and went crazy on the rower. Well, guess what? I ended up with a hernia. I have  to laugh now. I wish your blogs had been around in those days, or you had been in the gym and warned me.  To get back to the point, I’m interested in starting an exercise program with a gym or maybe with equipment in my home. I’m an older man now and I suffer from osteoporosis. Is it safe to exercise with this disease. My doctor told me I had to strengthen the muscle around my bones, but I have no idea how to start. Can you give me some advice? Thanks Jim

    • A hernia.  Ok.  Now that is a popular one in gyms.

      As far as workout advice and osteoporosis that is better served by your physician or a physiotherapist.  If you can find a trainer/coach who has knowledge of osteoporosis then they can help as well.

      I know a fair bit about osteoporosis, but don’t feel qualified to answer that one, sorry

  4. Hey,

    I agree, safety first. As I read this post I thought about the fact that I need to book a personal trainer for my return to the gym since my knee surgery. You definitely covered the dos and don’ts when it comes to safety at the gym and that is a great thing. You warn about warming up and cooling down before every workout. This is something I am guilty of, I think I am moving slow enough that I will just warm up as I excise and I will cool down slowly after the routine. it has been many years since my husband and I joined a gym, we both played hockey and baseball in the summer and felt that was enough exercise. But life has changed and we need to heed the warnings about safety in an active roll. Often times I think our bravoto stops us from doing warm up routines that make us look weak. But as you have pointed out the dangers and chance of injury, it is time we listen. I also like that you point out the protective gear and hydration. What is BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids), I have never heard of this drink, and have always used gatorade?

    Mary

  5. Hi and thanks for the great advice you always offer on your site. I am always impressed how you get through your messages to your site viewers. Especially to do with safety. I am wondering if you would tell me how do you decide what to look for in a gym when joining for the first time? Any advice on this would be great. Thanks Kenny 

  6. I’ve always struggled with the warming up side of exercising due to me trying my best to fit it all into a busy lifestyle – so glad you covered it properly here!

    I’m also not that clued up about the types of warm up exercises I should be taking on before hitting the gym (other than the short run spurts that you mentioned). 

    Could you maybe give me a short rundown of the warm up routine you go through before you start? (if it’s not too rude to ask!).

    Cheers in advance,

    Chris

    • No it’s not too rude to ask.

      First off I grab a mat and a foam roller and roll my entire back on it for about 5 min.  Then my hamstrings.

      I sit and grab my toes and hold for about a minute to stretch my hamstrings.

      We have thick and long rubber bands that we tie to one of the vertical posts and grab it and pull to stretch our arms out.  There are also other rubber band stretches, but too complicated to write here.

      I do maybe 30 to 40 squats as well and go for a 400 meter run.

      This is pretty general because I really can’t describe some of the stretches without writing a mobility class. 🙂

  7. Hi and thanks for the great advice you always offer on your site. I am always impressed how you get through your messages to your site viewers. Especially to do with safety. You also make the valid point that not just beginners need to be careful, injuries can happen to anyone. I am wondering if you would tell me how do you decide what to look for in a gym when joining for the first time? Any advice on this would be great. Thanks Kenny 

    • Well, a Crossfit gym is much different than a regular gym we all are familiar with.  They should be like a big family or community, you should be made to feel welcome when you first come in.

      I also would look at the coaches and their accreditation level and then I would watch a class or 2 to see how the coaches work with everyone.

      I think these are very important at a Crossfit gym because of how different and intense they are.

  8. Such common sense and sound advice!   But its easy to take shortcuts in the gym and risk injury.   Glad you brought up these refresher points.

    For me, the warm-up is the most important part of the workout.  It sets the tone for your whole time in the gym.  So easy to hurt yourself if not properly warmed up.  People get in a hurry and jump in full tilt in their intense workout…and strain, pull, or stress something and then can’t work out for a long time while they need to recover.

    Also great point of asking for help on form.  Even when we think we are using good form…an experienced trainer can make sure we aren’t missing something obvious in our routine.

    Great info for a safe and rewarding workout!

    • As I have written I spend about a half hour dong mobility before my class.  Everything I do is geared to what I am going to do in the class.  If there is pull-ups or over head lifting, I make sure my shoulders are loose.  Squats and deadlifts I work on hamstrings etc.

      The idea of stretching after the WOD and not before doesn’t fly with me.  I cannot function properly without a stretching first.

  9. Excellent breakdown on how to keep yourself safe! As I’ve been doing this for a few years I pretty much know how to keep myself safe, however that doesn’t mean I should not be reminded. 

    These tips will really help newcomer to the game, even after they’ve done required 1 on 1 or group classes.

    Last week we had a new guy (actually a friend of mine) for his first introduction to crossfit. Common mistake he made was being to overconfident… 🙂 Nothing serious happened though, but I had a bit of a laugh with him. 😉

    • Thx

      I bet you did.  Lots of people come in for their first time and get a good old fashion beating.  Some come back and some run far and run fast.

  10. Hi and what a good point you make about the fact it’s not just newbies that are at risk of injury if they don’t pace themselves. I have seen really experienced CrossFit practitioners get hurt because they pushed themselves too quickly. What would recommend to be a good training regimen for beginners who want to get into CrossFit? Thanks Kenny

    • I think you should try some running (not too long distance 400, 800), a lot of pushups and situps and if you have access to a barbell, do some barbell lifting.

      Yes, as veterans we sometimes forget about pacing and after the WOD and sprawled out on the ground, someone usually says ‘i started too fast and died at the end’.

  11. Great post with awesome and important tips!! I did CrossFit for a bit last year, and I know well all about the injuries from not wearing the protective gear and not using proper form.  I was sore a days after doing dead lifts.  But luckily the instructor does come around and check your form and correct you when you’re not doing it properly – but it only takes those few times to cause injury.  That’s one thing that I really liked about CrossFit – it’s like having a personal trainer for every gym session.  What’s your favorite WOD?  I loved the pull-ups, push-ups, burpees.  It was killer!!

    • You did Crossfit a bit?  You should still be doing it if you liked it.  You are right, when you have a good coach it is like having a personal trainer every time you go.

      My favorite WOD has to be a toss up between Diane and Kelly.  I do like Murph on the side 🙂

  12. Thanks for all the tips! 

    I’ve never done Crossfit but used to go to the gym and some of the equipment can be intimidating if you don’t know how to use it. It’s a great idea to have someone or a personal trainer show you the ropes prior to getting started. As for Crossfit I can definitely appreciate the importance of that initial 1:1 prior to getting your membership. Safety is key!

    All the best to you

    Christine 

    • Yes it is a great idea to get to know the ropes before you start.  Thank for stopping by and leaving your great comment.

  13. Hey Stew, great post. I’m a man that loves to exercise and personally, this post was right on time and I’ll take the opportunity to share it and save it to my personal files so I can have something to refer back to. It is important to be safe when exercising and your post outlines the perfect way to do just that.

    I have a question for you, what would you recommend for someone who is looking to push themselves a little bit as far as doing bench pressing above 150 lb? Otherwise your post was great!

    • I would suggest Nordic Wrist Wraps or any that are the shorter type with velcro as they have the best support.  Remember when doing bench press to keep your shoulders pinched back and elbows tight to your body.  This is the best workout and the safest. Let elbows away from your body and you are exposing your shoulders too much.

  14. training sensibly and safely has to be practiced at all times while working out and that goes for CrossFit and normal gyms as you pointed out and most gyms have safety rules quite clearly signposted! 

    It’s a great idea listing your safety points and I think one of the most common ones you see is people not warming up properly. They just go strain into their workout.

    I’m a big believer in technical form. When your technique fails while lifting then that is the time to finish as you increase your risk of an injury.

    Have you had an injury caused by safety neglect?

    • Have I had an injury because of safety.  I guess you might say that.  I ave injured my back twice dong multiple heavy deadlifts (350lb) because I felt in the groove both times, rushed to the bar, didn’t wear my belt and rushed the lift. Luckily only minor but off gym for 2 weeks.  Being off drove me crazy

  15. hello stew,

    I am one of those newbs constantly getting injured but so far it has mostly been because I over-do it and forget that my body has aged over 20 years since I learnt to lift.  If only my brain could slow down a bit too.

    I wore gloves for a while until my ex-wife started up the insults and weakling jokes.  I am glad she’s gone and now I can do things my own way.  I have gloves but haven’t looked into the proper hand straps yet, thanks for the prompt.

    • You can get back in and age is only a mental barrier because we let it be.  Give grips a try and see how they feel. Its all in what is most comfortable

  16. I enjoy going to the gym in my area. We do not have a cross-fit gym near us, so I have hired a trainer to help me with my workouts. My trainer is a former female body-builder so she is on top of proper form and protection while at the gym!

    Because I recently had carpal tunnel surgery I have been hesitant on returning to my gym. What things might you suggest for protecting my hands while I do things like pushups and planks which are part of my warm up? I am needing something that will offer a lot of wrist and palm protection. Do you have any suggestions? I haven’t done much working out since the surgery in May because of hand pain when I put pressure on them. I haven’t used any gloves or anything, just looking for suggestions. Thank you!

    • That you have to refer to a physiotherapist simply because the wrist support I talk about prevents your wrists from bending.  You cannot do plank or pushups with wrist wraps.

      As far as palm protection you won’t need it unless you are constantly lifting a very heavy bar or dumbbell or singing in some form from a high bar.

      Talk to your doctor or a physiotherapist.  Physiotherapists are probably the best to consult with.

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