How to Stay Safe in the Gym
Though the gym is designed to be as safe as possible, everyone has the responsibility to keep themselves and each other out of harm. A room full of heavy weights, machinery, and energetic people can be quite hazardous, and it's not just beginners who make mistakes. I have had a few minor injuries myself: I've dropped a dumbbell on my foot, I've trapped my finger between a bumper plate and the wall, and I have made more grave mistakes, like when I injured my back a while ago. If you can follow some basic guidelines and practice common sense, accidents are much less likely to happen.
Securing Every Weight
Some dangerous mistakes occur simply because people think that they can balance a kettlebell or plate for a moment. I once placed a dumbbell on top of a bench while I took a sip of water, before it suddenly tipped over and landed right on my toes! I also see people naively neglect the bar clips before bench pressing or squatting; if even one plate slips, they are all going down and they will take you down with them. It's also important to ensure that you always have a good grip of whatever you're holding- even if you think you can hold it for just one more rep, your sweaty hands will betray you- so, readjust and finish the set properly. If you do any pull exercises, you might find lifting straps extremely useful for if the weight exceeds your grip strength, or perhaps some chalk.
Looking after Your Muscles
A warmup before every session is essential; it gets your body ready to go and prevents all sorts of injuries. My warmups consist of an initial heartrate-raising
activity for 3-5 minutes, followed by some muscle activation, and mobility drills. Then, on my first set of a compound exercise, I will set the weight as about two-thirds of my normal weight, just to get adjusted and prepared before I go heavier. On top of this, I like to stretch after each session, to help my muscles recover and improve my general flexibility. But, looking after your muscles is not as simple as just stretching; water intake is vital for overall health and performance. I would advise drinking 2-3 litres of water steadily throughout the day.
Being Spatially Aware
Too often have I bumped into somebody simply because they- or I- was not looking around before moving. It's a little cramped in my gym, sure, but as everybody is listening to music and looking at their phones, it's very easy for accidents to happen anywhere. If you are about to start some lateral shoulder raises, please look to either side before knocking somebody's teeth out. Or, if you're walking across the floor, keep your eyes up and watch your step. Clumsiness cannot always be avoided though- I've tripped over inanimate objects countless times- so if you collide with something that isn't a person, just pretend it didn't happen.
Using Proper Technique
This is something that every lifter should be doing all of the time. The best way to stay safe and to make good progress is to execute the exercise as best as you can. For many exercises, bracing the core will be the key to having a strong, solid movement. Additionally, joint flexion and rotation should be considered at all times; are your hips/knees/shoulders/elbows comfortable? Are they allowing you to achieve a full range of motion? How can you adjust to improve? As we all have different bodies with varying proportions, the proper form takes some tweaking to get just right, but it's incredibly valuable in the long run.
Safety is always important when pushing your body, and in the long run it will be most valuable. It's easy to shun the extra steps that keep you uninjured, and head straight into lifting hard and heavy, but the kind of people who do that aren't the people you'll see lifting in five or ten years time. Look after yourself and the progress will come your way.