All exercise carries with it some inherent risk; that’s why you should always consult a physician before you begin a new exercise program. The bustling environment of a busy gym exposes you to a few additional hazards you should be aware of. With proper attention and some basic prevention skills, you can reduce or even eliminate most of the risks associated with exercising in a gym.
Germs congregate in any public area that gets a lot of traffic, and gyms are no exception. Reduce your risk of catching someone else’s illness by covering any breaks in your skin, and using something -- a towel, clothing, or footwear -- as a barrier between your skin and gym surfaces. This includes not just locker room benches but also weight benches, cardiovascular machines, weight machines and floors throughout the gym. If you’re at all unsure about how well the gym sanitizes loaner towels, bring your own fresh towel to the gym on every visit.
Because dumbbells, weight plates and barbells in the free-weight room are unsecured, they pose an extra risk of injury. While wearing closed-toed shoes offers some rudimentary protection from dropping light weights on your feet or accidentally kicking a weight tree while passing by it, they won’t protect you from heavy weights. The best remedy is to be aware of what you and other people around you are doing. Notice if others are being careless with heavy weights.
Most gyms require you to wear closed-toe footwear on cardiovascular equipment for good reason. The moving parts, usually located close to your feet, pose a pinch or entrapment hazard to not only your feet but also your hands, clothing and hair if you should happen to bend or fall down. Most gym cardio machines are built to withstand hours of continuous heavy use every day, but notify gym staff immediately if you notice any loose, wobbly connections in the machine frame or erratic behavior from the electronics, as all of the above can pose risk to you and others.
Weight machines also present a risk of pinching your hands, feet, clothing or hair in the moving parts, but said parts can be located anywhere from your feet to your head. The pulleys, cables and belts in a weight machine may also be called upon to support substantial amounts of weight from the weight stack, so always take a quick glance for any obvious signs of wear that may signal a potential problem. Other warning signs of an possible hazard include a rusty or loose frame, or anything but a smooth, quiet operation as you lift.
Lisa Maloney is a travel and outdoors writer based in Anchorage, Alaska. She's written four outdoors and travel guidebooks, including the award-winning "Moon Alaska," and regularly contributes to local and national publications. She also has a background in personal training, with more than 6,000 hours of hands-on experience.