A question of safety

IN THE movie, Down to Earth, one of Chris Rock's hunts for a replacement body takes him to a gym: a guy doing a bench-press loses his life when his spotter moves away to answer a phone call and the barbell falls on his throat.

Regrettably, too many people bench-press or do other major lifts like the clean and jerk, snatch, squat, power clean and dead lift alone, without a spotter even when they are in a gym. Since bodybuilding involves pushing yourself to the limits of your strength, accidents are common, and nothing is worse than the choking agony of rolling a 200-pound barbell slowly off your chest.

If you have a home gym, make sure the equipment is designed to be used by one person safely. The equipment must have safety systems that can deal with heavy weights that are let go suddenly.

Who runs your gym? You are in luck if the person who watches over you is a professional bodybuilder or weight lifter. Before you try any exercise for the first time, ask the instructor to demonstrate the correct and safe technique for the movement.

Good technique is the greatest safeguard against injury. It requires some basic knowledge of the major muscle groups, their range and direction of movement and some knowledge of muscle physiology.

Some ground rules never change. Like maintaining a straight back while lifting heavy weights, or never holding your breath or breathing in and out too fast while lifting a weight. Always exhale while lifting the weight.

Some people use all the right techniques while doing the exercise but go back to their bad techniques while moving the weights around or adding on or taking off weights from the equipment.

Remember, a weight is a weight is a weight. Wear shoes with good traction: bare feet or slippers can be dangerous once the feet become sweaty and slippery. Begin each session with some brisk aerobics like jogging on the treadmill or fast cycling on the stationary bicycle.

Stretch, check the equipment you are about to use, and make sure your spotter is ready. Use lightweights at the beginning of the session, and then gradually increase the weight in the next sets. If you feel pain during the exercise, stop immediately. Give the muscle a week to recover if the injury is not serious. Use lighter weights the next time you try the same exercise.


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