Summary: Taking the proper steps to avoid injuries at the gym is easier than you think, especially at the hands of a personal trainer.
As the summer approaches, everyone seems to be worrying about getting “beach body ready.” The gyms seem to get a little more crowded and the word “diet” gets thrown around a lot more. Although no one should feel pressured to make drastic changes to their bodies, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to become more physically active. It’s important, however, to take precautions in the gym, especially when weightlifting, to make sure you’re doing your body more good than bad.
Luckily, personal trainers are qualified to lend their knowledge to gym rookies. With first hand experience themselves, personal trainers can offer advice and tips on proper technique and practices, and they are completely at our disposal. Risks in the gym are always present, and personal trainers are there to keep us informed on how to avoid injuries and to keep our bodies in peak condition.
“If you are someone who is inexperienced, don’t be shy asking anybody for help. There’s a lot of people here. I would definitely go to the trainers, anybody who knows what they’re doing,” said Sona Sharan, a personal trainer of two years at the SUNY New Paltz Athletic Wellness Center.
Sharan encourages the use of weights for his clients because of the many health benefits, such as improved bone density, improved strength of tissue, muscles and tendons, promotion of reduced body mass fat and an increased quality of life.
Despite the advantages weight training provides, risks are involved. Gym-related injuries stem from a variety of misconceptions from both experienced and amateur athletes, and a study conducted by the Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants found that the number of injuries increases every year. A majority of these damages are sprains and strains on areas such as the lower trunk, shoulders and neck.
“I see a lot of people just trying to just do things on their own, so usually they would come in here and do exercises incorrectly. Maybe they see someone doing something and they try to replicate that, but the thing is maybe that initial person isn’t doing the exercise right, so we just have a mass spread of one exercise being done incorrectly,” Sharan said.
Sharan, like most personal trainers in the U.S., is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Other certifications exist to prove the trustworthiness of personal trainers, and the National Commission for Certifying Agencies is an organization that recognizes which certifications are nationally accepted.
The three most common incorrect techniques Sharan sees are with squats, deadlifts and bench press. Without previous knowledge, or the aid of someone with experience, it’s easy to round your back and lift your heels during a back squat and not know you’re doing it incorrectly.
Forrest Shaffer noticed these issues in the weight room, and helped found the New Paltz Powerlifting Club in 2014 with two goals: to create a space for those passionate about weight training, and to educate novices looking to get into the sport. The club meets in the AWC to practice, settling in amongst regular gym goers choosing to workout on their own.
“[I saw individuals lifting incorrectly] at least once a week. You’d see a student that didn’t know what they were doing,” Shaffer said. “It was just poor form, too much weight, improper technique.”
Shaffer identifies improper form as the leading cause of injuries to beginners. Another common misconception that novices believe is that rest is not necessary. Our bodies require days off in order to repair damage caused by excess physical activity. Taking extra precautions, such as taking a salt bath, icing sore muscles and eating healthy, help our bodies recover properly and faster.
When an injury does occur, it is imperative to give it attention before it has time to get worse, Shaffer acknowledges. Whether the pain requires a few days of extra rest, or a trip to a doctor’s office, an injury should never be ignored. Even a minor discomfort can become a larger problem down the line, and the potential that an old injury can resurface is a reality.
Injuries in the gym are not exclusive to beginners; even the most experienced athletes have experienced one, if not multiple, afflictions throughout their careers.
“I’ve definitely pulled muscles here and there, but for me it was more improperly managing things bothering me,” Shaffer said. “I’ve definitely hurt myself by pushing and not taking care of the nagging hip flexor injury. Those smaller injures put you back a month or two months, but you could injure yourself again.”
Although the possibility of injury is always present when participating in physical activity, it should not be discouraging. The benefits of working out greatly outweigh the negatives. Longer lifespans, the maintenance of a healthy weight, increased energy and serotonin levels, elevated overall health and many more advantages are attributed to regular exercise.
Shaffer’s advice to all athletes, beginners and experts alike, is to “be patient with yourself, your body, the whole thing. Figure out which exercises work for you body, and take the time to stretch.”