Hands up if you’ve hurt yourself doing something stupid during a home workout. I, for one, smacked my hand into the ceiling-mounted garage door opener while following along with a dance workout. And twice now I’ve had a dumbbell fall apart mid-lift because I hadn’t tightened the collars enough.
I got off easy. There are many ways to get seriously injured working out at home, and these risks take us by surprise because they aren’t things we’re used to thinking about. The gym doesn’t have low ceilings in its dance studios. Their weights don’t fall apart.
We’re all in new territory now. If you got some new home gym equipment, you may not be used to using it. If you’re improvising with the things you have around you, you may not be aware of their limitations. So here are a few tips. (And if you don’t believe me that some caution is warranted, watch this compilation of home workout fails, which I do not find funny at all, but sad and terrifying.)
Watch out overhead
Your ceilings may be lower than you think. And you’re probably not thinking about things that hang down lower than the ceiling itself—that garage door motor in my case, or the light fixture in one of the clips above. Check your overhead clearance before you start.
Set ground rules for outdoor workouts
I lift outdoors, but I have some hard-and-fast rules about when I consider it safe to do so. If it’s threatening to rain or if the ground is wet, I don’t do certain lifts because I know my feet could slip.
Look up technique
If you’re trying new exercises, make sure to look up the proper technique for them. You found a tyre you can flip? Great, but don’t forget that there’s a serious risk of bicep tears if you do heavy tyre flips. Take a minute to learn how to do it safely.
Same goes for any other lift that’s new to you, especially anything heavy or awkward. Deadlifts? Front squats? Picking up heavy rocks? Get your technique down before you go all-out.
Inspect your resistance bands
Resistance bands can snap unexpectedly, even in the best of times. The rubber breaks down over time, so most brands recommend you replace them every few months. Check the manufacturer’s website for guidelines. If you don’t know how old your bands are, use them with caution, and stop using them as soon as you detect any cracking or other signs that they’re breaking down.
If your barbell or dumbbell has collars to hold the weights on, always check that they’re properly tightened. Even if you don’t normally worry about the collars, home is a different place than the gym. Maybe you’re on uneven ground, or maybe you’re doing a lift that you might fail in a different way than you expect. Tighten them. Double up if you’re not sure how secure they are.
Don’t trust chairs
We don’t always question whether chairs can hold our weight, but if you’re holding a hundred extra pounds of iron, maybe you should. The fail video above includes several examples of people using lawn chairs to set up an incline bench press (where you’re leaning back). The same warning could apply to seated overhead press, or to step-ups or box jumps where you’re putting your feet onto a piece of furniture. Make sure that anything you use is strong enough to hold your weight, and stable enough that you won’t tip over.
While we’re at it, don’t trust anything. Wall ball slams are great for cinder block walls, not so great for the drywall in your living room. Before you make use of anything in your living space, ask yourself: How is this different from the equivalent thing in my gym?
Don’t hang from things that can’t hold your weight
A properly installed over-the-door pull-up bar should be pretty trustworthy, but check the instructions to make sure you’ve done it right. Also take note of what exercises are safe to do with it: a bar that can withstand strict pullups may wiggle loose if you try to do the kipping kind.
The same goes for wherever you anchor your suspension trainer. Again, check the instructions that came with it.
If you’re doing hanging exercises outdoors, please remember that dead tree limbs snap easily. They may look sturdy, but when they break they can do so suddenly. Don’t do pullups off a branch that conveniently has no leaves on it. If you aren’t sure how much weight a branch can hold, don’t risk it.
Check everything constantly
Once you’ve gathered your equipment and settled into a routine, you may be tempted to get complacent. But bolts can work loose and bad decisions can come back to haunt you. Make a habit of checking your space and your gear before every workout. Are the bolts on that pull-up bar still tight? Is the ground dry? Are those resistance bands still looking fresh?
I also like to look at my routine from a vantage point of: what if I do something stupid? For example, I can hold a light barbell while stepping over my duffel bag. But what if one day I’m a little bit tired, or I don’t see that the strap of the duffel is sticking up a little? I probably won’t trip over it, but why not remove the risk? So I try to keep paths clear and arrange my stuff in a way that will keep me safe even if I forget to be careful.