Working at the gym may seem like a dream come true: you get to do what you love all day and inspire people to keep fit and live healthier lives. But there are actually many risks lurking beneath the surface of this wholesome industry, and recovery from sports injuries can be brutal and sporadic at best. Sometimes gyms don’t educate their employees on safe practice enough, or people let their enthusiasm get the better of them.
Here are the main things you need to know about preventing personal injury whilst working at the gym, as well as what to do if something does go wrong.
What are the most common weightlifting injuries?
Gyms can be quite hazardous places to work in, due to the risks we take when exercising and pushing our bodies to the limit (and beyond). One way to mitigate injury risk is to get to know the biomechanics of your body as well as you can- but this can only take you so far. Sometimes even the most honed athletes take a wrong turn. Generally, pain is a good indicator of something gone wrong, so listen to your body. Shoulder pain is the most common injury. Here are some other most common sports injuries to look out for:
- Muscle strains and pulls
- Sprained ankles
- Knee and shoulder injuries
- Wrist sprains
- Tendonitis (painful swollen tendons)
- Shin splints (shin pain)
Gym Workout Risk Factors
What exactly puts you at increased risk of personal injury at the gym? Some of the answers might surprise you, but all these risks are based on biomechanics and sports science.
- Previous injury- one of the biggest indicators of injury is your previous track record
- Gender is not so much a risk factor, but a reckless attitude can be dangerous
- Speed might not always be a risk factor, but don’t push yourself too far in endurance training
- Consecutively working out and not allowing enough recovery time is a major contributing factor to injury
- Tense and aggressive stances lead to muscle tension which can cause injury
- Weak muscles can lead to lower back or lower limb injuries
- Muscle imbalance is also a risk factor
How to safely approach working out
As a personal trainer, you have a responsibility to foster and encourage people to have a healthy and safe approach to working out, so you should be at the forefront of adopting safe practices. These are the mainstays of a healthy attitude to fitness that should guide you in all your fitness work:
- Always adequately warm up & stretch before and after working out
- Dynamic stretches are more effective and are great for a pre-workout warmup, whereas passive stretches are gentler and better for a post-exercise comedown
- Vary workouts and tailor them to suit different body types
- Listen to your body, which means reacting to its aches and pains and always listen for warning signs from others
- Painful trigger points are often a warning for a serious developing injury, so don’t ignore them.
Top 10 things to do to avoid sports injury
These ten simple maxims will help you keep on track when you are training hard. It’s a list you should share with clients, colleagues and managers.
- Don’t train when you are tired
- More training means more resting, not less
- Treat minor injuries seriously, they will come back and haunt you otherwise
- Stop when you feel persistent and/or sudden pain
- Hydrate frequently and eat well
- Eat more carbs when you are training hard
- Check training area and equipment regularly for hazards
- Wear the right footwear on the right surface (think grip, comfort and tension)
- Pace yourself by fostering a positive attitude to fitness
- Get regular sports massages
Professionalism in sports
As a personal trainer you are at the forefront of maintaining professional standards and responsibilities. This is not something to take lightly, but neither is it something you should be expected to take on singlehandedly. There are lots of codes of ethics and practice that touch on sports health and safety; these have all been set up to protect professionals and clients. Here are the key ones:
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
According to Register of Exercise Professionals and its Code of Ethical Practice gyms and sports professionals are duty bound to do the following:
- Identify and mitigate any risks (e.g. injury and security)
- Obtain adequate medical questionnaires from staff & customers (including signed consent)
- Have adequate insurance (personal and liability)
- Check equipment and surfaces for hazards
- Provide adequate first aid training, equipment and facilities
- Produce health and safety audits and risk assessments
R.I.C.E is nice
Despite your best intentions, injuries do sometimes occur. When treating a sports injury, you must follow the R.I.C.E principles:
- Rest the injury
- Ice the injury
- Compression with a bandage will minimise swelling
- Elevate the injury to reduce swelling
How do I heal?
Our bodies’ bio-mechanics vary, and healing from a sports injury can be a lengthy process. After swelling has been reduced, healing is largely dependent on adequate blood supply. A healthy supply of blood to an affected area means nutrients, oxygen and white blood cells can start healing the damaged cells. Being athletic usually means you have a healthy blood supply, but it doesn’t mean that you are invincible. A severely sprained ankle may take up to six weeks to heal, a fractured toe up to five weeks, whereas a mild shoulder separation should clear in a matter of weeks. Everyone is different, so take estimates of recovery as estimates only.