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6 Gym Health Hazards

How to avoid injury, infection, and other health risks at the gym.

Risk: Sprains and Strains

Trying to lift too much weight, using poor technique, overdoing your workouts, and stretching incorrectly can lead to sprains and strains.

Avoiding the Risk

If you are questioning whether you can safely complete a movement, drill, or exercise, it's probably best to back off in order to ensure you don't push too hard and injure yourself, McMillan says.

She advises if something doesn't feel right, stop what you're doing immediately. Then ask for ice, elevate and rest the injured body part, and apply compression to minimize swelling. Tell a gym staff person exactly what happened and document everything, McMillan says.

"Even if you're feeling OK, it's always best to call a family member to come and get you," McMillan says. "Sometimes the adrenaline kicks in and you don't realize how injured you really are. During this time, you could do even more damage."

Risk: Infections

Germs and bacteria are found everywhere, including gyms. The last thing you want when you're trying to be healthy is to get sick because of your health club.

Fungi, bacteria, and viruses are common in wet areas such as showers and swimming pool decks, Pire says. Sweat left to dry on equipment is also a breeding ground for bacteria.

Bacteria can also thrive on used towels on locker room floors, weights, sweaty cardio machines, and benches that members sit on between workouts, says Matt Carlen, director of LifeBridge Health and Fitness in Baltimore.

Avoiding the Risk

If your gym has a swimming pool or hot tub, ask the staff how often they are cleaned and how often the chemical balance is checked, suggests Henry Williford, EdD, FACSM, professor of physical education and exercise science at Auburn University and a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine.

Pire recommends wearing "shower shoes" or flip-flops to help minimize your chances of getting athlete's foot, toenail fungus, and viral or bacterial infections.

Wash your hands frequently, wipe down the equipment before and after you work out, and sit on a towel when in the sauna or on benches, McMillan says.

All gyms should have an automatic sanitizer dispenser, Carlen says. "Make sure you use it as much as you can," he says. (It also doesn't hurt to bring your own hand sanitizer with you.) During cold and flu season, if you're sick with a cold or flu, stay home until you've been free of fever for at least a day so you don't spread your germs.

Once you know the risks of working out and how to avoid them, you can get back to doing what you came to the gym for in the first place -- staying healthy.

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Reviewed on November 22, 2012

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