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Don't Be a Dumbbell

Brad Gillingham is an experienced weightlifter. In fact, he's an International Power Lifting Federation world champion. His best lifts in competition have been 832 pounds in the squat, 611 pounds in the bench press, and 843 pounds in the deadlift.

But even a champion like Gillingham has to cope with injuries due to carelessness in the gym or slacking off on warm-ups. Last winter, for instance, he developed a strain in his lower back.

"One of the guys in the gym didn't put the weights away properly," he recalls. "As I came down from my lift I hit the loose weight and jarred my back."

Earlier, he developed a similar injury because he was in a hurry. "I've learned from my own mistakes," he says. "When you're running late, it's real easy to cut your warm-up time, and I've developed injuries when I didn't warm up properly."

Weight-Training Injuries on the Rise

The same principles apply just as much to everyday athletes who work out in the local gym or at home, says Chester S. Jones, PhD, associate professor of health sciences at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. In a review of data from U.S. emergency rooms, he found injuries from weight-training activities and equipment have increased 35% over a 20-year period. The hand was injured most often, followed by the upper trunk, head, lower trunk, and foot.

"A lot of these injuries are due to carelessness and lack of common sense," says Jones. "Many people are setting up exercise equipment in their homes, so they have to take responsibility for it."

His advice: Work out at a gym and get instructions on how to use the equipment from someone who's properly qualified. If you do decide to work out at home, take precautions: Wear gloves and shoes, he says. "It's amazing how many toe injuries we saw."

Jones and his co-authors learned children under 4 were three times more likely to be injured in the home than children 15 or older. "That means their parents have home gyms and children are exposed to their equipment. At a gym, staffers take responsibility for patrons' safety. When you have exercise equipment in your home, then you have to make sure your children can't get access to it."

Weight training is basically safe, Jones emphasizes, especially compared with other sports activities. "Previous research has indicated weight training can be beneficial in preventing osteoporosis, and it helps develop muscular strength and general health. When done correctly, following appropriate safety guidelines, weight training is a great activity."

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