There it is, your new Bowflex home gym is all unpacked, set up, and ready to go. Sure, it doesn’t look as stylish in your garage as it did in the fancy pictures, but you don’t care: you’re now officially in the business of reshaping your body with your new home gym. You pop in the instructional DVD, grab your weights, and – in bringing them up to the starting position – a sharp pain shoots through your body like current through a power station transformer. You’d let out a yelp if you could, but the ensuing daisy chain of cramps rocketing up your spine cuts your breath short.
Welcome to Back Injuryville, population one.
Like anything else, whether lifting weights, performing resistance exercises – any steady exercise regimen can lead to injury, especially if you don’t take the proper precautions. Sure, you can stretch all day and then turn your ankle on a quick warm up run, but that is what’s called ‘chance,’ and that’s out of your control. What IS in your control is making sure everything is in place and your muscles are ready to go before you begin your resistance training. This is what they mean by ‘training smart.’
“How do I train smart?” Well, glad you asked. Here are 5 safety tips to get you started:
1. Read your home gym’s manual and watch the video it (hopefully) comes with
Sounds obvious, but so many people rely on whatever exercise knowledge they gained in high school to reshape their bodies fifteen years later that they don’t stop to consider how the equipment has changed. Yes, ninety percent of it looks and functions the same, but say you bought some adjustable dumbbells for your home gym or even a Bowflex. With things like these, it’s very easy to misload weights thanks to a simple oversight, and that can lead to a quick muscle tear and a stall in progress. The manual provides easy checks and balances during the course of installation and gets you familiar with each individual part. The video introduces you to how all those parts work together as a whole, familiarizing you with each station and its intended function. Know your machine inside and out, and when something “feels” wrong with it, you’ll know where to look and what to do.
2. Start slow and know your limits
Unless you’ve been weight training up to the purchase of your home gym, eat a slice of Humble Pie and admit to yourself you’re not as strong as you used to be. You’ve put down too many beers, worked too many late nights, and gone through too many slabs of bacon without any resistance exercise to offset these long-term effects. You haven’t been using them, so you’re losing them. Starting with weights comfortable to your current physique is paramount to a long and relatively injury-free dedicated home gym regimen, the first three weeks of which determines its overall success. That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially for you former sports stars, but the good news is, it won’t take you long to regain your old form. Granted, it may take a little longer than you’d hoped to get back to those 60-lb dumbbell shoulder presses you used to do, but if you take the time to start out with lighter, more comfortable weights, you’ll eventually get there.
3. Keep your home gym workout area clean
Don’t let your work out area get cluttered. Keep the dumbbells and/or weight plates on their designed racks and off the floor. Dumbbells – especially the lighter ones – can be toe traps. Accidentally slide your foot underneath one while moving between exercises, and you will quickly find out what the rest of your gym equipment tastes like. Because you’ll fall, you see. Even home gyms which do not use weights, but no change pulley systems for resistance – such as the Bowflex PR3000 (read our review here), require concentration and cleanliness.
Also, be sure you have enough room to correctly perform your exercises. If you have your home gym set up in your garage, be sure you’re not taking any gambles by doing barbell squats mere inches away from your brand new Ford Explorer.
4. Check with your doctor
This goes without saying. Your body – especially if new to working out – undergoes some dramatic changes when taking on any resistance training. Your doctor (if you don’t have one, get one) will be able to better inform you of target heart rates and other things of which you need to be aware before, during, and after exercising. Whether you like it or not, you’re only as good as your internal systems let you be, but the news isn’t all bad: we’re highly adaptive, and after incremental exposure to weight training, your body will adjust to allow you to increase your training. Frequent check ups with your doctor will give you the green lights you need so you can approach your lifting safely and confidently.
5. Don’t show off to your kids
Look, keep children away from your home gym at all times, would you? Home gyms tend to be large pieces of equipment with moving parts attached. The fact that you are making great gains and looking better and better in the mirror should be result enough for you. Don’t go bringing Junior down to show him how much you can lift, because if he gets a little curious in the middle of your lift and puts his finger where it shouldn’t be, he risks being called ‘Nine Finger Molly’ the rest of his days. And that’s tough, especially when he’s going through High School.
Remember: your home gym is there to help, but it can’t do everything for you. Like a lot of other things, if used carelessly, bad things can happen. You’ve laid the groundwork, now just use your head!