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Gym Safety Rules and Etiquette

Always Warm Up

The vast majority of injuries are caused when people dive right into their maximum poundage before their muscles are properly warmed up. Think of your muscles as elastic bands. Elastic bands lose their flexibility when cooled. Conversely, they’ll stretch better when warmed. Muscles behave in a similar manner. Do a short 5- to 10-minute cardio session to warm up the body in general and a few light warmup sets for each of the muscles you plan to train that day. Most importantly, never, ever start a workout with your heaviest weight!

Where Possible, Use a Spotter

For those not familiar with the term, a spotter is a friend, partner, or stranger for that matter,who stands behind you on exercises that could potentially leave you trapped under a barbell. People have been found dead in their basements, a barbell loaded with a couple of hundred pounds trapped across their necks. Exercises such as squats and bench presses should not be performed using heavy weight unless you have a trusted spotter behind you. You probably won’t need a spotter on most machine exercises as they’re usually designed with safety in mind(the Smith machine being a possible exception). Likewise, dumbells are safe at any weight as they can be easily dropped if you run into trouble.

Gym Safety Rules and Etiquette

Use Collars On Your Barbell Exercises

You can think of collars as bolts or pins that lock the weight plates on the ends of a barbell as you lift and lower. Even with the best technique, you will normally have a slight tilt to the bar,at least during one part of any given exercise. If the bar tilts too much, the plates may slide off that side and then the bar will violently fall in the opposite direction (since that end is now heavier). Depending on the weight and exercise, you could potentially break a wrist, or worse. For the sake of a few extra seconds, put a set of collars on the bar.

When Necessary, Use a Weightlifting Belt 

You can consider a weightlifting belt as your shin guard or baseball glove. Other sports have protective gear, so why not bodybuilding? Certain exercises place tremendous stress on the spine. A wide (four to six inches) piece of leather will protect your lower back on such exercises as squats, deadlifts, and various pressing and rowing movements. However, don’t use the belt on all exercises, or even on your light warmup sets – if you become dependent on it your lower back muscles will never strengthen. The belt should be used only as a protection device on risky exercises.

Return Your Weights To Their Proper Racks

Nothing is more annoying than having to look all over the gym for a set of dumbells for your next set, except maybe when you have to take five minutes to strip a couple of hundred pounds off a leg press machine before you can use it. Putting back all the plates and dumbells ensures that other gym members won’t have to waste time looking around the gym for them. There is also a more practical reason for putting your weights away – safety. Having weight plates or dumbells all over the floor is an accident waiting to happen. Someone could easily trip and injure themselves. Most gym employees will enforce this rule, but why wait to be told? You’re not a child anymore. Please take it upon yourself to clean up after your workout.

Never Be Afraid To Ask For Advice

As comprehensive as this book is, there will be times when you’re unsure of an exercise. Most gym instructors are certified and know their stuff. Take advantage of their expertise anytime you have a bodybuilding-related question. If an instructor is not available, study some of the regular members. It won’t be long before you spot who the experienced trainers are. Usually all it takes is one glance, but don’t go by size alone – some average-sized individuals know more about bodybuilding than the 250-pounders. Watch for those with strict technique and confidence.

Wipe Down Your Bench After Use

Human sweat carries hundreds of germs. It’s pretty disgusting to go to a bench or machine and see a layer of someone else’s sweat dripping all over it! Most gyms have towels or paper towels available for wiping down equipment. Take a few seconds to wipe off your sweat when you’re finished with that bench or piece of equipment. Laying your towel down before using the bench is also a great idea.

Wear The Proper Training Attire

Some gyms can be very strict about attire, but most large fitness centers will leave it up to the members. If you’re training in the summer and your gym is not air conditioned, wear something light, such as a T-shirt and pair of shorts. Conversely, if your gym is on the cool side, keep a sweatshirt on until your muscles are fully warmed up. In terms of footwear, always have a good pair of sneakers. Many exercises will place a great deal of stress on your ankle sand you’ll need solid support to protect the small muscles and bones in this region. Besides, a weight plate could slip out of your hand as you’re putting it on the bar or weight rack. It would be great to have more between your foot and the plate than a sock!

Robert Kennedy: Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, The Complete A-Z Book On Muscle Building. 2008
Nick Evans: Bodybuilding Anatomy. 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger: The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, 2013

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