by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Exercise equipment is inherently dangerous. Various types of home gym devices are typically large and have moving parts. Accidents, whether to adults who misuse the equipment or to children who gain unsupervised access, can be avoided through preventative measures. Gym equipment is also a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens, particularly in commercial gyms where users share the equipment.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 8,700 children under 5 years of age and 16,500 children between the ages of 5 and 14 are injured by exercise equipment each year. Some of these injuries are burns. In fact, an Australian study found that treadmill friction injuries account for roughly 1% of all pediatric burns.
Safety Measures to Prevent Physical Injury
- Never leave free weights, especially barbells, in an unstable position.
- Clip the treadmill safety key onto your clothing. Do not leave it dangling or wrapped around the handle. All treadmills come with safety clips that will turn the treadmill off if the runner falls. When the treadmill is not in use, keep the safety key out of reach of children, as it is required to activate the machine.
- Accelerate and decelerate gradually. It's a good idea to start a treadmill on the lowest speed setting possible and then increase the rate gradually, as some treadmills can accelerate with surprising speed. When you're finished exercising, lower the speed of the belt gradually and step carefully to the non-moving platforms at the sides of the machine.
- Discourage children's access to gym equipment through the following measures:
- Keep gym equipment in a room that has a door which can be locked.
- Position the equipment so that you have a clear view of your surroundings, and avoid distractions by music or television, especially when children may be present.
- Keep folding machines stored and secured in the folded position.
Parents should keep home exercise equipment locked and unplugged so that children can’t activate the machines on their own. In 2009, the daughter of former professional boxer Mike Tyson was found accidentally strangled by the power cord of a home treadmill. While it may be inconvenient to unplug an apparatus after every use, this practice can save children's lives.
Germs are found in high numbers virtually everywhere in a gym, from the weightlifting bench to the sauna. Sweaty residue on workout equipment, particularly the machines often used by several people in quick succession, such as weights and exercise bikes, provide the moisture that encourages the spread of germs. In a study published by Men’s Fitness Magazine, a quarter-sized site harbored 132 million bacteria, and the average site tested yielded 16 million. On the same area of a toilet seat, you can expect to find just 500 bacteria, according to the study.
Pathogens found on gym equipment can lead to a number of ailments, ranging from minor skin infections, such as pimples, to life-threatening diseases, including meningitis, endocarditis and sepsis. Staphylococcus aureus is perhaps the most serious pathogen found in commercial gyms, as it is resistant to antibiotics. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it killed 18,000 people in 2005.
Good hygiene is the best way to prevent the transmission of pathogens around exercise equipment, especially in commercial facilities. Practice the following precautions when working out:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after exercise. After touching weights and machine handrails, try your best to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, ears and mouth until you can lather up.
- Wipe down the machines and communal yoga mats with disinfectant before and after use. Commercial gyms ordinarily disinfect equipment on a regular basis, but you should not rely on the competence of the staff. It’s also bad etiquette to make the next user swim through a pool of your sweat.
- Bring your own sweat towel, and use it. In fact, it’s better to bring two, as you can place one on machines and benches to protect yourself when you sit down, and use the other to periodically wipe down your body. Don’t trust the towels provided by the gyms, since they are not governed by the same stringent standards that hospitals are. Hospitals must adhere to strict regulations regarding the temperature at which towels must be laundered.
- Wash and sterilize your water bottle regularly.
- Don’t go barefoot in a gym shower or sauna. Human traffic, hot temperatures, moisture, and a lack of sunlight create a perfect environment for many bacteria. Wear flip-flops or water shoes to avoid athlete’s foot, ringworm, and other such communicable conditions. Shoes may also help you avoid slipping on wet tiles.
- Sit on a towel or wear shorts in the sauna to avoid direct contact with the seating, which may harbor bacteria.
- Cover any breaks in your skin with bandages. Even a minor scratch or raw skin can allow the entrance of Staphylococcus aureus, causing a serious staph infection.
In summary, gym equipment can cause injuries and conceal dangerous germs. Precautions should be taken to ensure that they are used safely. As always, consult your InterNACHI inspector if have any questions about safety in your home.