Guest post from Simon
We all saw the accident coming. The guy – I don’t know his name; let’s just him the lout – made it impossible not to. The setting was the weight room of a basic YMCA, the kind that has all the free weights on one end of a vast room and all the treadmills, rowing machines and elliptical trainers on the other. I was on the free weight side, a mistake as that’s where the lout was, too. Loud, large and obnoxious, the lout made some disparaging, homophobic remarks about the kind of men who exercise with anything other than manly free weights, scowling in disdain at a guy faraway on a treadmill. The half dozen or so of us who were getting our workouts in simply ignored the man – it was pretty obvious that he protested too much, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, we could ignore him until he started bench pressing. Or, at least, using the bench press. Without warming up, he slapped two plates on either side, a total of two hundred and twenty-five pounds. He had the worst form I had ever seen, his back so arched that his soft tummy was almost at the level of the bar before he even got the weight off the rack. As for his elbows, they came down maybe three inches at most before he started to press the weight back up, letting out a mighty grunt and howl and making sure to let the weight fall back onto the posts as loudly as possible. It was absolutely ridiculous.
“Maybe we should let him read some top elliptical reviews,” some college-aged kid near me whispered. “Let him see what a real workout is.” “Sssh,” I said with a smile. “He’ll hear you.”
But there was little chance of that. The lout was one of those kind of guys who is really into himself. So, with another insulting remark directed at the “sissies” on the other end of the room, the lout loaded up the bar with two more plates, taking the total up to three hundred and fifteen. And this is where I will admit that one of us should have stepped in. There were a half dozen of us guys on the “manly” side of the weight room and, from the lout’s first “lift” with two twenty-five, it was obvious that three fifteen was out of his league.
Offering to spot is not just good weight room etiquette, but a common-sense practice that helps keep everybody safe in a weight room, lifter and bystander alike. So, like the characters in Gabrielle Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, we sat there and watched the disaster unfold. The lout didn’t let us down. Grunting so loudly with his initial lift that even the guy on the treadmill over in the “sissy” section turned to see what was going on, the bar went down, and down… and down. Soon the full weight of the bar pressed against the lout’s chest. (And, as a side note, it’s amazing how quickly someone’s face can turn purple.)
“That’s not coming back up,” I muttered to the college kid as we both moved to help.
The other guys in the gym were on their way to help as well. The lout never gave us the chance. With fear on his plum-colored face, he pulled down with his left while pushing up with his right. He wasn’t using collars on the bar – being a lout and all – and three, forty-five pound plates of solid iron banged on the floor to his left, nearly landing on one would-be rescuer’s foot. While this was bad enough, the real danger was what happened immediately afterward: With no iron now on the left side of the bar but one hundred and thirty-five pounds still on the right side, the bar shot out of his left hand like a catapult and slammed into the military press machine to his right. (Fortunately, no one was on it at the time. A good thing, too, as it could have been a potentially lethal blow.)
As for the lout, he got up holding his left shoulder with his formerly purple face now just beet red. He needed a scapegoat and quickly found one in the bench press. Apparently it was “too *%#@$^!!! skinny” and not the kind he was used to. Declaring the weight room a “piece of $*#!,” he huffed off, never once apologizing for the fact that he could have killed one of us with his idiocy. Therefore, in honor of this anonymous jerk, I would like to share with you several good ideas to practice to stay safe in a weight room.
Tip #1: Use proper form when lifting. Yes, this means that you won’t be able to do as much weight as when you’re cheating, but, on the positive side, you won’t be wasting your time or inviting injury either. If you aren’t sure what the proper form is for a particular lift, then invest in a few personal training sessions until you’re knowledgeable enough to solo.
Tip #2: Use clamps and collars. The toes you save may be your own.
Tip #3: Ask for a spot when doing exercises with heavy weight. There is a concept called muscle failure which means that, often without warning, your strength can suddenly give out during a hard workout. If that happens during those flies while those iron dumbbells are a foot and a half above your teeth, you’re in some serious trouble.
Tip #4: Don’t ignore an injury. If your shoulder is hurting too much for those upright rows, then it’s hurting too much for those bicep curls as well. Hate to sound like your mother here, but, listen to your body. Your painstakingly sculpted hunk won’t all atrophy away – waiting until your injury is gone is what your body needs.
Tip #5: Don’t be a lout.
Tip #6: And, by all means, try the elliptical trainers. They’re fun and, with the the resistance turned up, a lot tougher than they look.