Home gym injuries are no joke – personal trainer Marcus Baker and osteopath Dr Ali Abdo have seen it all. For a safer sweat session, Jenny Valentish spoke with the experts about how to modify your at home workouts so you can avoid a trip to the physio.
Keeping active during the COVID-19 pandemic is vital, given the connection between good physical health and mental health. Not to mention there’s the real challenge of avoiding iso weight gain when there’s not much to do but trek to the fridge.
But it seems panic buying has vaulted from toilet paper to gym equipment, meaning dumbbells and the like are nowhere to be found. In fact, interest in gym equipment shot up by 400 per cent over the weekend of March 21 and 22 compared to the beginning of the month, according to Amobee’s Brand Intelligence Tool.
If you missed out and have been home-cobbling your workouts using general household miscellanea, you risk becoming a viral YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons. Because it’s one thing learning to listen to our bodies to understand when we’re at risk of injury, but when it comes to using shonky equipment, the impact is more immediate.
Dr Ali Abdo from Avesenna Osteopathy has seen the video compilations of home gym injuries doing the rounds on social media – “people lifting weights while sat in plastic chairs,” he chuckles – and he’s also unsurprisingly seen an increase in clients coming in who have changed their exercise program because they don’t have access to gyms and personal trainers. For instance, weight machines at the gym are intuitive to use, but people trying to replicate those movements with free weights at home risk injury without supervision.
“I’ve had cases where people have been trying to work their shoulders in a different manner, but because the technique’s not right something will go wrong,” he says. “When you’ve got muscular imbalances it’s just a matter of time before a problem’s brewing.”
Both Dr Abdo and Marcus Baker, a Gold Coast-based strength and conditioning trainer, think it’s often safer to switch from using equipment to using your own body weight. Here’s how to avoid the most common mishaps by modifying your exercises.
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Not having a bar of it
Some people have been doing dips between the backs of two chairs, which can be perilous, but Kristin’s husband rigged up a professional-looking set of parallel bars in the backyard, even concreting the pipes into the ground. Unfortunately, one of their kids still came a cropper when she did a colossal leap onto them and one of the joiners came loose. “She ended up on her bum with the bar in her hand.”
Marcus says, “You can try a much safer bench dip. That’s where you brace your hands onto a bench behind you and pump your body up and down. It’s not quite as effective as a normal dip as you don’t bear the load of the exercise in the same way, but it’s still better than ending up in the emergency room. If you’re interested in something more advanced, work your way through the planche progressions. YouTube is a goldmine.”
Don’t be a dumb-dumb
Bron has found that it’s impossible to buy new dumbbells online, so like many, she decided to risk using some rusty ones from the shed. “Problem was, the weights weren’t fixed at either side and we’d long ago lost the screws that kept them in place,” she says. “I tried to balance them on, but inevitably one slid off and cracked me on the head.”
For a simple fix here, we can turn to professional he-man Dolph Lundgren. On his Instagram page, he’s demonstrated how you can use water bottles with built-in handles – available from loads of supermarkets – as readymade weights.
But exercise caution, warns Dr Abdo. “If you’ve got an underlying issue, like a dysfunctional shoulder from being hunched sedentary over your computer all day, and you load it with weights, you could eventually present with some kind of pain. To combat the effects of prolonged sitting, improve the ergonomic set-up of your desk, and maybe even maybe get a stand-up desk.”
Box-jumping into the emergency room
Thom wanted to replicate the box jumps he does at the gym, where he jumps vertically onto a box that might be 18- to 24-inches tall. He found a steel table at the park, but a combination of things – fatigue and wet grass – threw him off his game. He slipped and scraped his shins down to the bone.
Marcus says this nightmare could have been avoided by eliminating the table or box altogether – and ditching the ego, too.
“The main point of a vertical jump is to train the different systems that allow you to jump,” he says. “The height of the box doesn’t truly represent someone’s jumping ability, because someone with increased hip flexibility will seem to have a greater height while not necessarily travelling that far from the floor.” In other words, showing off with a big box is only important for Instagram brags because all you need to do is jump as high as you can. “You don’t need to use a box at all,” says Marcus. “Or, you could use a low box, just to absorb some of your landing force.”
Resistance bands that have you in stitches
Latex resistance bands can cause all kinds of injuries. Take it from Jenni: “I was using a band that I’d hooked around the corner of a closed door,” she says. “It came loose when I pulled my arms back and one end whipped me so hard that my arm welted up immediately and I actually cried.”
“Before you even start, test the wear and tear of the resistance band,” Marcus advises. “It’s hard to gauge the integrity if it’s at its resting length, so stretch it to inspect for any fraying or micro-tears.” As for then hooking that rather explosive band around the doorframe, there are definitely safer DIY options. Try screwing a hook into the wall and then threading the band through a mountain-climbing shackle.
Pull-ups that are a comedown
Trish blames her landlord for the fact that she fell on her backside while attempting a pull-up from a bar that hangs from the doorframe. In her case, it didn’t stay put. “The whole place is falling apart,” she insists. If you’re worried that your pull-up could be equally structurally iffy, there are alternative things you can do to pump the same back and arm muscles. “Try inverted rows with a table or against a wall,” suggests Marcus.
You’d need to choose a sturdy table for this, or risk tipping the furniture on top of you, but basically you’re lying beneath it and pulling yourself up from the lip. For an absolutely foolproof, injury-free version, he further suggests a floor row, whereby you lie on your back with your legs bent and push your upper back away from the floor, levering with your elbows.
If in doubt, always keep exercises simple. As the old idiom goes, make sure you can walk before you run.