Hidden Dangers at the Gym

Get-Fit Guy has 5 surprising ways that the gym could actually sabotage your health…if you don’t take the proper precautions.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #96

Hidden Dangers at the Gym

There’s no doubt that going to the gym (which I personally do at least several times a week) is a great way to stay fit. Even if you have a home gym (which I also do), a health club offers a variety of equipment, classes, and other people to motivate you that you just won’t be able to replicate at home. Plus, gyms often have perks such as child care, a spa or sauna, personal trainers, contests and competitions, and other helpful ways to help you get fitter faster or stay motivated.

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But there are hidden dangers at the health club that may actually be sabotaging your goals to stay fit or to lose fat. In this episode, you’ll learn what those hidden dangers are, and how to avoid them!

Hidden Dangers at the Gym

1.  Machines

In the article How to Use Weightlifting Machines, I teach you how to use several popular machines at the gym. Unfortunately, just because an exercise machine is at a gym or health club does not mean it’s safe – and while poor form on any machine can turn an otherwise safe move into a risky activity, there are some machines that should be completely avoided, even if you can do them with good form. In no particular order, the machines you should try to avoid at the gym are:

  • Machine Side Raise

  • Machine Abductor (legs out)

  • Machine Adductor (legs in)

  • Cable Pulldowns Behind Your Neck

  • Seated Abdominal Rotation Machine

  • Seated Crunch Machine

  • Smith Machine Presses or Squats

For more details, and alternatives to these machines, read the article Top 7 Exercises To Avoid.

2.  High Intensity Weight Training Classes

From Bodypump to Crossfit, high intensity classes that combine cardio intervals and weight training seem to have taken the fitness world by storm. But there is a problem with these types of classes: unless you’re in very good shape, it can be extremely difficult to maintain good form on the weight training part of the class when you’re completely winded from the cardio part. Time and time again, I’ve observed gym-goers struggling to contort their neck, shoulders, backs, and knees to follow the pace of the instructor, while at the same putting themselves at serious risk of injury.

Either whip yourself into shape before beginning these type of classes by doing your own solo workouts that aren’t under peer pressure or a barking instructor, or take part in a class that lets you move at your own pace and doesn’t stress you out.

3.  Spinning

Some spinning classes involve a high number of squats, hovers, push-ups, gyrations, hip thrusts, and other ridiculous moves that are not meant to be performed while pedaling a bicycle. These can put your shoulders and knees at a very high risk of injury.

No indoor cycling certification programs condone this type of activity, but these methods are still used by certified instructors at many health clubs. If your spinning class makes you feel as though you can’t simply sit and pedal correctly for more than 15, 30, or even 60 seconds without having to flap your arms or jump up and down, you should find a new class. Click here to see two videos that show the type of spinning classes to avoid.

4.  Smoothie Bar

Believe it or not, just because a food is sold at a health club does not mean it’s healthy! In a recent Get-Fit Guy newsletter, I discussed how the average protein bar contains many unhealthy ingredients including high fructose corn syrup, fractionated palm kernel oil, artificial sweeteners, wheat, rice, or other refined sugars, and high amounts of gut-wrenching sugar alcohols such as xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol.

Many of the smoothies prepared and sold at your gym are made from sugar concentrates combined with highly processed protein powders and vegetable oils – and typically dumped into a 20-24oz cup that can let you suck down 600-1,000 calories in just a few minutes. I see this all the time: A dutiful gym-goer slaves away on a treadmill for an hour, then grabs a smoothie on their way out the door that contains nearly twice the calories they actually burned during the workout!

If you need to grab a smoothie, look for ones prepared with fresh fruit. If you need a protein bar, choose one with minimal ingredients (such as fruits and nuts), raw nuts and seeds, or rice crisps. Use these foods as a quick snack to tide you over until you can get a real meal, and not as staples in your diet.

5.  Locker Rooms

I must confess that this last reason was my inspiration to discuss this topic in the first place. Infections caused by MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) are killing more people each year than AIDS, according to the Center for Disease Control. Unfortunately, I recently contracted MRSA from what I suspect was the dry sauna at my local gym. For me, it resulted in a trip to the emergency room, minor surgery, and lots of antibiotics. Not fun!

No matter how clean a gym’s locker room may appear to be, it is very easy for these antibacterial resistant "superbugs" to become immune to chemicals that are used to clean such places. It only takes a small cut to allow bacteria under your skin, so when you’re headed to the gym, make sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect any scrapes, cuts or abrasions, and then keep them covered, during your workout and after. In my case, a slight scrape from a bicycling accident turned into a major health issue from MRSA exposure. So take my advice and be careful!

This advice is not meant to scare you away from pursuing your goals to get fit, or keep you from going to the gym. The benefits of joining a health club definitely outweigh any risks. But like any good thing in life, you do need to be careful, be smart, and be educated. By following the tips in this article, you can assure that your trip to the gym doesn’t sabotage your fitness, your waistline, or your health!

If you have more questions about how the health club could be sabotaging your health, just visit Facebook.com/GetFitGuy!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.