Outsmart 5 Hidden Gym Dangers

You go to the gym to get healthier. But what you may not know is that there’s also a chance of getting sick or injured. The reality is that many hidden dangers exist in health clubs, from cold- and flu-causing viruses to risky equipment.

Fortunately, if you know the warning signs -- and how to respond -- you’ll significantly decrease your chances of health woes. Here, then, are the five worries to watch. Use these tips, and the only thing you’ll bring home from the gym is a better physique.

Gym Danger No. 1: Germs
Reality check: 73 percent of weightlifting equipment at the gym is contaminated with a cold virus, according to a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. As if that wasn’t enough, a Journal of Athletic Training study reported that one in three people has a spreadable skin condition, such as athlete’s foot and ringworm.

  • Wipe down equipment with disinfectant spray and tissues before and after use.
  • Opt for vinyl or plastic gym bags, since bacteria are less apt to attach to these materials.
  • Wash your hands often and/or carry antibacterial gel
  • Keep your feet covered in the locker room (think: flip-flops) and use a towel as a barrier to avoid exposing your skin to any shared surfaces.
  • Bring your own mat and towel (clubs often transport clean and dirty towels in the same bins).
  • Cover your face with a tissue should you need to sneeze or cough.
  • Cover cuts or abrasions with a bandage.
  • Shower as soon as possible and wash sweaty clothes in hot water.

Gym Danger No. 2: Bad form
If your body is misaligned, you risk placing your joints in unhealthy positions. To steer clear of complications like stress fractures, torn cartilage and tendinitis, don’t be afraid to seek help. Consider hiring a qualified trainer to teach you proper form, or flag down the group instructor to give you pointers.

Also remember to warm up before exercising and stretch often. You should also pay attention to your range of motion, keeping your movements controlled and weight low, until you’ve got that exercise down pat.

Gym Danger No. 3: Too-heavy weights
More isn’t always better. At the gym, overdoing it can lead to physical injuries and mental burnout. In very rare cases, extreme overwork can lead to a dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis, where the muscles break down and release toxins in the bloodstream. (Post-workout, if you’re feeling extremely sore, weak and fatigued; running a fever; and/or have dark-colored or blood-tinted urine, call your doctor.)

To stay safe, listen to your body and be aware of your limits. Also increase your effort gradually; don’t suddenly increase the amount of weight you’re lifting or distance you’re running.

Gym Danger No. 4: Unqualified trainer
Working with a personal trainer can help you learn how to exercise safely -- and reach your goals. Most trainers are professionals with outstanding credentials. But since there aren’t licensing requirements in the industry, virtually anyone -- including those with little experience or education -- can use the title “trainer.”

Before working with an instructor, ask about their certifications and education. Some reputable certifications: those from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Specialty disciplines, such as yoga and Pilates, have their own niche certifications, including ones offered by outlets like the Pilates Method Alliance and YogaFit. And all staff, regardless of what they teach, should be certified in CPR/fitness first aid and automated external defibrillator (AED).

Gym danger No. 5: Faulty equipment
Chances are hundreds of other exercisers use the same equipment at the gym -- that’s a lot of wear and tear. If you notice that a machine isn’t working as it should, or something seems amiss, stop and alert the staff immediately. You may also want to check with your health club’s management to see how often those weight machines and treadmills are maintained and assessed.

Photo by Risen Wang on Unsplash

Create an At-Home Gym: Essential Fitness Supplies

What’s keeping you from the gym? Whether it’s job or family obligations, there are plenty of things that can derail your exercise goals. To make workouts as convenient as possible -- and increase your chances of getting them in -- it’s helpful to have some basic and inexpensive exercise equipment on hand at home.

The Essentials
Remember that your workout should include both cardio and strength training. The key to an effective cardio workout is simply getting your heart rate up. Understandably, not everyone has it in their budget to spring for a treadmill or an elliptical machine. Some good options for getting a cardio workout without any major equipment include jogging, jump rope or an exercise video that provides a good cardio workout.

For at-home strength training, pick up these two practical tools:

At-home fitness tool No. 1: Dumbbells. You’ll want a set of heavier ones you can use when working larger muscle groups (like your legs during dead lifts or weighted squats or lunges) and some lighter weights for working smaller muscles (like your shoulders during an overhead press).

At-home fitness tool No. 2: Resistance bands. Look for a stretchy band with a handle at both ends, which can be looped around a secure point or placed beneath your feet. It can be used for a variety of toning exercises.

For example, to do an overhead should press, place one or both feet in the center of the band. Holding a handle in each hand, bring your hands up beside your shoulders and press up, straightening your arms. The amount of resistance you’re working against depends on the tightness of the band: he greater the tension, the harder the exercise.

At-home fitness tool No. 3: A mat. If your workout area isn’t carpeted, you’ll need a mat to provide cushioning for exercises that involve lying or kneeling on the floor, such as sit-ups, crunches and push-ups.

Bonus Equipment
Here are a few of my other favorite tools that can help you add variety to your workouts and challenge your muscles in new ways:

  • Stability Ball: These inflatable balls are great for strengthening your abs and core muscles. You can use them to make basic core exercises, like crunches and planks more challenging because of the instability: Try holding a plank with your forearms on top of the ball and extend your legs straight out behind you. Challenge your core muscles to stabilize you while you work your shoulders by sitting on the ball and doing an overhead press with dumbbells.
  • Sponge Ball: Like a mini stability ball, these smaller inflatable balls are about nine inches in diameter. Want to tighten and tone your inner thighs? Place the ball between your thighs just above your knees and squeeze it tightly as you do squats. For extra burn, hold the squat and pulse your knees together.
  • Medicine Ball: Available in a variety of weights, medicine balls can be used to add resistance to body weight exercises, like weighted sit-ups or lunges with torso rotation. You can also use them to build upper body power and strength by throwing and catching them -- either straight up in the air or back and forth with a partner.
  • Foam Roller: Like getting massages? This is a much cheaper alternative that provides similar benefits for your muscles. Place this firm foam cylinder underneath a tight muscle or muscle group (like your hamstrings), placing as much of your weight on the roller as possible to add as much pressure as you can tolerate. Roll back and forth over the cylinder to work out knots within tight muscles.
  • TRX: If you’re looking to splurge, this suspension training system costs around $200 and consists of two long straps that you attach to a stable surface, like a doorframe. Using your own body weight and gravity as resistance, you can do hundreds of different exercises by holding the handles or placing your feet in the foot cradles. These exercises work your entire body and great for building strength (especially in your core) and improving balance and flexibility.

Don’t have any equipment at home right now? Try this quick and effective equipment-free workout.

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6 New Fun Exercise Trends to Try Now

When it comes to getting fit, there are two things I believe in: taking classes and trying new things. This was exactly the approach I took to get -- and stay -- in white-dress shape for my wedding. In the six months leading up to my big day, I tried as many different classes as I could. I had a ton of fun, and it kept me incredibly active.

What about you? Need a time out from the treadmill? Are you tired of that spin bike? Introducing a new type of exercise to your usual routine can kick-start your resolve. Consider the following classes, which are taking studios and gyms by storm, and prepare to get excited to sweat again!

1. If you like ... competition
Try … CrossFit

What it is: In a word: Intense! CrossFit workouts are fast-paced --you continuously move from one high-intensity exercise to the next. The exercises mostly involve fundamental actions, like running (more like sprinting!), throwing, jumping, squatting, pushing, pulling and swinging. There’s a variety of equipment, including barbells, kettlebells and sandbags. The goal is to complete a certain number of reps of each exercise within a given amount of time. In many classes, participants compete against one another. Because of its high intensity, you’re sure to torch a ton of calories!

One warning: Because of the explosive nature of many CrossFit exercises, it’s crucial to have good form before ramping up the intensity, to avoid injury. If you’re just starting to get in shape, jumping right in may not be your best option. Consider working with a personal trainer to learn the basics first.

Check it out: Watch these videos for demos of CrossFit exercises and click here to find CrossFit facilities in your area.

2. If you like … bodyweight exercises
Try … TRX

What it is: This suspension-training system contains two long straps that attach to a stable surface, like a door frame, weight rack or tree. Using your own body weight and gravity as resistance, you can do hundreds of different exercises by holding the handles or placing your feet in the foot cradles.

Instead of isolating a specific area, these exercises work your entire body. It’s great for building strength (particularly the core), and improving balance and flexibility.

Check it out: Find a trainer or a facility in your area that offers TRX training. You can also purchase your own suspension training system to use at home.

3. If you like … dance parties
Try … Zumba

What it is: The Zumba brand calls itself "a calorie-burning dance-fitness party." I’d say that’s about right. This high-energy workout incorporates dance moves and fun music. In addition to the standard Zumba fitness classes, several other courses are available, including Zumba Toning, which incorporates resistance training using special toning sticks, and Aqua Zumba (a pool party workout!).

Check it out: Click here to find a class near you or consider buying a workout DVD to do at home.

4. If you like … ballet
Try … The Bar Method

What it is:
This non-impact workout is dance conditioning with a variety of exercises -- some done with free weights, some at the bar and some on a mat -- to tighten and tone your entire body.

It also involves lots of stretching to help elongate muscles and improve posture. Many of the exercises are isometric, which involves holding a position and making small range-of-motion movements (say, pulsing up and down in a squat). 

Check it out: Find a studio location near you, see examples of exercises or check out these DVDs you can do at home. Pure Barre and Fluidity are different but similar brands of ballet-inspired fitness you could also check out.

5. If you like … high-intensity classes
Try … boot camp

What it is: Boot camp workouts aren’t brand-new type of exercise, but their growing popularity has led to more options and offerings. Inspired by military workouts, these high-intensity classes involve both cardio and strength training. They often move quickly, without a lot of rest, and incorporate interval training and explosive plyometric moves (like burpees).

Check it out: Depending on the season, you may be able to find outdoor classes offered in your area. (I think the fresh-air ramps up those endorphins even more!) You can also check out local gyms for boot-camp-style classes. Barry’s Bootcamp is a popular chain that has facilities in select cities and DVDs you can do at home.

6. If you like … yoga
Try … aerial yoga

What it is: Want to kick your yoga up a notch? In an aerial yoga class, you do many traditional poses ... in a special fabric hammock that hangs a few feet off of the floor. Depending on the pose, the hammock supports some or all of your weight. This may help you achieve more advanced poses and deepen your stretches. Just make sure to listen to your body during your first class. Most of us aren’t used to being upside down very often (or for any length of time), so you may need to take more breaks. I know I did!

How to check it out: Unnata Aerial Yoga has studio locations around the country but not in all states. You may also be able to find a class in your area at a facility that offers acrobatics classes.

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