How To Not Hurt Yourself In The Gym

Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S. , Pn1 


"What made you decide to hire a trainer? " I asked, as I do with all my new clients.

"My doctor says I have to lose weight and I'm afraid I'll hurt myself if I do it on my own" She responded.

After dozens of these conversations, I've learned that what's holding many people back from exercising is that they're afraid they'll hurt themselves. 

While exercising is one of the best things you can do for your health it is not without risk.

 I would like to go over a few things you can do to make sure that your workouts keep you out of the hospital - not send you there.

Our first step is understanding that there are two types of gym injuries; acute and chronic.  

Acute conditions are severe and sudden in onset - this could mean tearing a muscle, dropping a weight, tripping or falling.

A chronic condition, by contrast, is a long-developing syndrome. These injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and tendonitis develop over time when your body cannot adapt to the stresses it's exposed to.

We're going to go over how to avoid each of these injuries. 

Let's start with how to avoid acute injuries- those sudden incidents.

Acute Injuries

“Quit doing stupid stuff”

This was a favorite quote from my friend's father (his version wasn't as PG). At the heart of the message to my friend was if you want to stop getting hurt then quit doing ill-advised and potentially hazardous activities (Read: stupid).

In the gym it means to stop squatting on exercise balls, running where you shouldn't, stacking boxes and seeing how high you can jump, lifting unreasonably heavyweight (especially without a spotter) or any of the like.  

The gym can be dangerous. Weights are heavy, hard, and unaccommodating to your poor choices.

If it's something you would tell your bro to videotape, then I implore you to think twice. Then again,  just don’t do it.

The internet doesn't need more gym fails

Respect Gravity

Weights are heavy and they will crush you if given the opportunity.

Don't place them on the edge where they can fall, or in the middle of a crowded walkway where one could trip.

Don't use more weight than you can handle

Use a spotter

Occasionally, you will want to go heavy to increase your strength. When you do, it’s important that you have a spotter available. A spotter is someone who can provide you with assistance should the lift take a turn for the worse.



Early in my lifting career I recall bench pressing and having the bar slip out of my hand. The bar came crashing down pinning me to the bench. Fortunately, the bar only crushed my ego. Having a spotter to catch the weight and bail me out would have been helpful at that moment.

If you plan ongoing heavy or are not confident in the exercise then ask for someone to spot you on the lift.

Know your out

Injury can happen in any lift and if you do not have a spotter, then it’s important you know your way out of the situation.

Situations like my bench press accident can happen in all lifts and it’s important to know how to handle it.

A few common examples

Bench Press - Shift the bar off to the side. When benching alone it's advised to not have a clip on the bar to allow the weight to slide off.

Squat - Drop the bar behind you and step forward.

Kettlebell Swing - The Russian kettlebell certification suggests letting go of the kettlebell as opposed to trying to control it and hurting yourself. Make sure you have space and there's no one in your immediate surroundings.

Be aware of your surrounding

The gym is full of weights, large metal objects, and people lifting and swinging those weights with reckless abandon. During peak hours the gym can turn into an obstacle course where the only thing that will save you will be your ability to be aware of your surroundings.

A few Tips

  • Check to see if you are in a walkway.
  • Before performing an exercise, check you have enough space to do so.
  • Look to see who are the people in your immediate surroundings and whether their exercises may bring them into your space.
  • Check the floor to make sure there are no weights or other tripping hazards.
  • Don't do something you're unsure of

Know your limits

Essential to training is gradually pushing the body to grow and adapt. However, while it's important to push the body, it is equally important to know your limits. I have seen people pass out from pushing intervals harder than they should of. I’ve also seen people pull their back trying to lift too much weight.

Progress gradually, don’t push your body past its limits.

 Think Twice Before Trying These 5 Exercises
 This is a good article to see a few of the areas that most people attempt but which are beyond their limits. Check them out and proceed with caution

Don't work out through pain

Since the body can't speak to us directly, it must do so using signals. The loudest of these signals is pain. Pain tells you that something is wrong. That there is an injury (or the potential for one) and that it needs to recover.

Working out through pain or injury can turn a small nuisance requiring a short period of rest into a full-blown injury requiring time off. Consistency is key and we’re here to play the long game. Working through pain may also cause compensations in your technique, furthering any muscle imbalance and reinforcing poor movement.

When deciding to workout through pain make sure you know the difference between, good pain and bad pain.

Mild discomfort is part of the exercise process and is necessary improving performance and physique. Pain, however, is a sign that something is wrong. Remember that nothing should ‘hurt’. Pain shouldn't be confused with mild muscle soreness or the burn experienced when performing a hard set.

Chronic Injuries

Chronic pain and injury refers to the sort of physical injury that develops slowly and is persistent and long-lasting, or constantly recurring over time. Many chronic injuries have mild symptoms and low-grade pain and are often ignored or simply overlooked for months or even years.

All chronic injuries can be traced back to doing too much, too soon, and often with poor form.

Use proper form

Using proper technique is the most important thing you can do to prevent injuries. In contrast performing exercises incorrectly can set you up for an injury. If you avoid hurting yourself in the short term you risk developing various chronic injuries down the line from the repetitive trauma.

Using improper technique is like running a red light. It doesn't mean if you do it you’ll have an accident but If you run enough red lights you're going to wreck.

Poor technique means that forces are distributed poorly among your muscles and joints eventually wearing down and damaging those tissues till pain or injury result.

My advice when working out is to always focus on proper technique before you attempt to increase the difficulty of an exercise. Let me repeat that - ALWAYS focus on proper technique.  If you are unsure how to perform an exercise, then hire a professional to teach it to you.

Too much

We live in a society where more is better. We reason if 30 minutes is good then 60 minutes must be better.

However, exercise places stress on the body. Like any stress,  The body will break down when the stress accumulates quicker than the body can recover from it. Injuries like tendonitis (inflammation of a muscle or tendon) and stress fractures are just two examples of what happens when you do too much.

Too Soon

The key to doing more is slowly building yourself up to it. Connective tissues can take a while to adapt to the stresses of exercises and building up too quickly causes the tissue to break down as explained above.

Instead, aim to build up slow and gradually. This gives your body enough time to adapt to the new stresses. My personal experience for this came from when I competed collegiately in track and cross country. To be competitive at the college level it was necessary to run 50+ miles a week. However, every time I tried to build up I got injured. Frustrated, I dropped the conservative recommendation of increasing 5 miles a week down to only 1 or 2 miles a week. It took almost 6 months, but eventually, I was consistently running 60+ miles a week and began surpassing my peers.

Tips for building gradually

Get a training plan

A training plan will help guide you to your goals. It will tell you what to do, how much to do, and when to do it. This can help to prevent you from getting ahead of yourself and doing too much too soon.

Life will be stressful and you will need to take extra rest. It is better to listen to your body and take a rest day than to push through just because the plan said so.

For a beginners plan, I recommend you check out the Zero to One program offered here 

Zero to One -  A Beginners Program for Success

Keep a Training Log

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”  If you want to be successful, pick up a notebook or online app and log your workouts. Log what you did in each workout. This allows you to gauge how much stress you're putting on your body and how quickly your progressing.

As you exercise and fill your log, you will notice trends. You will be able to identify what types of training, volumes, and intensity your body responds best too.



The most successful athletes are the ones in the game. They're consistent in their games, and they're consistent in their training. The only way they're able to stay so consistent is by not having to take time off due to injury.

When you're in the gym, be aware of your surroundings and use common sense.

When training, build slowly, gradually and Always with good form.

Follow those sentiments and you too will have a long, safe and, successful exercise career.