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Recent high-profile weight room injuries have focused more attention on the importance of safe strength training. Last season's horrific incident in the USC weight room, in which running back Stafon Johnson dropped 275 pounds on his throat while benching, was by far the most publicized. Johnson was lucky to survive, but he missed the remainder of the season after undergoing multiple throat and neck surgeries. He did not regain the ability to speak for several months after the accident.
Johnson's injury was one of thousands that happen in high school and college weight rooms across the U.S. each year. Read the story of Reed Remington, a high school football player heading into his senior season in Ohio, who had his finger nearly ripped off while lifting weights. The gruesome injury came close to derailing the 6'4", 245-lb. defensive end's hopes for a scholarship from courting schools such as North Carolina, Purdue and Northwestern.
According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the incidence of weight room injuries has increased 48.4 percent in recent years. More than 90 percent of these injuries involved the use of free weights, with dropped weights crushing body parts being the major cause. Most alarming was the fact that the highest incidence of injury was among people between 13 and 18 years of age.
While injuries on the field are sometimes unavoidable, you have complete control over preventing injuries in the weight room. Follow the rules below, and you'll never lose playing time with an injury that could have been prevented.
Always Use a Spotter. If one is unavailable, avoid lifts in which the weight is above any part of your body. For instance, replace Barbell Squats with Dumbbell Squats (DBs at sides), Bench Press with Physioball Push-Ups (feet on ball) and Shoulder Press with Dumbbell Shoulder Raises. Pull-Ups, Dips and other bodyweight exercises are also great options when a spotter is not around.
Use Perfect Form. If you are unable to perform a complete set with perfect form, the weight is too heavy. Proper form not only ensures your muscles are benefiting optimally from a lift, it also protects bones, ligaments and tendons from taking the brunt of the force. Control the weight throughout the entire range of motion, avoiding any use of momentum.
Pay Attention. Always maintain 100 percent focus when lifting, spotting or even standing in a weight room. It is a workplace, not a social chat room. One second of distraction can result in loss of balance or control of the weight.
Use Clips. Plates sliding toward one end of the bar during barbell exercises is one of the most common causes of dumped weights.
Keep it Clean. Always put away weight plates and dumbbells immediately after using them. Do not drop the dumbbells when your set is complete. Heavy weight + rubber floor can = unexpected bounces or rolling weights, which have broken plenty of toes, foot bones and ankles. If you can't handle the weight with control after a set, it's too heavy for you. The set doesn't end until the dumbbells are racked.
Sources: cleveland.com, ajs.sagepub.com