5 Classic Gym Fails and How to Avoid Them

These fixes will save you from embarrassing moments in the gym.

We've all watched montages of gym fails—clumsy gym-goers using equipment incorrectly or trying to show off. While they're funny if you're an observer, the last thing you want to do is find yourself featured in one of these compilations.

To avoid major misfortunes, all you need is enough common sense to steer clear of skateboarding on a treadmill or using the squat racks as monkey bars. Sometimes, however, even the best of us have an "off day" at the gym.

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Below are five common gym fails, and how to avoid them.

1. You accidentally lift with different weights on either side of the bar

Hint: One side of the bar feels heavier than the other and you can't figure out why your right arm is lagging behind your left as you try to press the bar evenly up from your chest. Chances are you and your partner loaded opposite sides of the bar, and either one of you can't count or the caffeine in your pre-workout failed to stimulate your intraparietal sulcus for quantitative analysis of bar loading.

Fix: Either find a gym partner with a doctorate in plate addition or simply double check the bar each time. When working with kilos, know your conversions and keep your calculator handy. For drop sets, count the last weight you used first and work backwards until you're at your starting weight. Make sure to communicate with your gym partner (if you have one) on which plates you are putting on the bar instead of just assuming he knows how to load for 265.

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2. The lat bar hits you in the head when you remove the pin

In a balanced pulley system, the force holding the bar must be equal to or greater than the downward acceleration of gravity acting on the mass of the bar attachment of your choice. This usually happens with the lat pulldown bar, since this carries greater weight than a V-bar or rope attachment. When you pull the pin out to adjust the resistance, the bar is no longer held in place and the pull of gravity is greater than the resistance force acting to keep it up. Due to convenient plate stack placement, this generally places the bar right over your head during adjustments, and you could find yourself with a nice cranial contusion.

Fix: Adjust the plate stack before you add the bar attachment. Or, if the bar is already attached, simply support the bar or apply pressure on the plate stack as you adjust the pin.

3. You look like an unathletic weakling trying to strip the deadlift bar

As you try to jerk the plates off one end of the bar, your lower back flexes and places pressure on the fragile posterior-lateral portion of the discs of your lower back.

Fix: Save yourself the trouble and the backache by placing a small plate under the innermost plate on your bar to lift it off the ground. Strip elevated plates, then stand the bar up to remove additional plates in excalibur-like fashion. Not only will you look like a one-man plate-stripping pit crew, but you'll do so with little effort, leaving more gas in the tank for your next exercise.

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4. You get trapped under the bar and have to be rescued by the nearest disapproving meathead with a conscience

If no one is there to save the day—or the "alphas" elect to let natural selection determine your fate—you will spend the remainder of your workout steamrolling yourself out from under the bar.

Fix: Know your maxes. Don't be afraid to ask for a spot or set your rack spotters on an angle. Maxes can be calculated and predicted from larger repped sets using 1RM calculators, which you can find with a simple Google search. Using your 1RM and the parameters of your workout, calculate the amount of weight that you should be able to handle on each set while still achieving your minimum effective dose to stimulate progress.

Maxes must be tested with a spotter. If you aren't sure you can hit the weight, ask for a spot. Ninety-nine percent of gym goers would be happy to assist you, because when you say, "Can you spot me, Bro?" they hear, "You look super strong and big enough to lift this with one pinky if I need you to."

If you are benching alone and have access to a rack, set the spotting bars on an angle so that the far side is higher than your thighs and the side closest to your head is lower than your shoulders. This not only allows you to reach full depth on the chest, but also enables you to push the bar off your chest and toward your thighs onto the spotters should you fail.

5. You hit the hooks on the descending portion of the Bench Press

In addition to making a loud sound and looking foolish, this contact can disrupt your balance, make you miss the lift or even strain your shoulder as your posterior cuff tries to decelerate the bar's forward progress toward your knees. Before lowering the bar, you should feel a "true zero," where your arms are directly under the weight of the bar and there is no forward or backward movement or force affecting the bar.

Fix: To accomplish this, set up correctly with the bar over your eyes or forehead, depending on preference. Since this is farther up than the bar will be when you perform the exercise, have a spotter lift the bar up and out to you before finding "true zero" and proceeding. If you do not have a spotter, press up and back on the bar to lift it off the hooks, then slowly draw the bar forward to the true zero position before lowering it to your chest.

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