While we were promoting our recent Reddit AMA that Peter hosted a while back, one of our fans submitted this question:
“My question is what kind of tips, advice, or products do you have for the home gym user who lifts alone. Obviously, in a commercial gym, there are other lifters and staff members that can help you out if you fail a lift. Besides wearing a life alert button what else can I do to make sure I'm setting up my home gym in the safest way possible for a solo lifter?”
Thanks for the question, Christopher. I know it’s one shared by many. We promised to do our homework and we didn’t disappoint. We’ll do the heavy lifting for you.
Lifting weights, whether at a gym or at home, certainly carries risk. There’s no doubt about it. Check out these stats:
Emergency rooms treated nearly a million weightlifting injuries in the United States between 1990 and 2007.
A cathedral of strength.
If you don’t already, learn right quick the inherent injury risk of weightlifting. I do a solid job of always staying aware, diligent and observant while I’m working out. I also do my best to suppress adrenaline while keeping calm and under control.
Even then, I’ve sustained a few injuries. Dumbbells seem to be my natural enemy, as I’ve gotten pinched by them twice (once cutting open my fingertip). I also got my pinky finger crushed by a 35 pounder that someone didn’t rerack correctly, which led to me losing my fingernail.
What would a Texan do? Put a drill bit through it twice to try and save it.
There is an infinite number of ways you can injure yourself in the gym and a great majority of the blame falls on user error and/or bad form. Equipment failure is a cause too, but not as common. The best way to avoid injury is to take all necessary precautions, have perfect form and always be calm, cool and collected.
Now, let’s overstate the obvious.
You can injure yourself doing ANY lift or movement.
If you’re physically predisposed to injury, have a structural weakness, haven’t warmed up, employ poor form, or whatever else it may be, you can and likely will, injure yourself.
That said, we’re not going to offer broad, general advice on home weightlifting safety. Rather, we’re going to get specific and focus on the dangerous duo: the bench press and the squat.
The bench press and squat represent the 2 most dangerous lifts you’ll do at home alone.
Of the dangerous duo, the bench press is the most dangerous. There’s no need to post horrific pictures or videos of bench press failures as you can easily find them online. They’re quite scary to see. Tragic accidents happen, like this one.
Don't try this at home.
Most strength practitioners have failed without a spotter or hardware at least once on a bench press. If you bench enough, it will eventually happen. If you’ve failed on a bench press without a spotter, you know the stomach-sinking feeling. The only thing holding back your shame and embarrassment is a huge load draped across your chest that you have to roll off immediately for your safety and survival. I’ve done it, I know. Your pride will bounce back eventually, as long as you’re not in the hospital or worse.
You don’t ever want this to happen to you at home alone. So let’s look at how to avoid a bench press failure.
The 3 main injury risks are your lower back, shoulders and knees. This article points that out and offers some other helpful lifting tips. When benching, shoulders will be the primary risk. Usually when you fail, one or both shoulders will collapse, dropping the bar across your upper chest, or worse, across your throat. Not good.
Now, there will be 2 different situations here- squat stand vs. power rack. If you don’t know the difference between the 2 already, go ahead, click that link and read up on the subject. A power rack offers you more safety options.
A squat stand has 2 uprights. Since it lacks 4 uprights like a power rack/cage, a squat stand doesn’t offer safety strap or safety pin options. Although you can use safety spotter arms with a squat stand.
Bench pressing on a squat stand requires solid form, confidence and control. Unless you have safety spotter arms, you never want to bench press to failure on a squat rack if you’re lifting at home alone.
Squat stands offer baseline safety. Know what you’re doing before committing to one, or at least have spotter arms installed.
Fringe Sport 3x3 safety spotter arms.
Power racks have 4 uprights and form a cage, providing the necessary framework for either safety straps or safety pins/pipes. Safety spotter arms also work but aren't necessary as power racks come with safety straps or pins/pipes.
When buying a power rack, they will always come with either safety straps or safety pins/pipes. Using either of these, make your bench pressing much safer.
The Fringe Sport Garage Series squat cage with safety pipes.
We won’t get into whether safety straps or safety pins/pipes are better. It’s a personal preference at times. However, we will say that not all safety straps are made equal, nor made to be equal to safety pins/pipes.
Be extremely careful where your safety straps come from. Right now there are safety straps under recall! If you’re unfortunate to own these and need recall info, go here. If you’re concerned about the safety of power rack safety straps, check out this piece by our friends over at TwoRepCave.com.
If you own a power rack or are considering buying one, here are a couple of great tutorials that teach you how to safely bench press with them.
Doing squats is a little bit safer than bench pressing. You don’t run the risk of dropping a barbell across your chest or throat. Thus the risk of killing yourself is lower.
Do not underestimate the inherent risk of squatting. Severe injuries like slipped disks and blown out knees are not uncommon, as squatting puts huge strain on the lower back and legs.
Again you can find plenty out there on YouTube about failed squats. I don’t like to watch them much as they make me wince. Here’s one that isn’t too bad. It looks like the guy got his pride hurt more than anything else.
You don’t want to end up like this guy.
You know how and why this guy failed?
Because he didn’t dump or ditch the bar.
There’s a very simple way to do this.
Think about when you were a kid and took a pen apart. You took out the spring and played with it. If you were like me, you put that spring in between your thumb and index finger and shot that thing across the room.
That’s how you ditch the bar on a squat.
You spring forward, out from underneath and off of it.
Watch this tutorial:
So there you have it. The main difference between safely benching at home and safely squatting at home is the difference between hardware and form.
A safe bench press at home requires safety hardware.
A safe squat at home requires knowing how to safely and properly ditch the bar.
Besides hardware, the 3 most vital things in your control are proper form, proper weight (not training to failure without safety hardware) and pain. Don’t ignore pain as it’s your body telling you something you need to attend to.
Thanks for reading Fringe Nation. If you have any pro tips, valuable input or helpful feedback, please share with your fellow tribe members in the comments below. Until next blog, have a great day, stay awesome and lift strong and safe!