Exercising in the comfort of your own home is convenient and can save a bundle in gym fees over time. But there’s a potential downside, too, and it has to do with safety—because unlike at a good gym, at home there’s no professional trainer correcting your improper technique or making sure damaged equipment gets repaired. When it comes to treadmills, multistation home-gym machines and stationary bikes, the risks can be substantial.
I spoke with Barbara Bushman, PhD, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Missouri State University, to discuss strategies that can keep you safe when you’re using major home exercise equipment. (Previously we covered safety tips for simple home exercise equipment, such as hand weights, resistance bands, balance boards and fitness balls. For that article, click here.) What you need to know about using a…
Treadmill. The treadmill causes more injuries than any other type of exercise equipment, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- If your treadmill has a safety cord that clips to your clothing, be sure to use it (and if your unit does not have this feature, consider upgrading to one that does). At one end of the cord is a key that plugs into the treadmill. If you lose your footing and fall, the cord disengages from the machine, shutting off the treadmill automatically. Without this safety feature, you could wind up having your face sandpapered by the treadmill’s moving belt.
- Familiarize yourself with your treadmill’s speed and grade options. Incorrectly manipulating the controls could cause the treadmill to speed up or raise its incline when you were expecting to go slower or lower, Dr. Bushman warned—and that could send you flying.
- Use caution when placing towels, magazines, water bottles or other objects on the console at the front of the treadmill. An object that drops onto the treadmill could wind up underfoot, causing you to trip.
Multistation Home-Gym Machine. These combination units are designed to provide a full-body workout—which means they have many moving parts that can cause injury if the equipment is improperly assembled or maintained.
- It is worth paying extra to have a professional set up your unit, Dr. Bushman said. If you’re buying a new multistation, ask the store manager whether professional assembly is included in the purchase price—and confirm that the job won’t be done by an untrained deliveryman. For help putting together a used unit or to make sure that yours has been assembled correctly, check with a local store that sells similar equipment.
- Even with all the nuts and bolts in the right places, inattention can lead to accidents—so stay alert and keep hands and other body parts well clear of the multistation’s moving weight stacks, leverage arms, pulleys and cables.
- Examine your unit’s pulleys, connections and other moving parts at least once a month for signs of wear, including fraying or other damage. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for lubricating and tightening the unit’s components and replacing worn parts promptly.
Stationary Bicycle. These are relatively safe, but you’ll still want to exercise caution.
- Avoid wearing pants that flare at the ankle—depending on your bike’s style, the fabric could get trapped in the spinning mechanism and wrench your leg. The same goes for untied or unnecessarily long shoelaces.
- A seat that is too low puts strain on your knees. Best: Adjust the seat height so that there’s a slight bend in the knee when your foot is at the far reach of the pedal stroke.
- A new study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that using a bike on which the handlebars were positioned lower than the saddle was linked with decreased genital sensation in women. Best: To lessen the pressure, raise your handlebars higher than your seat. Dr. Bushman also suggested using a cushioned seat cover or wearing padded shorts to increase comfort—so you’ll be eager to get back on your bike when it’s time to work out again.
Source: Barbara Bushman, PhD, is a professor in the department of kinesiology at Missouri State University in Springfield, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and editor of ACSM's Complete Guide to Fitness and Health (Human Kinetics).