Today I want to talk about the etiquette and safety of working around barbells and weights. Everyone has their very own workout station and space with plenty of room to move safely (let’s celebrate the good things that have come out of COVID!)
Lifting heavy things is awesome! Done right, there’s nothing more righteous than getting your lift on. Done wrong, it’s a major buzzkill and hazard for you and those around you.
Coaches are at the gym to ensure good form, keep everyone safe, help athletes move better, celebrate awesomeness, and much more! But they can’t be everywhere all the time, so the responsibility falls on YOU (and everyone in class) to be accountable when working with barbells and weights.
Clear the Lifting/Floor Space
This goes for workouts, strength work in the rigs, and lifting from the floor. Make sure all plates, collars, water bottles, and everything else not properly attached to the barbell is away from where the lift is going to take place.
If you’re working from the rig, a good guideline is to keep any spare plates inside the rig. (You may not know it, but every time a plate is left out on the ground in the open space underneath where someone may be lifting, a puppy dies.) Don’t do that to puppies!
Barbells bouncing off stuff on the floor make for rockets into your shins, ankles, back, etc. Have you seen the barbell sized holes in the walls? Barbell rockets generally win against drywall and human flesh.
Load (and Unload) Babells Evenly
Symmetry is your best friend. You wouldn’t strict press a barbell with 25 pounds on one side and 10 on the other. Same rules apply for loading and unloading the bar – load evenly.
You throw 10 pounds on one side throw 10 on the other. This seems like common sense but is worth the reminder – especially when getting into heavier weights on the barbell.
Same things goes for unloading barbells – especially those on the rack. Unload them evenly!
Awesome job with those 4 plates, bro. But if you decide to take all of them off of one side (leaving one side empty and one side loaded), the chances of that bar flipping like a catapult, hitting you, crashing to the ground, and sending the remaining plates flying are pretty high! Don’t be that guy.
Like all good relationships – communication is key! If you are partnered up with one or two people, try pre-planning weight changes, roles for loading/unloading, and lifting order to minimize the time the bar isn’t moving.
Once Fran racks that barbell, Annie should be calling out the weight she needs, getting it evenly loaded, and starting the lift. This maximizes the amount of time each person gets to lift (and recover.)
Each athlete should have an individual game plan. Even if you are teamed up with other people, we are all different and shouldn’t follow or chase the weights of the person lifting in front of us. It’s not that difficult to change the weights!
Know How to Fail
Yeah, failure sucks. But maybe failing is actually awesome!
When it comes to lifting (especially in heavy weighted sets and max attempt), failure is the only way to truly know you’ve done all that you can do. You don’t get better immediately and you don’t improve by staying safely confined in lifts and weights you know you can always hit.
Challenge yourself. Step out of your warm fuzzy comfort zone, and go for something that is (an intelligent) challenge for you! If you hit it, great – a new Personal Record and you get to ring the Bell! If you don’t, you’ve just challenged your body in a neurologic and muscular way. And this is huge for long term improvement! (Plus you have a new goal going forward!)
That being said, know how to bail comfortably and safely. It is completely normal to have the weights you are about to attempt create some anxiety or fear in you. What isn’t fine is to let that bar crush you (and your soul.)
If you are unsure how to bail, ask a Coach. Practice bailing with lighter weights from time to time to recognize what your body may do and what you need to tell it to do in order to get out from under the weight safely.
Please don’t let the first time you ever bail be on a crushingly heavy weight! I want you to lift that weight, I want you to succeed in squatting the hell out of it, but if you can’t that day, no big deal, bail from it safely.
As a side note – the only movement we ever spot is the Bench Press. For all other movements it is safer to learn to bail properly. Having someone assist you in lifting that weight from the bottom of a back squat (for instance) can be more dangerous for you both than bailing in the lift.
Be Alert and Aware
Hopefully this is common sense, but let’s talk about it anyway. In the excitement of big lifting days, this can sometimes get overlooked.
You have your station at the rig or floor space, and we’ve already covered being cognizant of what is around you. It is for your own safety to know what is going around you at other stations too.
Keep an eye out for other stations and rigs, things on the floor around them, who is lifting and when, etc. There is also an unwritten rule (like in bowling) to stagger your lifts – especially if you are set up directly across from someone! Nothing is as fun as your one rep max/private bedroom face and grunt while starting directly into the eyes of a fellow lifter!
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to yourself as you prepare and execute lifts. Many people often overlook the simple fact that heavy weightlifting takes some toll on the body. Both the nervous system and the body get heavily taxed on heavy lifting days when you are under that kind of load and stress.
If you’ve been eating nothing or went on a weekend bender, if you’ve slept an hour in the past day or regularly don’t get much sleep, if you are stressed or frustrated, if you changed something major in your life recently, if you’ve been at the gym 12 days in a row, if you’ve done similarly heavy loaded lifts without enough rest days in between, if you’ve been engrossed in binge watching The Mandalorian on Disney+, or anything else that changes your general routine and recovery, then don’t be surprised when even your warm up feels like heavy.
This isn’t a big deal, but it is something to be mindful of. You may have to alter your percentages for the day’s lifts to account for what you are bringing to the gym any given day.
There is no reason to force your body to feel like it is going for a one rep attempt at the heaviest thing ever when really you are at 60% . Back off/adjust on weight, do the work, focus on your technique, recover properly, and acknowledge that your body did the best it could on this day.
Secondly, practice good form consistently before you go heavy. This isn’t just for settling into the idea of mobility and technique, but also for the nervous system and neurologic response that the increased demand and stimulus weightlifting produces.
Do it right the first time, be patient, be consistent, and the numbers will continue to improve!
Be safe out there my fit friends!