The experts at Robson Forensic have investigated many incidents involving injuries, deaths, and sicknesses associated with gyms, sports clubs, and other fitness facilities.
In this article, sports and fitness expert, Dr. Laura Miele-Pascoe, looks at some of the most common causes of preventable injuries that occur in fitness centers as well as the industry standards that are designed to reduce the prevalence of injury.
Injuries in Fitness Facilities
Modern fitness facilities have grown in size and complexity, many providing a broad range of exercise and fitness options, including high-tech equipment, guided fitness classes, and one-on-one training sessions. When run properly, these facilities can offer tremendous services to their clientele, but when these facilities are not run with appropriate attention to safety, they can also contribute to injury, sickness, or even death.
In order to safely provide a complex range of services, modern fitness facilities must employ qualified personnel, invest in employee training, and commit ongoing resources to the inspection and maintenance of facilities and equipment.
Preventable injuries in the gym environment typically fall into one of the following categories:
- Workout Tactics
- Supervision by Trainers/Management
- Equipment Maintenance and Inspection
- Emergency Response Training
1. Workout Tactics
Improper form and failure to follow an appropriate workout routine are two leading causes of injury. Improper form can lead to a variety of injuries, potentially overloading joints, muscles, or ligaments, sometimes resulting in falls or crush injuries. Additionally, people who choose a workout that is too aggressive for their level of fitness or those who fail to change their workout regimen overtime are susceptible to injuries; both can overuse specific muscles, resulting in injury. Workouts should always be developed according to an individual’s current abilities and modified with time to target different muscle sets, and reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.
The popularity of high intensity fitness routines has made it increasingly popular for those who are new to fitness to engage in workouts that exceed their skill or physical ability. It is the responsibility of trainers/fitness instructors to evaluate their clients properly and avoid placing them in unsafe and dangerous positions. All trainers/instructors should receive training on how to implement safe program design with the proper progression of exercises in order to decrease the incidence of injury.
2. Supervision by Trainers/Management
Supervision of a facility requires qualified personnel to oversee all exercise areas to ensure the effectiveness of training and proper use of equipment. Supervisors must move about the floor and answer questions and assist clients. Particular care is required in the supervision of trainers in order to recognize ineffective or unsafe practices that may require prompt intervention.
Safety is universal within fitness facilities. Therefore, it is important that fitness managers and directors convey the use of safe practices within their facility as outlined by the NSCA and ACSM.
3. Equipment Maintenance and Inspection
The responsible management of a fitness facility requires the systematic inspection and routine maintenance of the facility and all equipment. Regular inspection and maintenance can identify equipment damage, normal wear and tear, and missing parts, thereby minimizing the incidence of injury or death. Fitness management should implement routine inspections on all equipment, including but not limited to: cardio equipment, resistance equipment, physio-balls, and Automated External Defibrillator (AED) units.
4. Emergency Response Training
Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) provide a course of action for individuals and organizations when faced with calamity. In the fitness industry, a well-developed and executed EAP can be the difference between life and death for participants who are seriously injured or suffer other acute health conditions. For more information on EAPs, see our article on Emergency Action Plans and Automated External Defibrillators.
Standards for Prevention
The ACSM has specific guidelines and standards that should be followed in order to keep fitness facilities safe. It is the responsibility of the gym to hold orientations for new members, educate staff, and post signage as part of running a safe and effective facility. Many facilities do an adequate job of ensuring safety, but when facilities fail to meet their responsibilities, the results can be devastating.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has developed standards that are the performance criteria established by leaders in the fitness industry. The guidelines they created are recommendations that ACSM believes the health and fitness operators should follow. These standards and guidelines are suggested best practices in order to create and sustain a safe facility.
Fitness & Training Forensic Investigations
Within our sports and recreation practice you will find experts who specialize in the operation and management of fitness facilities, the inspection and maintenance of fitness equipment, and the latest trends in fitness and personal training.
For more information visit our Fitness Facility Operations practice page.
Fitness, Sport Coaching, & Injury Prevention Expert
Dr. Miele-Pascoe played Division I basketball at Arizona State; was Tight End for the Arizona Caliente, of the Women’s Professional Football League; and was also a New York Golden Gloves semi-finalist. She began coaching athletes in 1986 and has been involved as a personal exercise and fitness trainer since 1994.
Laura’s Doctorate is in Sport and Exercise Psychology, she also earned a Master’s in Education, and her undergraduate degree is in Exercise Physiology and Physical Education. Laura is part of the adjunct faculty at Ohio University for the Sport and Recreation Pedagogical Department, and continues to provide personal training and consultation in a variety of training methods, sports, and psychological necessities.