Is Lifting Weights Really Dangerous? Tips on how to avoid injuries from lifting.

NOTE: I don’t know why, but the universe has a weird rule about pain. Sometimes you would just read or hear about a specific injury, forget about it and hurt yourself the very same way in the next 24 hours or so. It happened to me many times. I broke my forearm, after talking about broken bones with a friend a few hours before the accident. I don’t know why it happens, but I know other people with similar experience too. I guess it has something to do with tempting fate. It may not sound very rational to you, but I believe this disclaimer sort of removes the curse.

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I’ve been in this lifting game for a long time and so far I have no real injuries. The only serious damage I suffered as a result of weightlifting was a hip overuse from too much squatting. My body gave me plenty of signs, but I didn’t listen and at one point it was unbearable.


Another action that could have caused me a lot of pain was deadlifting with poor form. At one point I was deadlifting with horrendous technique (bent back), but I didn’t get injured from it. Regardless, I still count this experience as a potentially dangerous scenario. Today, my back hurts just by thinking about how horrible my form was.

Anyway, the point is that all of my troubles were 100% avoidable with very little planning and common sense. Thus, I don’t consider weightlifting dangerous, although it could kill you.

Wait, what?

Yes, you can die during your lifting workout. One of the most dangerous exercises is, of course, the bench press. When done with a barbell and without a spotter the weight can fall on your head or at least squeeze your chest and lungs until you suffocate. In the video below you can see the powerlifter Andrey Malanichev drop a heavy barbell on his chest during a max bench attempt.

There are many other examples on YouTube, but I chose this one because the lifter is actually using regular thumb-around-the-bar grip. In this case, unfortunately, the grip still fails to provide the needed safety even though people often accuse the thumbless grip of being a killer. To be fair, the thumbless grip is a killer and a really bad move.

How can you prevent such failure? Technically, the best way is to simply do the bench press in a squat rack with the pins ready to catch or use a bench with special safety bars. I don’t know why professional powerlifting competitions don’t use the safety catchers. I had the luxury to train on a professional powerlifting bench back in the day and it came with two nice safety catchers. I loved it because I hate being “spotted” and the safety catchers provide even more safety. Catchers > spotters in my opinion.

With that said, I’ve done the bench press plenty of times without any safety measure. I even got pinned one time. I think it was 150 lbs. on the bar and I didn’t use collars so I just let part of the plates fall on the ground. It was quite stupid.

The popularity of the bench press and the lack of common sense is the reason why it’s the number one killer in the weight room. However, it’s not the fault of the exercise. I am currently not doing the bench press because I don’t want to. I prefer doing exercises like dips and stuff. It’s more fun. This is a choice made because of preferences rather than fear. Who knows, maybe one day I will go back to the exercise…{probably not}

I still think the bench has many benefits such as great programming options and development of brutal pushing strength through close chain movement. I’ve never had any joint problems because of the bench that were not fixable through form manipulation. It’s a solid exercise and I don’t think people should be afraid of it, but you definitely need to know your limits and approach it with respect.

While the bench can kill you, I don’t think it’s the most dangerous exercises ever. I think there are things scarier than death. One of those things are called severe injuries. Those can make you wish you were dead.

I may make a lot of people mad, but the exercise that I have always considered the most dangerous is the barbell back squat. Why? Because the bar is on your back and your spine is supporting it. Thus, your spine can get injured rather easily if something goes wrong. Spinal injuries are one of the most nastiest on Earth. They can literally put you in a chair.

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in the gym, but I have never played with squats. Never. I’ve done almost every exercises with bad form and relatively heavy weight, but when it came to squatting I really made sure my form was good. I was scared of that movement. I would always max out in the squat rack. Once I even waited for 1 hour in order to squat safely in the rack. I was that “dedicated”. Today, I would just use squat stands without safeties or spotters. Why? Because I know my limits and I never max out anymore. {haha}.

I don’t consider the squat dangerous when it comes to experienced people. Olympic weightlifters do max squat daily without spotters and just dump the bar behind when they can’t get up. Keep in mind that those people are trained and do high bar squats, which are way easier to get out of because you are more vertical. They also use weightlifting shoes with a heel, which allows them to remain even more upright. In addition, Oly lifters also rely on bumper plates, which behave like a basketball and prevent damage to the floor and the bar when the barbell is dropped.

Regular people training in commercial gyms with iron plates have no business doing this kind of stuff. Imagine dropping the bar while somebody is passing behind and writing messages on his iFone.

Anyway, this is still the safest way to get out of a squat if everything goes bad. Even Ed Coan had to do it once back in the day.

I know some of the things above may seem scary to you, but there is one thing we tend to forget: we are not lifting as much weight as those guys. Sure, when you are maxing out you are testing yourself all the way, but you are still not having 1000 lbs on your back.

I believe that if you have decent programming and rational egoless judgment, you should never miss a single rep. I always knew when my last rep is my last rep. Always! Yet I would go for another one because my routine said so. Stupid. Today, I rarely miss a rep. Maybe once a year.

Finally, we arrive at the other big lift – the deadlift. The deadlift is the safest of all three powerlifts. You can just drop the bar and I don’t think there are dead people because of this exercise. Partly, it’s because nobody does it, but who am I to criticize? I no longer deadlift and I am even naturally good at it. I believe this exercise takes much more than it gives back.

The nastiest injuries that can occur from a deadlift are spinal. You can definitely damage your spine when you use poor form, although I’ve done that and I am still fine. However, I was really young and had no previous spinal traumas. Be careful and use good form! Stay away from hitching and lower back bending. {As a side note I have a post on the rounded back deadlift which you can read here.}

If you apply common sense and know your limits, you can definitely avoid potential injuries from squats, bench presses and deadlifts. And if you can avoid injuries from those exercises, you can definitely do the same when it comes to pull-ups, dips, bicep curls…etc.

The fact that weightlifting allows you to program your training makes it a super safe sport. You go to the gym with a pretty clear idea what you are going to do, and usually there aren’t people there trying to tackle you down.

In other words, most of the variables are determined by the lifter. Consequently, the injury rate has the potential to be really low to non-existent. Of course, if you want to kill yourself, you can still do it, but given the available information for free on the Internet there is no excuse to train like a Neanderthal.

The worst injuries I had were not related to lifting. I was a skateboarder once and that gave me much more pain than lifting. The sport has a much higher risk potential and body damage rate. However, going back much of my troubles were still avoidable to a degree. My injuries go as follows:

– 2 broken bones of the forearm (60 days in cast); #completely avoidable injury;

– broken finger; #this was not my fault I got hit;

– nasty ankle tear; (don’t know how I didn’t completely tear any ligaments) #sudden injury;

– knee cartilage damage that hurts to this day (this was overuse);

– elbow and wrist tendonitis (unrelated to sports);

– Achilles tendonitis (unrelated to sports); #avoidable

I also had a lot of people around me broke many bones. The worst was a completely broken lower leg after a jump. It required something like 6 months of immobilization before the actual rehabilitation could even begin. One of my classmates even tore his knee ligaments from skateboarding 2 times in a row.

With that said, I don’t consider skateboarding anymore dangerous than driving a car or even a bicycle in traffic. Ironically, people don’t stop driving, but feel afraid to do a few squats.

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