DISCLAIMER: The universe has a weird rule about suffering. Sometimes you read or hear about a specific injury, forget about it and hurt yourself the very same way in the next 24 hours. It has happened to me on a few occasions. Once I broke my forearm after talking about broken bones with a friend. I don’t have a scientific explanation, but I know of others with similar experiences. I guess it has something to do with tempting fate. It may not sound very rational to you, but I believe that this disclaimer removes the curse.
One of my most memorable lifting injuries was an inflammation of the hip joint due to squatting too often. I’ve also had back pain as a result of deadlifting with poor form. All of my troubles so far have been 100% avoidable with little planning and common sense. Personally, I don’t consider weightlifting dangerous, although it could kill you.
Yes, you can die from lifting. 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 using regular thumbs-around-the-bar grip. In this case, the grip still fails to provide the required safety even though people often accuse the thumbless version of being a killer. To be fair, the thumbless grip is a killer and a really bad move, but obviously, the regular one can fail too.
There two ways to ensure the safety of the bench presser – a power rack or a bench press station with safety pins. I don’t know why professional powerlifting competitions don’t use safety catchers even when they are available.
Back in the day, I had the luxury to train on a professional powerlifting bench which came with two nice safety catchers. I loved it because I hate being “spotted”. Besides, the safety catchers provide even more safety. Catchers > spotters, in my opinion.
The popularity of the bench press and the lack of common sense are the reasons why it’s the number one killer in the weight room. Yet I don’t think that people should be afraid of it. However, you definitely have to know your limits and approach the exercise with respect.
Another dangerous exercise would be the squat since your spine is supporting the weight. Spinal injuries 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. Once I even waited for 1 hour to squat safely in the rack because some brahs had captured it. I was that “dedicated”. Today, I am not that scared and often use squat stands without safeties or spotters. Why? Because I know my limits.
Truth be told, practice is the only way to kill the fear of squats. Olympic weightlifters do max squats without spotters all the time. They just dump the bar behind when they can’t get up.
The process is facilitated by the following factors:
- Oly lifters do high bar squats – the more upright you are, the easier it is to bail out.
- Oly lifters use weightlifting shoes with a heel which allow them to stay even more upright.
- Oly lifters rely on bumper plates made for dropping.
Regular people training in commercial gyms with iron plates have no business doing this. Imagine dropping the bar while an iPhone zombie is passing by.
Anyway, this is still the safest way to get out of a squat if everything goes wrong. Even Ed Coan had to do it once back in the day.
Note: If you have decent programming and rational judgment, you should never miss a rep. Respect your limits.
What about the deadlift?
The deadlift is technically the safest exercises out of the big three because you can just drop the bar. Nevertheless, it can still hurt you badly. You can definitely damage your spine when you use poor form, although some people lift with a rounded back for decades without problems.
If you apply common sense and respect 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.
In general, weightlifting is a safe sport because it is planned. Consequently, the injury rate has the potential to be really low to non-existent.
I don’t consider weighlifting anymore dangerous than driving a car or even a bicycle in traffic. Ironically, people keep on driving but quit squatting because “it’s bad for your knees”.