Facilities Design And Management, Part 3: Safety – Common Problems And Limitations

By Jason Kurfurst, B.App Sci, B.Ed., CSCA, Level 3 Professional Coach ASCA

Apart from the obvious limitations regarding space, resources and budget, below is a brief outline discussing some of the more common problems associated with strength and conditioning facilities from a more practical point-of-view concerning safety.


Access

If possible, design a facility whereby the gym can be locked up or has limited access. The following examples not only pose safety concerns, but are also a major source of frustration for any strength and conditioning coach:

  • Access by unauthorized personnel (usually those who aren’t athletes).
  • Athletes coming and going whenever they want.
  • Equipment going missing/stolen or “borrowed” without consent.
  • Equipment shifted around or not left in its original position.
  • Equipment not stored away after use and damaged.

So, design a gym that can be completely locked but still may allow access to other parts of the facility. This will also help prevent issues relating to injury and liability, as well.

Dumbbells

The use of rubber hexagon dumbbells are more appropriate than metal dumbbells. Hexagon-shaped dumbbells have less of a tendency to roll across the gym floor when usually dropped, or placed on the floor. They will also decrease noise when dropped or placed back on the racks and also decrease the chances of metal fragments flying into a users’ eyes when they are often “clunked” together when performing bench-press-type exercises.

Rubber doesn’t rust and is often safer if accidently dropped, whereas a metal plate-type dumbbell has the capacity to do more serious damage if dropped on someone’s foot or fingers.

Plates

As just mentioned, rubber plates are safer and easier to maintain. With regards to using platforms, rubber plates will not split or damage your platforms and lifting blocks as easily as metal plates.

Plate Storage Design

How often do you find in most commercial gyms – in fact anywhere you go nowadays – weight trees, squat racks and any equipment using plate weights fail to have sufficient storage for all plates or incorrect spacing for plates. More often than not, plates are left lying around the floor or leaning against a wall.

Why do heavier 20 kg plates seem to be always placed on the bottom of the rack and the lighter weights placed on the top of a storage “tree” or rack? Wouldn’t it make sense to place the heavier weights above waist height to avoid excessive bending whilst accessing these heavier weights? Unfortunately many commercial squat racks have insufficient space to store all the plates separately. So when designing or purchasing a free weights machine, ensure there’s enough room for at least five different weight plates to be stored. Also, ensure athletes place heavier weights on the higher parts of the storage racks and not the bottom or on the floor.

Cross Training Accessories

Given that new designs (and space) allows for more room for the latest gimmicks and/or cross training devices, be aware of some common problems associated with their implementation and use by both coaches and athletes. These accessories can include the use of bands, chains, balance discs/wobble boards, Swiss balls, tractor tires, sleds, climbing ropes and even vibration plates. These training tools are becoming more and more popular in strength and conditioning facilities but can often lead to injury and accidents.

Swiss balls should be stored off the ground so athletes can’t kick, bounce, throw or sit/balance on them while performing a workout. There is also a tendency for athletes to try and attempt to balance (stand or kneel) on Swiss balls, especially in and around other equipment, increasing the likelihood of a serious accident. How many times have you caught athletes in your gym doing this? Don’t let athletes use the balls for anything other than what they’re designed or instructed to do. Ensure you install safe storage areas for Swiss balls, usually up high on a wall somewhere or in a separate area. This also applies to other training device that provides a certain level of instability. (Wobble boards, balance discs, etc.).

Figures 12-14: Photo examples of training aides used at strength facilities.

Athletes are curious and competitive by nature and will also try and attempt to “master” equipment never used or tried before. Sleds, ropes and tractor tires are a perfect example. Once again, do not let athletes access these training aides for obvious reasons. The availability of climbing ropes may also provide further cause for concern in facility design. Ropes that are attached to the roof, which athletes attempt to climb, pose a serious injury concern, particularly those ropes that are 5 meters or longer. What would happen if an athlete was to almost reach the top and then lose their grip? Should such climbing ropes be included in strength and conditioning facilities, and in particular should there be a recommended height?

If ropes are a part of a facility, the height should seriously be considered with maybe matting/padding placed at their base to avoid serious injury. The American College of Surgeons states that even low level falls can cause serious head injuries and recommends the maximal height for equipment should be 1.5 meters-2 meters, with the acceptable surface absorption level for a “playground” shouldn’t be set at less than 150 -200 g (such as sand or shredded rubber).

Ratios And Space

The last point to be made on safety refers to the common problem of space availability to train athletes effectively. Never compromise the safety of your athletes. Coaches and athletes may prefer to train in the gym in larger groups than it can actually accommodate because it’s more convenient for scheduling purposes. For example, in past experiences, coaches have asked me to train athletes in two groups of six athletes, instead of three groups of four athletes, which the gym was comfortably designed for, simply so they could finish earlier before the next skills session. Don’t let coaches and athletes dictate terms by compromising safety over convenience.

Part 4 of this series will address equipment planning when looking at the layout of a S&C facility. This article was excerpted from “The Design & Management Of A Professional Strength & Conditioning Training Facility” from the June 2016 issue of the Journal of Australian Conditioning (Volume 24, Issue 3), published by the Australian Strength And Conditioning Association (ASCA).

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