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Not dropping weights could cause injury

A properly equipped gym will have rubber mats or special gym flooring wherever barbells and dumbbells are used. If you see a bench on a regular hard floor, the gym either cannot afford the rubber flooring or mats, or the owners and managers might not know much about the nature of training with weights.

The rubber flooring is needed to protect the floor, the weights, and the people using the weights, should the weights be dropped. In almost 100% of gyms that have free weights you will see a sign like this:


While gym owners are trying to prevent abuse of equipment with this rule, they are unwittingly increasing risk of injury to their members.

Even with a spotter there will be times where a person for safeties sake, must drop the weights. Most people will not do this because they have been conditioned by the rule that says "don't drop the weights", so even though dropping is required at times, it isn't seen as much as it should be because people are afraid of being suspended or losing their gym memberships.

There are certainly times when training very hard that on the last repetition a person will be so fatigued that placing the weights gently on the floor is nearly impossible and certainly not worth the effort.

Not worth the effort? That's just being callous and careless! Not so, there is risk associated with that effort. The stress on the rotator cuff and shoulder joint capsule is significant when lowering a heavy weight to the floor from the bench press position. This significant stress could lead to injury.

Interestingly the "don't drop the weights" rule may put gyms in a legally liable position should someone injure themselves following the rule at time when they should have dropped the weight to avoid injury.

So how often should a person drop their weights? There are only a few lifts that put a person in a position where they may need to drop weights:

  • Dumbbell bench press and overhead press
  • Barbell or dumbbell dead lifts and clean and jerk

While some additional exercises may be added to this short list, these are the main exercises where dropping the weight is normal - when you are training at or near maximum.

Advanced weight lifters can sit up with dumbbells from a lying position. For those who can do this without injuring themselves, it is less likely they will need to drop weights often.

Ideally a person would drop weights with as much control as they can muster whenever they are at submaximal or maximum weight. A person should not throw the weights or slam them down without care. The drop is controlled. However, if needed, it can be more important to quickly drop weights without regard to the equipment in favor of preventing injury. Dropping weights is not necessary when lifting light weights that are easy to control.

The purpose of the drop is to reduce strain on muscles, tendons, connective tissue, and joint capsule. Over the long term, dropping dumbbells damages them. That is the cost of doing business. Dumbbells with metal plates can have the plates welded together; this significantly increases the life of the dumbbell. One-piece dumbbells don't hold up well to being dropped. Most gyms are slowly replacing one-piece dumbbells over 30 pounds as they tend to break.

Dead lifting 300-500 pounds isn't easy, and neither is putting it down without making any noise when you are doing an intense workout. As nonsensical as it may sound once you think about it, many gyms will ask that you don't drop your 500 pound weights so much. I see. Please demonstrate how to lower 500 pounds "quietly" when training hard. Better yet, explain how to do so without interfering with the effectiveness of the workout and without increasing risk of injury.

The lifting through normal range part isn't a problem. Getting the weight to the floor without dropping it is nearly impossible without causing significant strain to ligaments, tendons, muscles, and joint capsules during certain exercises.

Gyms need to reassess their rules regarding dropping weights. Carelessly abusing weights can't be allowed, but dropping weights where required as part of safe training must be permitted. In a few gyms I train in, I have explained these facts to management and they have supplied high-density foam pads to place beside a bench. The weights are dropped onto the foam pads reducing wear on the weights while allowing for a safe and quiet drop. For deadlifts and other barbell exercises, a special impact absorbing floor and "bumper plates" are available for gyms. More gyms should adapt these responsible equipment additions and change their "Don't drop the weights" signs to reflect these safety concerns.

2004 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness www.rhinofitness.ca



Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca