I love videos where people get hurt.
If you have a video where you were skiing, and you wiped out and hit a tree, and your shattered femur went slicing through your thigh, and then your screams from the pain attracted bears, who you had to beat with your ski-poles, before you were tackled by a park ranger for animal abuse, who became impaled on the bone spur sticking out of your thigh, and the two of you were stuck together like a conscious human kebap skewer …
… until help came, when paramedics dropped from a helicopter, and then the rope slips, and they land on you, deforming you into a giant double-human pretzel of screaming, blood and partial consciousness …
Well, I want to see that.
And potentially send it to my friends.
I like gym disasters the best of all.
I’ve trained with a lot of people who hated them, refused to watch them, in case the same thing happened to them — I guess they didn’t want to harbour any doubts at critical moments in their own lifts.
I never really understood this perspective for a few reasons.
Firstly, because watching the real thing up close is several times worse, and after you’ve seen your first ripped bicep curl up into a fleshy softball, or an ankle wrench 90* sideways with a noise that sounds uncannily like a giant snapping a hefty branch off a green tree… well, grainy iPhone videos of someone getting their hair caught in a barbell and falling over like Buster Keaton don’t have much latitude to fill you with doubt.
Secondly, because the failures are generally things that would never happen to you unless you were a complete pillock. Or at least, they’re the best ones.
Normal accidents aren’t much chop. When someone’s bench shirt blows a seam and they get dotted, or when someone gets pinned in the hole on a big squat… that’s just unfortunate, and occasionally, the price of doing business if you insist on lifting the Heavy Thing.
That isn’t what I mean.
I’m talking unracking a Smith machine which you can’t even hold onto that immediately staples you to the ground with industrial precision, and then you squirt out from under the bar, bounce off a mirror, and slide into a rack of dumbbells (which burst into flames). The kind of accident where you fly out of your own shoes. Snap city.
Actually, we’ll go one further. Not just accidents — goofs. Slapstick.
Something I should have explained by now… I don’t want anyone getting injured (well, not TOO injured). By all means, bounce right out of it. I don’t want to see your dental bills go up, I just like a good disaster.
Believe me, if it was a video of me getting hurt, I wouldn’t have a second’s hesitation in sending it to everyone. I take a photo of myself about once every six month, but if I greenstick my forearm and bash my face in, you can bet you’ll be getting an email with attachments titled: “Y’ALL WANT TO SEE HOW I LOST MY TEETH?”
Only recently, I realized that these videos had taught me something vicariously.
I was watching a great compilation (“Colossal injuries of 2014!” or similar) and realised that after the first half a second of any video — well before anything terrible happened — I could tell what was going to happen next.
These damn things have genres, archetypal mistakes which are happening over and over and over again. Carl Jung is alive and well in your gym, battering you in the manner of your ancestors.
Who knew my penchant for watching people twat themselves might ever prove useful?
Let’s break down these disasters, maybe we’ll learn something.
There are three primary genres of disaster that we can see going horrible over and over and over again:
ballistic bodyweight upper-body movements
classical Olympic lifts
There are plenty more, but I’ve seen more of these by themselves than everything else put together. Lots of people stuff up lots of things, but these are indisputably the kings. Remember as well, these aren’t just mistakes, these are egregious screwups.
Anyway, I figured out immediately where my spidey sense was coming from — the fact that there were a few things which were going wrong again and again and again, usually from people who had no business doing the exercise in the first place.
Here are the individual mistakes, with additional hilarious examples.
1. Ballistic bodyweight upper-body movements
The movements here are obvious — chinups (particularly kipping chinups) and variations, muscle ups, etc.
a. Using maximal accel/decel to destroy or dislodge equipment
Slow movement isn’t fast movement. When you take something moving fast and then it decelerates, stops, and starts moving fast in the other direction, it better be through a plane of movement that makes sense and is attached to a very solid object.
b. Catastrophic grip failure during maximal acceleration
c. Just plain old-fashioned being a donkey
2. Olympic lifts
Catastrophic screw-ups are many here. This isn’t a concrete list by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re all common enough.
In the snatch, you throw your body under a heavy bar, which ends up directly over your head. The key part of this sentence is “over your head”.
In the clean and jerk, you end up at maximum knee and hip flexion, so the bar is over everything else except your head. And then it goes over your head.
a. Clean failing at catch (i.e. at the bottom)
b. Snatch lost behind (nasty if you’re using straps!)
… which will get your head
… or your coccyx.
3. Box jumps
a. Jumping to an unstable surface, or one with the wrong compression/texture
b. Jumping to a surface which is too high (and sometimes also unstable!)
If there are broader points here, they’re quite simple.
This is never going to be a risk free activity — heavy stuff obeys the laws of gravity more often than it obeys you. And some things you can’t avoid. Syncope happens to everyone, for instance. And everyone makes mistakes.
It is a rotten idea to arse your way through a maximal Olympic lift. I know it’s fun to load things until the wheels fall off, but try to be circumspect. when the weight is being thrown over your head under high technical demand. Weightlifters generally refer to technique improvement across a lifetime trajectory. Use your brain before you end up with a barbell in it.
Don’t put maximal demands on sub-standard equipment.
Max box jumps are fun on a kind of competitive who’s-more-like-Bambi-amongst-my-friends level and a pretty awful training modality.
Lack of skill + technical demand + fatigue = danger.
And always remember:
If you’re training by yourself, they’re YOUR teeth.
If you’re training other people, it’s THEIR teeth…
… but it’s your insurance.