During his years in the exercise industry, gym owner Peter Gianakos has seen his share of mishaps around treadmills.
He’s seen a youth slip on a treadmill and an older man fall when a screw on the man’s prosthetic leg came loose while he was running. Another time, a large yoga ball struck a treadmill, causing it to stop abruptly.
For safety reasons, Gianakos, the owner of G’s Fitness and Nutrition in Waterford, said nearly all of his customers use personal trainers.
“We shifted to this model because it is safer for the clients since all personal training is supervised,’’ he said.
Gianakos is right to be concerned. Injuries caused by exercise and exercise equipment increased almost 45% between 2007 and 2010, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a database maintained by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Treadmills caused the most injuries among types of exercise equipment, according to media reports based on the findings of the U.S. commission. Statistics show the injuries happen to people of all ages, at home and in gyms. The injuries can even be fatal.
Mike Tyson’s four-year old daughter died in 2009 by playing near a treadmill. According to NEISS, 10,808 injuries are estimated to have occurred in 2010 to children up to age four. NEISS also reports that a two-year old girl was left with scars after she caught her hand in a treadmill.
In recent years, the commission has recalled numerous types of treadmills around the country. In 2005, ICON Health & Fitness of Logan, Utah voluntarily recalled 16,700 treadmills after reports of people being shocked by parts of the equipment. In 2007, Cybex International of Medway, Mass. voluntarily recalled 4,700 treadmills after five reports of equipment overheating and catching fire. A year later, the same company voluntarily recalled 20,000 treadmills after reports that they were speeding up unexpectedly.
Sometimes, accidents are caused by the people exercising, not the machines. NEISS reported a man fractured his foot after he dropped a 25-pound weight on it. Another report stated a man strained his shoulder while lifting 70-pound weights in a sitting position. While at the gym, a 57-year-old female crushed her hand after lifting a dumbbell.
Gianakos, who is also a personal trainer, said customer misuse is the most frequent cause of accidents. Sometimes, he said, people don’t use the right technique while working out. Bad posture “could potentially lead to back injuries,’’ he said.
While Gianakos said there have been no serious injuries at his gym, he has noticed that children aged 10 to 15 tend to be the most likely to misuse equipment.
“They’re not as careful, and they try to push their capabilities,’’ he said. “They overdo it.”
He said personal trainers provide supervision at gyms that is not available in homes, reducing the likelihood of injuries.
To prevent injuries, many gym owners require that customers be given instructions on how to properly use the exercise equipment before they are allowed to work out. My Sports Clubs, a national chain of gyms, conducts training drills for employees on how to handle emergencies. It also encourages customers to have fitness trainers “spot” them when lifting weights.
G’s Fitness and Nutrition posts diagrams and step-by-step instructions on its machines, Gianakos said.
Before people can work out at Sportsplex in Stamford, they receive a full evaluation, “everything from blood pressure [to] resting heart rate,’’ said Kris Geier, Sportsplex’s fitness director. Trainers then tailor an exercise program to the customer, taking into account how healthy they are, he said.
“We set up a different program according to their strengths and weaknesses, and their goals, of course,” he said.
He said men over 50 tend to have the most mishaps, especially if they have not exercised in many years.
“When they come in, they are really unaware of the [health] issues they have,” he said. “They get on a machine and think they’re going to get on where they got off, and they set up themselves for an injury.”
Geier said sometimes people have accidents because they lift a ball that is too heavy or push the wrong button on a treadmill.
“Accidents happen because people are in an environment that they are not used to,” he said.
He said falls are the most common mishaps in gyms, so Sportsplex has different floor surfaces and special surfaces to prevent trips and falls.
“We design the fitness floor so there are no tripping hazards,” Geier said.
Some gym customers think the machines should have better designs.
Stephanie Gomez, 17, of Stamford would like to see convenient holders for cell phones, such as those for water bottles, added to treadmills. She said she almost fell on a treadmill at her gym because she was texting someone on her phone while running and dropped the phone.
“They should have a pocket to place items while running on the treadmill,’’ she said.
Zanira Abubakar is a senior at the Cooperative High School, New Haven.
Anna Lucia Galarza is a senior at Norwalk High School.
Alex Garcia is a senior at Stamford High School.