Train Safer: Learn from my Worst Training Mishaps!

Caution! Do not practice your handstands anywhere close to these. This pic was taken in Toronto, but these are similar to the equipment written about below
Yoni Levitan
May 28, 2019
Train Safer: Learn from my Worst Training Mishaps!

Yoni Levitan


May 28, 2019

Photo 2015 04 29 10 03 42 AM 1024x768 1

Caution! Do not practice your handstands anywhere close to these. This pic was taken in Toronto, but these are similar to the equipment written about below.

Here is a brief summary of this detailed 2000 word post:

  • If you’re not a handy person, be careful with homemade fitness solutions
  • If you’re learning to do a handstand, be careful where you invert!
  • If your training is a means to an end, then stick to really safe movements. It’s dumb to risk injury while training if the purpose of your training is to support another goal such as improving for sport, having energy to chase your kids, etc.

I had, shall we say, a slight mishap during a training session earlier this week. I consider myself quite lucky to have not been seriously injured, especially since I was at the end of my training session and thus fatigued. In part I attribute my not getting hurt to generally getting good sleep (i.e. ensuring that I rest enough to recover from previous training sessions) and some of the injury prevention and scapular control drills I learned at the Ido Portal Method Movement X workshop.

When thinking about doing a given exercise, ask yourself, “is the risk worth the reward?” Some people love inherently dangerous activities like rock climbing, white water kayaking, scuba diving, etc. I used to whitewater kayak all the time. That’s fine, as long as you take smart safety precautions and are aware that you might get hurt, or worse. If you don’t want to take risk, then don’t do those activities.

With your training, you have to ask yourself, “is my training a means to an end, or is it an end in of itself?”. For me, I sometimes enjoy my training so much that it becomes an end in of itself. Similar to how Crossfit has turned fitness into a sport, I derived immense satisfaction from bar muscle ups, jumping onto tables and tree stumps, lifting heavy ass rocks, etc.

Since I enjoyed my training a great deal and wanted to push the boundaries of what I could do, some of the things I did, while unadvisable, make a little more sense in that context. However, if your training is mostly in support of other goals (i.e. improving for a sport, having more energy, being able to lift your kids without back pain, etc.) then you should not be pushing the boundaries of safety in your training. When training is a means to an end (like it should be for non-professionals) you should focus on the most effective activities you enjoy that have no/low injury risk. Why jump onto a three foot high rock from five feet away when you can do a goblet squat or single leg deadlift and effectively reduce injury risk to nil?

Avoiding training accidents:

Be careful with homemade solutions: There are endless threads on the internet of people who have made their own fitness equipment with a trip to Home Depot and some ingenuity. If you are not particularly handy yourself, be careful to closely follow the instructions, and if in doubt, email the author with questions or speak to a friend who is handy.

Also important, is to note how long someone has been using their home made piece of equipment. The longer they have been using it without a problem, the more likely you will be able to safely use it. There are solutions for things like homemade kettlebells and dumbbells that make me wince, since I see several ways in which using them can end in disaster.

In my case, I wasn’t sure which way to put the anchor into the hole I drilled into the ceiling. I ended up putting each anchor in differently. You will notice that a few seconds after the ring fell out of the ceiling I said “well that answers that question.” The question was, “which way is the proper way to put an anchor into the ceiling?” My mistake was not reading up more on the subject or speaking to a friend who has experience in anchoring heavy objects to concrete ceilings or walls.

If anyone is thinking of installing gymnastics at home, let me help you out: The part of the anchor that expands goes into the ceiling hole first. This means that the part of the anchor that expands outwards when you screw in the hook is deeper into the hole, with the part that does not expand at the opening of the hole. If this sentence was not clear and you are confused, please please take a picture of your anchor and post a comment below, and I will clarify!

Also, ask good questions at the hardware store. For example, at the first hardware store (Home Hardware) I went to, they told me that if I had a hammer drill (which is able to drill into concrete and brick) that I could easily use a small drill bit to make many holes that would combine into one big hole for my anchor. Had I probed more at the first hardware store, it may have saved me an extra trip to the store (since Home Depot was nearby the first store I went to).

When I got home and started drilling, I quickly realized this was folly, and went to Home Depot, since they actually had a drill bit that was big enough to make a ⅝ inch hole in one go. It still took time to get through the concrete, but at least I has a hole that was a perfect circle and the exact size I needed. This would have been almost impossible to do with a smaller drill bit.

Also, you need a masonry drill bit to go through concrete (or a drill bit that explicitly says it can go through concrete), even with a hammer drill. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Be careful where you invert (i.e. go upside down)

As crazy as this sounds, I am more comfortable upside down in my kayak in the middle of a roaring set of rapids with a giant rock 50 feet down river than I am kicking up into a handstand against a tree. I am comfortable when I “walk myself up” the tree so I am facing it, but when I kick up and and am facing away from the tree, I am disoriented. It’s something I know I need to eventually work on, but it’s not a priority at the moment.

Two years ago I was just starting to spend time inverted on land. I was playing with different objects to lean against, since I can’t do a freestanding handstand. I found a bar that was chest height that looked perfect. So I kicked up against it, and immediately felt disoriented. I let myself fall out of the handstand, and proceeded to smash my head.

What I failed to realize was that if I fell awkwardly, there was a risk of hitting the pedals that were connected to the horizontal bar. I will post a picture of what the machine looks like in the comments. Initially I didn’t realize I was bleeding. I continued with my training until two teenage girls just gawked at me while I went for a drink of water. At the same time I was wondering why two Orthodox/Religious women were staring at me (which is extremely uncommon), I noticed that my hand, which I had just wiped my forehead with, was covered in blood.

I went to the bathroom, and sure enough, half my face was covered in blood. Due to the endorphins from my workout I didn’t even feel the pain beyond the initial smashing of my head. I did my best to clean up, and even stopped at the market on my way home to buy a few things. A kind butcher that I bought some meat from insisted on giving me ice to put on the wound. Despite the fact that his meat wasn’t the best quality, I went back to him many times because of his generosity!

Having only been to a hospital once before for a hockey injury as a teenager, I didn’t see the need to seek medical attention. However, my friends were concerned since I had hit my head, and I had insurance, so I went to the hospital and had it looked at. Fortunately the doctor said I did not have a concussion, and that the cut would heal without scarring, and would not require stitches.

This injury could have easily been avoided had I followed the rule of thumb “Do not invert anywhere that has anything other than flat ground within a radius of your height.”

In my case, I am 1.80 metres tall. That means if there are rocks, people, trees or walls, or benches, or anything other than grass/sand/ground within 1.80 metres of where I am practising handstands, I will keep looking for a safer place to practice.

Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of my training?”

My next training accident in Israel I don’t regret quite as much, because I was doing something I love, but for people who are focused on injury prevention, listen up!

Be careful where you jump, especially when fatigued

To keep my training fun, I did a lot of jumping while in Israel, Two leg long jumps on staircases, onto rocks, onto concrete ping pong and picnic tables, and sometimes even one legged jumps onto very stable surfaces (i.e. concrete tables, or rocks with a smooth surface lying perfectly flat on the ground with no risk of wobbling).

There was one rock in particular that I enjoyed jumping on, just because. Every week I would try and jump on it from further and further away. Eventually, one day, I was already fatigued and near the end of my training session, and I tried to match my best long jump onto the large rock. I missed the jump, and smashed my shin into the side of the rock. It started bleeding, and eventually scarred. The next day I was fine (i.e. the injury didn’t affect my ability to walk, lift heavy things, run, etc.).

The lesson here is twofold. First, do the exercises with potentially bad consequences first. If your program includes overhead lifts (i.e. clean and press, kettlebell snatch, etc.) do that early in your workout. Later on in your training session you can do things like pullups and pushups, since the consequences of missing a rep are very low. The more potentially dangerous movement, the fresher you should be when doing it.

At this point, if you’re still reading, you may be wondering “Why the heck is Yoni sharing all these mistakes he made? Why should I listen to him?”

This is a good question!

Here is why I think it’s important that I share my mistakes along with my successes:

Learning “what not to do” can be as important as learning “what to do.”Someone who only shares positive lessons is leaving out large areas of information that you could benefit from. Also, I think sharing my mistakes and what I learned shows you that I am fallible, and that if I give you a piece of advice that later turns out to be bad advice, you can trust that I will correct myself, and let you know of my error.

The human body is incredibly complex, and just as we are learning more about how massive the universe is, we are constantly learning more about what goes on at the cellular level within the human body, and all of the amazingly complex ways that the different systems in our body interact with and influence each other.

While I try to stick to tried and tested advice that has passed the test of time, inevitably at some point I will make a recommendation that turns out to be not quite right, and possibly flat out wrong. When that happens, I will be sure to let you know, and I am comfortable saying that since I think it is arrogant to pretend that anyone knows everything about how to optimize human health for all people in all situations.

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