Two weekends ago, one of the most recognizable fitness models in the world, Greg Plitt, was struck and killed by a train in Burbank, California. The 37-year-old, who you may know from the show Work Out or his more than 200 magazine covers, had been shooting a workout video with his camera crew at the time. Though the accident occurred in a restricted area without a permit, it wasn’t the first time he had filmed in such a location — videos he’d posted previously featured trains whizzing by, or Plitt doing pushups on the tracks.
Some reports say he thought the oncoming train — which was approaching from behind him — was on the next track over. Others say that he was trying to outrun it for effect. In a report in the L.A. Times, Plitt’s girlfriend, Christina Stejskal, said he “was just trying to get the best shot.” Regardless of how it occurred, it was a tragic event that resulted in the death of a positive powerhouse who inspired many.
The accident also raises questions for me about risk verses reward in the context of fitness. It seems simple, I’m sure: Don’t film workout videos on active railroad tracks. But, I see or hear about lesser versions of this scenario playing out all the time, most of them preventable.
In an era where many of us film at least part of our workouts on a regular basis (albeit as a more casual production, say, for Facebook or Instagram), it can be tempting to show off for the camera, to try something new or extra flashy, to go for broke. Unfortunately, too often that ends up is…well, broke. If you don’t believe me, hit “play” on any of the hours’ worth of gym bloopers footage available on any video-hosting site.
Don’t get it twisted: I’m not suggesting that we need to fear exercise, or that we shouldn’t explore what we are physically capable of. The human body isn’t fragile, and in fact, when we use exercise to break down muscle fibers to an appropriate degree, we regenerate tissue and become even stronger than before.
What I am suggesting is a more conscious weighing of the risks versus the rewards when it comes to the decisions we make on our path to better fitness.
1) Be Mindful of Others
Unless you’re working out in your own home gym, chances are you’re not the only one on the training floor. Yet there are those rare gym-goers who seem blissfully oblivious to this fact, walking into the path of a swinging kettlebell or embarking upon activities that endanger others (such as dropping equipment near others or performing ballistic movements like barbell snatches outside of designated areas).
The solution is to bring more mindfulness to your actions. The gym isn’t a place to check out mentally — it’s a place where thousands of pounds are being slung around (sometimes at great velocity) at any given second, so sloppiness can come at a heavy cost. Practice situational awareness as you navigate your environment, and put equipment away when you’re done with it so that it doesn’t trip up others and potentially wreak havoc.
2) Don’t Take Ill-Advised Chances
Would you make the same decision if the camera weren’t rolling? If not, reevaluate what you’re about to do. The Beast and his 725-pound bench press attempt springs to mind….
Man Attempts 725 Pound World Record Bench Press… by SimplyJustRandomness
I can relate to the desire to get the best, most exciting shot, and this urge is by no means limited to the realm of fitness. (See also the trend of extreme wedding photos, where brides and grooms stand in the middle of busy streets.)
And while I’ll happily acknowledge that all PRs come from taking small chances, from doing something you’ve never done before, there are safeguards you can put into place (such as taking small jumps in weight, asking for a spot, setting up the safety pins in the rack, or filing for permits to shoot photos or videos in restricted areas) that can prevent disasters from occurring.
3) Evaluate Exercise Selection Carefully
Exercising caution extends even to the movements we choose to include in our workout plans. If you’re a hardy motherscratcher who never seems to gets hurt, go forth and include whatever you like, within the context of smart programming. If certain body parts are creaky, on the other hand, then by all means, modify certain exercises to suit your body or swap them out entirely.
When it comes to box jumps — known tearer of Achilles tendons and causer of dramatic spills — keep the reps low, treat each one as its own individual act of perfect exertion, and take heights you’re very confident you can make. Or, just do another exercise that develops pop and hop, such as jump squats or banded kettlebell swings.
Another example worth examining is Olympic weightlifting. The clean, the jerk, and the snatch are absolutely gorgeous lifts that also happen to require more coordination and explosiveness simultaneously than just about anything else you can do in the gym. Many people lack the mobility to do the complete versions of the snatch or clean, at least right away. It’s advisable to start out with shoulder, hip and ankle mobility drills and the power (versus full squat) versions of these exercises. Or, again, just straight-up substitute them out and find something else that works to develop the same speed and power. (Of note: The current head of strength and conditioning for the men’s national rugby team considers box jumps an acceptable substitution.)
I adore the benefits of sprinting: It develops big power and big work capacity, and burns fat like a champ. But, it’s a high-impact activity and not everyone’s hamstrings are prepared for the task. Hill sprints can lessen the impact on the joints and prevent hamstring pulls, as well. Or, do “sprints” with something that better controls range of motion, such as a rowing erg or a stationary bike.
Lastly, even something as seemingly harmless as burpees can be a risky maneuver for some, causing lower-back or knee pain. You can easily modify the movement by elevating your hands or simply stepping your feet back instead of jumping them back. (I cover these variations and more in greater detail in “Excuse Me: Burpee Substitutions and Modifications.”)
There are no wholesale solutions to preventing accidents and injuries occurring in the realm of fitness, but there are steps you can take to play it safer…and injury-free always looks good on camera.