A 33-year-old Indonesian personal trainer died after a barbell broke his neck. Justyn Vicky was doing squats in The Paradise Bali gym yesterday when the accident happened. From a video circulating on social media, he can be seen struggling to ascend from a squat. With the barbell on his shoulder, both him and his spotter fell backwards. Justyn Vicky was in a seated position when the 210kg loaded barbell rolled forward on to his neck, fell to the ground, and broke his neck. He died after being rushed to a hospital.
First, we would like to acknowledge that we do not know what happened. What we are sharing today is based on what we have seen from the video as well as on social media.
Second, we do not think there is sufficient information to form any opinion on what happened. Many people have gone to social media to comment that he should not have attempted to squat 210kg. From the information that is available, it is not clear if 210kg was indeed too heavy for him or if what happened was an unforeseeable accident. Unless you personally know Justyn Vicky or his spotter, it is also unfair to doubt their competence.
Third, he clearly cared about his safety. He had a spotter. To characterise him otherwise is unfair. Yes, there are more that he could have done but hindsight is always 20-20. The truth is many fitness enthusiasts do not squat with all known safety precautions in place. We will discuss more about this later.
Is weightlifting safe? What are the risks of weightlifting?
For those of you who are sedentary or new to exercise, these are probably your first questions. The tendency is to think that if an adverse accident could happen to a professional, then perhaps it could also happen to us.
The simple answer is that weightlifting can be a safe and effective form of exercise when done correctly and with proper precautions. However, we must also acknowledge that all forms of physical exercise, whether it’s high-intensity training, weightlifting, sports, or even seemingly low-impact activities like yoga or jogging, inherently carry some risk of injury. The level of risk can vary depending on the type of exercise, individual fitness level, form and technique, equipment used, and the environmental conditions.
Some of the potential risks of weightlifting include muscle and tendon injuries. This can occur when lifting heavy weights, training too often, or using an incorrect technique. This can result in muscle strains, joint sprains or dislocations. Additionally, the repetitive nature of weightlifting exercises can contribute to overuse injuries, such as tendinitis or bursitis.
What are common lower back injuries from weight lifting?
Low back injuries are common concerns that can arise from exercises like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses if your technique is inadequate. The lower back, or lumbar region, is particularly vulnerable to strain and injury during these exercises due to the heavy load placed on the spine.
Improper technique weightlifting can lead to excessive stress on the lower back muscles, ligaments, and intervertebral discs. This can result in muscle strains, sprains, or even herniated discs. The lumbar spine’s natural curve is crucial for providing stability, and shock absorption. Too much deviation from your natural robust alignment can increase the risk of injury.
Should I need to be worry about breaking my neck during a squat?
The risk of breaking your neck during a squat is extremely low if you are performing the exercise with proper technique and safety precautions. Squats are a safe and effective exercise for building strength in the lower body.
During a back squat, the barbell rests on the upper back, specifically on the meaty part of the trapezius muscles. This is commonly referred to as the “shelf” or the “barbell shelf.” The barbell does not rest on the neck or cervical spine itself.
To facilitate this, most lifters would retract their shoulder blades and squeeze them together. This creates a stable shelf for the barbell to rest on. With the barbell securely positioned on their upper back, a firm grip will help to maintain control during the squa. This stops the barbell from moving or rolling off your back.
Most squat racks will also come with safety bars. They are designed to provide support and prevent injury during squatting exercises, especially during heavy lifts. If you cannot complete the squat, you can bail out during the lift. To bail out, begin by lowering the barbell onto the safety bars. The safety bars will catch the barbell, preventing it from falling any further. Once the barbell is securely resting on the safety bars, step away from the rack.
After you have stepped back safely, you can re-rack the barbell by lifting it back into the rack’s designated hooks. Take a moment to regroup and assess why you needed to bail out. If necessary, adjust the weight or take some time to recover before attempting the squat again.
If you are specifically worry about neck injuries from performing a back squat, you can try a front squat. The key difference lies in how the barbell is positioned on the body.
Difference between a front and back squat
In a front squat, the barbell is placed across the front of your shoulders. The bar rests on the anterior deltoids and clavicles. To support the barbell, you will hold it with a cross-arm grip or a clean grip by keeping your elbows high. This barbell placement encourages a more upright torso position during the squat. You will maintain an erect posture to prevent the barbell from tipping forward. Front squats predominantly target the quadriceps (front thigh muscles).
On the other hand, in a back squat, the barbell is positioned on your upper back, resting on the trapezius muscles. The lifter typically uses an overhand grip to hold the barbell slightly below the base of the neck. This placement allows for a slightly more forward lean in the torso. Back squats are known for targeting a broader range of muscle groups, including your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. With the barbell centered on the upper back, you can distribute their weight evenly between the heels and midfoot during the squat.
Again, the risk of a serious neck injury from performing a squat is extremely low. If you are still worried, there are other squat variations you can consider including the front squats, goblet squats, or even body weight squats.
What can I do to squat safely?
When it comes to performing squats, safety should be a top priority. Squats are a highly effective compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, but they also come with inherent risks if not executed correctly. To ensure a safe and effective squatting experience, it’s essential to focus on proper technique, and preparation. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, incorporating these safety measures into your squatting routine will contribute to a more successful and rewarding workout journey. To squat safely and effectively, you can follow these guidelines to ensure proper form and reduce the risk of injury:
1. Learn Proper Technique
If you’re new to squats or weightlifting, seeking guidance from a qualified fitness professional or coach is highly recommended. A personal training or weightlifting coach can provide valuable instruction and support to ensure that you learn the correct squatting technique throughout the movement. You can expect to learn the correct squatting technique, including foot placement, depth, and body positioning. They will guide you step-by-step through the movement to ensure you understand the mechanics.
Given the individual variations in our body structures, it’s a wise decision to have your specific needs, fitness level, and mobility assessed. This assessment will allow your coach to customise the squatting technique to match your unique body structure and accommodate any limitations you may have.
A coach will help you avoid common mistakes that could lead to injuries. They can identify and correct any improper form, reducing the risk of strain or other injuries.
As you improve, a coach can gradually increase the difficulty of the squatting exercises to ensure steady progress and prevent plateaus.
Remember, learning proper form from the start is crucial for building a strong foundation in your fitness journey. Investing in the expertise of a qualified fitness professional can set you up for success and help you achieve your fitness goals safely and effectively.
Always warm up your body before performing squats. Many people choose to engage in dynamic stretches or light cardiovascular exercises to prepare their bodies for the workout. However, your warm up can be short and simple. All you need to do is to perform bodyweight squats to get your body ready for squatting.
Bodyweight squats allow you to practise the movement pattern of a squat. It will also work your muscle and joints through the required range of motion before adding weights. You can also take this opportunity to practise the main cues that you use during a heavier squat. These cues help ensure that you maintain proper technique throughout the movement, maximizing the effectiveness and safety of the exercise. This is also known as mental rehearsal.
3. Use a Spotter or Safety Equipment
If you are attempting heavy squats with a barbell, it is crucial to prioritise safety. Consider using a squat rack with safety bars or having a spotter available to provide support if needed.
A squat rack equipped with safety bars, also known as spotter arms or safety pins, offers a safety mechanism during heavy squats. Before you begin your squat, set the safety bars at a height slightly below your lowest squat position. If you find yourself unable to complete the lift or need to bail out during the squat, the safety bars will catch the barbell and prevent it from falling on you.
Alternatively, a spotter can assist and support you during the lift. It is an excellent safety measure for heavy squats. The spotter can provide physical assistance, such as helping you lift the weight back up or taking the barbell from you if you encounter difficulty during the movement. If the weight of the squat you are attempting is more than what the spotter can lift, use the safety bars as well.
Both safety bars and a spotter can give you the confidence to challenge yourself with heavier weights. These safety measures reduce the risk of injury and provide peace of mind so you can focus on your squat technique and performance.
4. Know when to give up or bail from a squat
Knowing when to give up or bail from a squat is a critical aspect of weightlifting that prioritises safety above all else. Bailing out of a squat involves safely letting go of the barbell. This occurs when you feel unable to complete the repetition or sense a potential risk of injury.
If you find that your form is breaking down during the squat and you struggle to maintain proper alignment and technique, it’s best to stop the lift. Continuing with compromised form can increase the risk of injury. If the weight feels too heavy and you doubt your ability to lift it with control and safety, it is crucial to bail out.
If you experience intense pain, especially in your knee or low back, stop the lift immediately. By choosing to continue, you may potentially cause or worsen an existing injury.
If you have a spotter present, they can provide valuable signals and feedback during the lift. They can observe and signal if they notice you struggling or approaching your limit. Being attentive to their cues can help you make informed decisions about continuing or bailing out of the squat.
Remember that it’s okay to fail or encounter challenging moments during weightlifting. Prioritising safety over ego or pushing beyond your limits is crucial for preventing injuries and ensuring long-term progress in your training. Always listen to your body, be aware of your limits, and use safety measures like safety bars or a spotter during heavy squatting sessions to minimise risks and promote safe and effective workouts.
5. Practise bail outs!
Practicing bailouts is crucial because it prepares you to react swiftly and effectively in critical moments. When you need to bail out during a lift, it becomes a split-second decision, leaving no time for conscious thought. By regularly practicing bailouts, you condition your body and mind to respond automatically in such situations.
In weightlifting, moments of feeling overwhelmed can occur, especially when attempting heavy lifts. Having a well-practiced bailout technique means you have a reliable and safe escape plan if you find yourself in a challenging position. It prevents you from attempting lifts beyond your current capabilities and risking injury.
A solid bailout technique enhances your confidence and self-assurance during weightlifting sessions. It allows you to focus on your lifts without the fear of being trapped under heavy weights. As a result, you can lift with more intent and concentration, optimizing your performance.
Moreover, bailing out effectively is not just essential for squatting; it is a valuable skill applicable to other lifts as well. Whether you are bench pressing, deadlifting, or performing other compound movements, knowing how to safely bail out ensures you can lift with peace of mind and minimise potential risks.
By integrating bailouts into your training routine, you cultivate muscle memory and develop the motor skills required for a safe escape from challenging lifts. As a result, your body becomes conditioned to react instinctively, reducing the risk of panic and injury during intense weightlifting sessions.
Practicing bailouts is an indispensable aspect of weightlifting. It empowers you to respond quickly and confidently in split-second moments, ensuring your safety during challenging lifts. By honing your bailout technique, you can lift with assurance, focus on your form, and progress in your weightlifting journey safely and effectively.
Not exercising also comes with risks of injury!
From all that we have shared today, we understand how it may seem like weightlifting is dangerous. While weightlifting does come with some inherent risk of injuries, so does living a sedentary lifestyle! It is essential to strike a balance and engage in safe and effective weight lifting practices to enjoy the numerous benefits it offers for physical health and overall well-being.
Both the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health emphasise the importance of muscle-strengthening exercises for adults and seniors. Regular strength training helps strengthen muscles and joints, improving overall physical health and reducing the risk of injuries and chronic conditions.
While injuries can occur during weightlifting, they can also result from living a sedentary lifestyle. Many muscle and joint disorders stem from a lack of physical activity and physical deconditioning. Engaging in weightlifting correctly and under the supervision of professionals allows you to strengthen your body, increase bone density, improve posture, and enhance overall physical function.
By weightlifting with proper form, gradually progressing in intensity, and seeking guidance from qualified fitness professionals or coaches, you can minimise the risks and maximize the benefits of weightlifting. Regular weightlifting, along with other forms of exercise, contributes to improved cardiovascular health, increased muscle mass, enhanced flexibility, and a better quality of life.
The key is to strike a balance and find a workout routine that suits your individual fitness level, preferences, and health goals. By doing so, you can harness the advantages of weightlifting while minimising the risks, leading to a healthier and more active lifestyle. Always prioritise safety, listen to your body, and seek professional guidance to ensure that your weightlifting journey is both enjoyable and beneficial for your physical well-being.