How to keep kids safe in your home gym, according to experts
Kids and workout equipment don't mix. Protect them with these tips.
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For many of us, the past year has been a blur of bread-making, remote learning and working, and at-home workouts. If you were invested in sweating it out at home, you may have taken the opportunity to build out a home gym or finally invest in that exercise bike or treadmill.
When you’re putting a home gym together, most of the focus is on the equipment. But if you have kids in the house, it’s also important to think about making sure your workout space is childproofed. Whether you have a treadmill, a set of dumbbells, or a full-on in-house setup, here’s how to keep kids safe with exercise equipment in the house.
Understand the risks
Every year, an average of 12,714 children are hospitalized for home gym-related injuries, according to a 2011 study by the Philadelphia Journal of Clinical Pediatrics. A 2020 study pointed to treadmills as being particularly dangerous, leading to injuries in children that can result in a need for surgical intervention.
Dr. Nkeiruka Orajiaka, an ER pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a mother of three, says that patients she treats in the pediatric emergency room reflects those statistics. "We see so many preventable injuries that occur on all types of home gym equipment," says Orajiaka. "There needs to be more awareness about the dangers of home gyms and precautions that need to be taken … we need to have that discussion of not just what to buy, but how to keep children safe once you bring that piece of equipment home.”
Sales of home gym equipment increased by more than 130% last year. This means the time to start that safety discussion is now, say both Orajiaka and Danielle Buckman, founder of B WELL Healthy Lifestyles by Danielle Buckman, and mom of two boys.
“When you're at a gym or visiting with a trainer, those equipment pieces get locked away at the end of the day,” says Danielle Buckman. “It may be in your home but, while that equipment is out—whether it's being used or not—it’s a gym ... It’s important to consider how to own and care for that equipment [with] child safety in mind.”
Be aware of safety concerns with common pieces of equipment
A recent Peloton treadmill accident in which a child died as a result of their injuries, grabbed headlines last month. But Orajiaka warns that if parents are looking at a specific brand of equipment as the problem, they may be missing out on an opportunity to look at the big picture. “There are decades of studies that warn against the dangers of all brands and all types of home gym equipment—particularly electrical. It can be a stationary bike, a treadmill, an elliptical—[but] even a jump rope can be dangerous if used or stored incorrectly,” she says.
Orajaika says to keep in mind that weights can crush little fingers, machinery can trap small arms and hands, and any cords, bands, or ropes can present a risk of strangulation. Before you commit to any equipment, she advises taking a moment to consider worst-case scenarios and setting up your home gym or exercise areas accordingly. “Just remember that kids are curious and creative," she says. "They will look for a new use for anything you have around the house and sometimes that can pose a very serious danger."
Buckman says that one of the pieces of equipment that makes her cringe most often are hanging TRX bands that children often use to swing on. She explains: "If an accident can happen, it will. It can seem tempting to let kids use your gym equipment as a toy, but it's not built for that. Put it in their heads that toys are toys, and [yourgym equipment] is off limits. The clearer the boundaries, the better."
Be firm on the rules
Even though Buckman has enough exercise equipment in her home to support a military boot camp, she says she's always sure to set very clear boundaries for her kids about using it. "They know those are Mommy's and they are not for play," she says, adding that this mandate is equally as important for dumbbells and weight benches as it is for yoga balls, Bosu balls, jump ropes—and anything else that might make children perceive your exercise space as an adjacent play space.
Buckman continues: “I’m a big proponent of rules. It should be clear to kids that [workout equipment] is not a toy and there will consequences [with disobeying],” adding that even when she goes to a client’s house to train, she’ll pause a session until children are out of the room—a strategy that Orajaika stands behind. “You need boundaries for kids, but also for yourself,” she says. "If you have a child nearby, you can't be on the phone or thinking about other things. Focus on your workout and the whereabouts of your child. It takes one second for a toddler to come up behind you,” she says.
If you have a small child who can't yet understand boundaries, Orajaika recommends surrounding large equipment with play gates, or putting children in pack 'n' plays and keeping them in eye view at all time. "They must be in front of you. You don't want the first time they crawl up behind you end up being a time where their fingers get trapped or worse," says Orajaika.
Stash equipment mindfully
Still, even with the most stringent of rules, kids don't always follow them. In a perfect world, we’d all have designated exercise rooms in our homes where we can store all of our equipment behind lock and key. Short of that, Buckman recommends storing your gear in any room you can lock behind you, be it a garage, a spare room, a corner of your home office, or even a portion of your bedroom. If it can be locked and kept away from kids, that’s always the best option.
Both Orajaika and Buckman warn that risks increase when children use equipment without supervision or if it’s stored in common areas. “Not everyone has an exercise room, but you’ll often see weights on the floor in a common area, or TRX bands hanging down for kids to swing on. These aren’t made for kids and there are risks with them playing with any type of equipment that’s made for adults,” says Buckman.
If your space doesn’t allow for a locked room, Buckman recommends investing in a tall cube organizer and storing equipment up high and in cubbies to keep them out of reach and out of mind of small hands and curious minds. By storing them up high and hiding the contents, kids are less likely to home in on something that’s off-limits when they are bored. “Make it a ritual. When you’re done, you stow it all away. If it’s left out, it’s fair game in a kid’s mind, so take away the immediate accessibility,” says Buckman.
This goes double for electrical exercise equipment. While it might not be as easy to keep a treadmill or elliptical machine out of sight, you can start with their electrical plugs. It’s recommended that you not only unplug the equipment, but that you coil the cords and hide them under the machine or under something heavy that makes them challenging for a child to access. “The goal is to make the machine unusable and also prevent a possibility of strangulation,” says Orajaika. "If they can't use it, they won't. If they can't reach it, they won't. Set up the boundaries now to keep them safe long term."
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