Update 7/20/19. It's a fact that personal trainers get injured on the job. It happens while working with clients and in group classes too. It's happened to me and to the fitness trainers I know. But, what injuries are common to fitness instructors? More importantly, how do you avoid getting hurt? What if it's the personal trainer who is injured? As I soon found out, there's not a lot of information on this. So in this review, I want to highlight some of the common -and not so common – injuries that fitness trainers experience. I also want to offer some advice on how do you prevent those injuries from occurring. Share your injury stores below and how you dealt with getting hurt. Let's together help improve the health of fitness instructors.
Where Do Fitness Trainers Get Injured?
Like everyone else, personal trainers can be injured anytime, both during training sessions with clients and while working out on their own.
In theory, it makes sense that trainers who workout with clients would have a greater risk of overuse injuries because they are basically doubling or tripling the exercise sessions they do each week. Eventually, all that added volume of exercise will take its toll on anyone.
While not often discussed, overuse injuries may be especially challenging for trainers who work part-time at a gym and carry a high deductible insurance plan. That's because they will often have to pay for at least part of their medical bills. Some high deductible health insurance plans may not pay for everything until $10,000 in medical bills have been accrued.
Trainers who are in this situation are encouraged to contribute as much as possible to Health Savings Accounts (HSA) to help reduce the cost of medical bills. With HSAs, you are basically savings in advance for when the hard rain comes. If you have an HSA, take advantage of it. Surveys show most Americans save less than $2000 in their HSA. The more you can save, the easier that rainy day will be.
Trust me, that rainy day will come.
Injuries Common To Personal Trainers
While there appear to be no formal health statistics on this issue, it's my experience that personal trainers are most likely to sustain these types of injuries:
- rotator cuff
- low back
There are other areas that fitness trainers can be injured as well. Leave comments below you've had problems elsewhere.
Next, let's summarize the movements and exercises that might cause or make injuries to these areas worse.
Exercises That Increase Injuries
For the shoulders:
- bench press
- upright rows
- shoulder press
- lat pull downs (behind the head)
- barbell press behind the head
For The low back:
- leg Press
- standing shoulder presses
- tire flips
- twisting the torso while moving a weight
For the elbow:
- bench press
- biceps curls
- taking dumbbells from clients after they complete a DB bench press
Obviously, these are just general statements. The actual nature and severity of the injury will also depend on several factors such as how much weight was lifted, the number of sets and reps, and the length of time the exercise/ movement was performed (weeks vs months vs years). Lifting technique and individual bio-mechanics also play a role.
I would be remiss if I did not bring up one of the most serious overuse injuries – rhabdomyolysis. Those who know me are aware of how passionate I am about this topic.
If you don't know what “rhabdo” is, I have the perfect resource for you.
One group who may be particularly prone to overuse injuries are fitness instructors who are also massage therapists. This makes sense. Massage therapists work hard with their patients. Massage is not just about the hands. A good therapist is utilizing her/his whole body during massage sessions.
This will eventually take its toll if the therapist does not take steps to minimize their risk.
The massage therapist/personal trainer who works out with her/his clients – and trains themselves – needs to be especially careful to avoid getting repetitive motion trauma.
Group Fitness Instructor Injuries
Group fitness instructors work harder than the average personal trainer. They do not get the credit they deserve. That's because:
- they likely workout with the classes they teach (cycling for example)
- they often teach several classes per day
- they usually DO NOT know the fitness or health conditions of class participants (people just walk in!)
- they have to monitor everyone in the class at the same time while keeping the class enjoyable and challenging
Group fitness instructors are also likely to be the first people to encounter medical emergencies in the gym due to the fact of them coming in contact with more people. I've spoken to several group exercise instructors who told me of heart attacks occurring in their classes.
I think group fitness instructors should be paid more than personal trainers.
But that is a discussion for another time…
Group Fitness Instructor Injuries
I'm not aware of any statistics on the number or types of injuries that group exercise instructors sustain on the job. I can only go by what I've seen, been told and what I think might happen. Here is a shortlist potential injuries:
- hearing loss
- voice injuries
- knee injuries
- ankle and foot injuries
- low back problems
- neck and/or shoulder pain
- ankle injuries
Problems with knees, ankles, and feet, low back, shoulders and neck will vary according to the classes they teach. I'd expect more knee and low back problems in group instructors who teach a lot of indoor cycling or kickboxing classes.
Two injuries I think are worth bringing up is the potential for hearing loss and voice problems. Let's discuss those next.
Hearing Loss Problems
Hearing loss is a potential long term problem facing group exercise instructors who teach classes with loud music. Fitness instructors who might experience hearing loss include those who teach a variety of classes. If the class has loud music, the potential is there. Most group ex instructors tell me the gyms they work at do not provide hearing projection (earplugs). That's shameful.
Group Exercise Classes That Have Loud Music
|Indoor cycling/Spinning||tabata||Body pump|
|Body combat||Zumba||Indoor rowing classes|
|Kickboxing||Les Mills GRIT||Water exercise classes|
So how loud does noise have to be to cause hearing damage? A good rule of thumb is if you have to yell to someone who is only a few feet away from you, the sound is too loud. If you teach a class and must use a microphone so people can hear you over the music, the music is also probably too loud.
According to the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) repeated exposure to any sound that is at or greater than 85 decibels (dB) can cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). How loud is that? A sound of 85 dB is akin to a lawnmower.
If your exercise class is close to that level of noise and you're exposed to it long enough, it may eventually cause permanent hearing loss.
Decibel Level Of Common Sounds
|Refrigerator humming 45 db||normal conversation 60 db||heavy city traffic 85 db|
|motorcycles 95 db||MP3 player at full volume 105 db||Sirens 120 db|
|gun fire/firecrackers 150 db||Jet take-off 150 db|
According to this Washington Post article, people may experience hearing problems after experiencing a sound a 94 dB sound for only 1 hour.
The loss of hearing health may be accompanied by ringing in the ears (tinnitus). So, if you leave the gym and you have ringing in your ears, the sound was too sound. I have tinnitus (not from teaching classes) and have experimented with many supplements and other treatments as I tried to find a cure.
People tend to lose hearing starting around age 55 or so (especially men) so hearing injuries may be especially troubling to trainers in that age group. Loud music and sounds can also be an issue for older gym members. They may already have hearing problems. The loud music in gyms may make their hearing loss worse.
Obviously, the degree of hearing loss can vary according to the number of classes taught, the number of years the instructor has been teaching as well as whether or not adequate hearing protection is used in class.
Given that the instructor may be very close to the speakers, her/his noise-induced hearing loss may be greater than those who attend the class.
I think injuries related to hearing health is one of the major issues facing the fitness industry. I believe most gyms DO NOT want to address this problem. That's because members often equate loud music with fun. Their fear is lower noise levels may drop attendance. For what it's worth, I've never seen a safe noise policy for any fitness center I've been in or worked at.
So what are the odds of hearing loss from teachign group exercise classes? I can't say. Neither OSHA or EPA revealed any information on this topic. If anyone knows of risk statistics, please share in the comments below.
Group fitness institutors may also be at greater risk of vocal cord injuries caused by years of yelling in class. In extreme cases, this may result in vocal cord nodules requiring surgery to correct. Using a microphone during class can help reduce this from happening but I don't think it can reduce it entirely.
Vocal cord injuries may be a cumulative effect of teaching too many classes coupled with the stresses that occur during normal daily voice activities. I have met group exercise instructors who sounded like they were a pack-a-day smoker. I used to wonder about this. I now know why.
I'm not aware of any statistics on vocal cord injuries among group fitness instructors. Neither OSHA or EPA revealed any information on this topic. If anyone reading knows of risk statistics, If anyone knows, please share in the comments below.
So how can personal trainers and group exercise instructors avoid getting hurt on the job? This is more difficult than it sounds. While it's easy to say, just get some rest, the truth is that many instructors work part-time. They don't have the luxury of having a second income.
So, if they don't work, they don't get paid.
The same can be said about self-employed fitness instructors who operate their own facilities. Often, they are the face behind their brands. Their classes are usually more popular than the classes of those who they employ. This may necessitate they work more hours than some of their employees to keep their members happy.
Also, as fitness trainers get popular and their client base grows, they find themselves working a lot of hours. This can lead to repetitive injuries as they are working out with clients as well as racking and re-racking weights. Warming up and stretching before clients and between clients can help reduce getting hurt.
I've often said there is nothing healthy about working in a health club. That's because it's a challenge to eat healthy when you are constantly in demand to answer questions and help members. As such, gym staff resort to eating energy bars, etc. Improper nutrition can be just as important as not getting enough rest when it comes to ramping up injuries.
For the most part, I think the best advice is this has to be a balancing act.
For example, when working out with multiple clients during the day, it may be necessary to reduce your own workouts. Because this reduces the volume of exercise you are exposed to, it gives your body time to recuperate between client-workouts.
While trainers may not want to do this, it's worth noting that atrophy usually doesn't become apparent in most of us for 2-3 weeks. In other words, you could take 2-3 weeks off before you might notice any detriments in stringent.
I'm not saying to not workout for 2-3 weeks. Rather, if you are used to training yourself 3 times a week, reduce it to 1-2 times a week. You'll still retain your fitness levels. Remember, if you're also working out with clients too, those workouts DO count.
As for group exercise instructors, try to use more hand gestures in class and save your voice for when you need it. This can reduce vocal cord stress. If possible, using a microphone during classes will reduce vocal cord stress. Also, try to warm up your voice before the class begins.
Another tip is that your classes are a potential source of personal training clients. Many of the people in your classes might want to hire you for one-on-one sessions. If you are a certified personal trainer, you can eventually trade some of your class time for personal training time. This would provide you with a cross-training effect that might reduce musculoskeletal injuries.
Stopping Hearing Loss In The Gym
As for noise-induced hearing loss, this may be harder to deal with but here are a couple of ideas:
- Group instructors should wear earplugs to protect their hearing. But, more than this, instructors should spearhead efforts to persuade gym management to institute healthy noise guidelines.
- Try to arrange for an audiologist to meet with gym management to discuss how to improve hearing health among the staff. You can find audiologists and other hearing professionals in your area at the website of Hearing Loss Association of America.
Be prepared for push-back by gym management. Many fitness center owners don't want to deal with healthy sound guidelines. That's because gym members often equate loud music with “fun.” I think they are afraid they will lose members if the music is not loud. But, if the message of hearing health can be presented to members in a way that it benefits them personally, then they will come on board.
If that does not work, make contact with local TV and radio news stations. Reporters are always looking for a new topic to discuss on radio and TV. I'd bet most of the reporters have never given any thought to hearing loss among fitness professionals.
Obviously, injuries cannot be completely halted. Repetitive injuries are something that will continue to plague many in the fitness industry. Education and taking preventative action is the best defense we have at curtailing it.
I’m a group ex trainer and recently had vocal cord surgery. Ive been teaching classes for years and do a lot of yelling. Sometimes Ive been able to use a microphone and others not.
Jennifer, so sorry to hear this! Ive heard of other group trainers getting vocal cord surgery. I hope the medical bills were not too bad. Did the doctor give you any idea how long until you can work again? please do insist on a microphone going forward.
This is a subject that is near and dear to me. I have been a professional running coach for 25 years. I also lived in NYC for those 25 years. (This is important to your article, which I’ll get to in a bit).
Although I had believed my hearing is fine, after going to an audiologist and getting a hearing test, they discovered that I do have noise-induced hearing loss. I may not have ever discovered it except that I started getting ringing in my ears (Tinnitus). This was 7 years ago. I lived with it (it was moderate and it came and went), and then it stopped a couple years ago.
I believe that my noise-induced hearing loss came from (1) just living in NYC, taking subways, city traffic, etc, and (2) cheering for my runners at races and marathons all over the world for 25 years. And standing next to other people at races who are also cheering right into my ears!
I have never worn headphones while running and I teach my runners not to wear them too. Mostly because I believe that “runners should tune into their bodies, not out”. Do you know any other athlete who plays their sport while wearing headphones? Well, running is a sport (at least to the people who I coach), so they should not wear them either. And of course as you and I both know, the loud music can contribute to hearing loss and tinnitus.
I truly think that all these people who live their lives listening to music with head phones (not just runners or in the gym), I’m talking about just everyday walking to and from work or school, they constantly wear headphones, they are going to be sorry in future years. I always say, do you think the rock musicians of the 1970’s can hear today?
And all of the clubs that mostly Millennials go to… that music is blasting. I recently heard of a new type of club called “silent disco”. There’s no band or DJ. Everyone wears headphones to listen to their own music, and so they don’t have to scream to each other. That’s good except that I’m sure that they turn the volume up, which of course defeats the purpose.
Your idea about “hearing health” in the gym is great. But I agree with you that it will be hard to get gyms to do it.
I also think that a big part of why the country or industries (fitness, restaurants, clubs, stadiums, etc) why no one really talks about hearing health is that big companies that make headphones, ear buds, MP3, ear buds for smart phones, etc, might lose business. In fact they encourage listening to music while running.
It also seems odd to me that we’re told to get medical exams for almost every part of our anatomy (yearly wellness physical with blood pressure, cholesterol, etc, dentist, eye exams, colonoscopy, gynecological, prostate, I could go on)… but you rarely hear people (including PCP/family doctors) tell you to get a hearing check up.
So here’s what I do to protect my hearing from getting worse.
I always carry ear plugs with me. Even in movie theaters, it’s too loud. So are concerts, Broadway shows, restaurants, etc.
I cover my ears when I hear loud noises, like fire engines, police sirens, construction site (jack hammers), school yards with screaming kids), etc.
I think I’ve said enough. If our like to discuss how we might start an awareness campaign on hearing health in the fitness world and other places that I’ve mentioned… I’m all ears,
And… thanks for listening!
Joe Cannon says
Hi Mindy, thank you for saying all of that. After I wrote this, I took some heat from people who disagreed with me and felt hearing loss in the fitness industry was the fault of the instructors who didn’t do anything about it. I so appreciate you bringing up things that may be out of our control – such as living in noisy environments. I love the idea of bringing ear plugs with you all the time – even at movie theaters! I’ve been to some movies that were way too loud too. I WILL be taking your advice next time I go to the movies!
Your right there is a LOT of money to be made in the headphone industry. Beats/ Apple and others make lots of money selling those things to people. I almost hardly never hear -no pun- anyone talking about the long term damage loud music so close to the ear can do to someones long-term hearing.
You also make a very good point also about runners who wear headphones. Your correct I dont know of any other sport where the players wear headphones. I like the idea of tuning the music out and being more in tune with ones body.
I’ve struggled with tinnitus for a few years myself. It’s caused some hearing loss too. I dont know where my tinnitus came from but I hope I’m lucky like you were and have it go away one day.
Let me know when your website is up and running – pun intended – I will add your site to your comment so others can find you on the web 🙂
Thanks for this! I’m a massage therapist, group/mind-body fitness instructor. I have had a lot of shoulder and elbow issues teaching Pilates Mat and Yoga classes (too many planks) then adding my massage appointments on top of that. I then started teaching Zumba so I deal with hip/low back issues. Self care is crucial. I’m trying to teach other formats where I don’t have to do the entire class with the students, looking to get rid of one of my Zumba classes or change to another format.
Joe Cannon says
Hi Laura, your welcome and it sounds like you do a lot! I’ve met other Zumba instructors who have been injuries from teaching too many classes. For you, definitely cross training is the way to go. Much success in swapping out that class.
Thanks for this article! Ive been teaching Zumba and boot camp classes for 10 years. I do a lot of talking in classes I teach. I’ve never smoked but someone just today commented that I sounded like I did. It never occurred to me until I did some searching and found your article.
It was so slow I did not notice it. I don’t know what to do about this. I just wanted to say thank you for bringing this up.
Joe Cannon says
Hi John, glad you found my review helpful. Do you do any warming up of your voice before you teach zumba /bootcamps? That might help reduce your raspy voice from getting worse. Make sure you drink enough water before you teach and during as this can hurt your voice.
As much as most of us like caffeine, this is also something that can make our voice worse. If you are into caffeine, Id hate to say stop, but just know caffeine is not very good for voice health.
I hope some of this helps and thanks for sharing your group class teaching experiences.
Darlene Lee says
Really good article. I do need to be my conscious of my injuries when I’m personal training clients. I do like your idea of stretching before of in between working with clients. Thanks for this information. It was very helpful!
Joe Cannon says
Thanks so much Darlene, I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂
Dr. Timothy Manson says
Please! keep this fitness information coming; We need to know.
Joe Cannon says
Thanks Tim, I will do that 🙂
Thank you for writing this! Ive been teaching group classes – mostly spinning, zumba and Taba for over 5 years. This year, I started noticing ringing in my ears that has lasted for several hours after the class. I never thought of connecting it to the classes I was teaching, all of which had boombing music.
what can I do to stop this from happening?
Joe Cannon says
Hi Stephanie, sorry to hear about the tinnitus you have been experiencing. I tried to list steps group class instructors could take in the review so do take a look at that. Other than that I’m at a loss other than to say reduce the volume of the music in the classes you teach. Try decreasing the volume of the music slowly and see if anyone notices. If you do it slow enough, they might not notice.
Use foam ear plugs like musicians do on stage.
Joe Cannon says
David, I do think wearing ear plugs will help reduce hearing loss among group exercise instructors. I dont know how many people do this.