The 5 Most Common Exercise Injuries, According to Data

Updated: Mar. 03, 2023

Experts say exercising is arguably the best commitment you can make for your health—but new research suggests these are the pieces of gym equipment most likely to put you out of commission.

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In March 2020 when most gyms, fitness centers and yoga studios closed, home fitness equipment surged. NPD Group, a market research company, reported triple-digit gains on home exercise equipment like weight benches (+259%), free weights (+181%) and stationary bikes (+170%). Consumers also invested in gym-quality rowing machines, treadmills and fitness apps for streaming on-demand and live workouts. 

Three years later, the trend to work out at home has continued…but many former gym-goers also returned for the variety of equipment at the gym, as well as the motivating environment. No matter where you love to get moving, it’s important to know that there are can be risks to using some of the most popular gym machines

New research from Compare the Market, an Australian research firm, has ranked the most dangerous pieces of gym equipment—and the injuries to avoid.

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Five pieces of gym equipment

5. Rowing Machine

The fifth most-common exercise injury, from the rowing machine, stems from the problem that many people don’t use proper rowing form (seated with their bottom slightly behind their shoulders with the shoulders rolled down and the arms extended forward, pulling the arms back once the legs are extended). This can injure the back, knees, and wrists. To avoid a rowing machine injury, it can be helpful to work with a trainer to perfect your form. 

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4. Bench Press

Like most gym equipment, bench presses are dangerous due to operator error…often from someone going too heavy.

If the weight is too much, bench presses can lead to injuries of the shoulder or serious, long-term back injuries. In extreme cases, an individual can drop the weight on themselves, which can lead to fractured ribs or internal injuries. 

Woman Using Exercise Bike in a Home
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3. Stationary Bike

Some people adjust the seat height on stationary bikes, but the handle bars also have several adjustment points—and if the bike isn’t fitted to your size, you could suffer from injury to your neck, back and shoulders from poor posture. Some people experience wrist injuries from not holding the handlebars properly. 

Our senior editor is a longtime certified indoor cycling instructor who suggests you want a slight bend in your knee on the downward stroke, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re stretching to reach the handles. Also, try not to put too much weight on your wrists at any point, but especially in standing positions. Keep in mind most every part of the bike is adjustable to your needs.

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest’s Medical Review Board co-chair Latoya Julce says when dismounting a stationary bike, “riders should keep their butts over the saddle; knees should not pass the ankles because it cause unnecessary  pressure and injuries. When it’s time to rise, engage the core, and lean forward while the butt stays back.”

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2. Treadmill

Unlike outdoor running, treadmills don’t offer consistent stride variation and don’t have a very forgiving surface, both of which can lead to repetitive-use injuries. In addition, people often set the treadmill too fast. This can lead to injuries if an individual tries to go faster than their fitness level.

In some cases, an individual can fall off a treadmill that’s moving faster than they can keep up with. This can result in breaks or traumatic brain injuries.

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1. Weights

A lot can go wrong with lifting weights, starting with people not always holding them properly. Some also tend to lift weights that are too heavy and sometimes drop them. Compare the Market’s research reported 1,166 injuries from weights, more than double the 482 reported treadmill injuries. 

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The five most common injuries from gym equipment

Camille Ronesi, PT, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy, says most injuries are due to the individual being inexperienced, ill-prepared, or poorly trained and that it’s essential to work with knowledgeable trainers and coaches. “While it may cost a little more upfront,” she says, “the savings in time and medical expenses are invaluable.”

“Many people demonstrate poor technique not only because of inexperience, but because they have some type of compensation or movement issue that increases their risk for injury,” Dr. Ronesi points out. “Most reputable personal trainers use some type of movement assessment to determine the client’s weakest links.” (The Healthy @Reader’s Digest’s Medical Review Board co-chair Latoya Julce adds that she’s a firm believer that consumers shouldn’t fear the initial cost for a healthy lifestyle. “Cutting corners with your health will cost you more in medical bills,” she explains.)

You should always work out in a gym that employs accessible, certified trainers. Know that they’re there to help you with equipment and technique, so don’t feel hesitant to ask them.

If you work out at home, having a trainer come to your home gym to assist you with proper form can be a wise investment. 

Now, the five most common injuries from gym equipment.

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5. Internal Injury

Internal injuries can occur from a fall or dropping a heavy weight on yourself. This can also result in a head injury, which can be serious. 

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4. Lacerations

Lacerations can happen from falling off equipment or pinching skin in some of the many moving parts found on gym equipment.

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3. Contusions

Contusions are likely to happen from falls. “Reduce your fall risk by working on balance,” Dr. Ronesi advises, “If you feel unsteady on a treadmill, slow the speed down and use the handles.”

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2. Fracture

Fractures can happen to the feet while using a treadmill, or if a heavy weight is dropped on a body part. Stress fractures can occur during anything repetitive and weight-bearing. 

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1. Strain/Sprain

During cardio exercises, strains occur when too much load is placed on muscle, and sprains occur when too much load is placed on ligaments. “You can reduce the risk of strains and sprains by exercising within your limitations,” Dr. Ronesi says, “When you’re ready to increase the challenge, do so in moderation, gradually building your fitness over time.”

When lifting weights, Dr. Ronesi suggests you make sure your form is excellent and that your body can handle the weight safely.  

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