My friend Valerie was doing pushups in her family room, the fronts of her thighs supported atop her inflatable fitness ball, when suddenly her puppy took a nip at the ball. It burst instantly and Valerie’s knees hit the floor with a painful thud. For days afterward it hurt to walk, she told me ruefully.

Exercising at home is convenient and economical. Yet, as my friend learned, even with simple equipment, such as weights, resistance bands, balance boards and balls, there’s a risk for injury if appropriate safety precautions are not taken. At a good gym, professional trainers are on hand to help, and equipment is regularly checked for damage (and puppy teeth aren’t a factor)—but at home, you’re on your own. That’s why I contacted Barbara Bushman, PhD, a professor in the department of health, physical education and recreation at Missouri State University, to discuss safety measures for home exercisers.

In a future article, we’ll cover major equipment such as multi-stations, treadmills and stationary bikes, but for now we’ll focus on the simple stuff. Here’s how to stay safe when using…

Hand weights or barbells with weight plates…

  • Wear weight-lifting gloves to help you maintain your grip—otherwise a barbell or dumbbell can easily slip out of sweaty hands.
  • Always wear shoes to help protect your feet in case you do drop a weight.
  • If you have a weight bench, check regularly to assure that all nuts and bolts are tight—these can loosen over time and make the bench unstable, Dr. Bushman cautioned.
  • Never try to lift more weight than you can comfortably handle unless another person is right there to spot you.

Elastic resistance bands or tubes…

  • These are economical, portable and versatile alternatives to weights, but they do wear out—so before each use, check for tiny tears. If you spot a rip or weak area, it’s time to replace your band or tube.
  • If the equipment has a handle (as many tubes do), be sure the elastic tubing is properly secured in the handle.
  • Avoid abruptly letting go of the band or tube while it is stretched—otherwise, it may snap back and hit you. This can be particularly serious if it hits you in the eye.
  • When anchoring the band or tube to another object, choose something stationary, such as a door hinge. Do not anchor to a lightweight piece of furniture or a doorknob—if the furniture suddenly moves or the door flies open, you could lose your balance and fall.

Balance boards…

  • Typically a flat board atop an inflated base shaped like an upside-down dome, these also are called wobble boards because they challenge your balance—so the primary safety concern is to prevent falls. Best: Do your workout next to a bar or other stable surface (choose one with no sharp edges) that you can grab if you start to lose your balance.
  • Opt for a balance board with a textured top surface rather than a smooth one. This helps keep feet from slipping.
  • Master simple stationary exercises (such as just standing on the balance board) before challenging yourself with exercises involving movement or the addition of hand weights.

Inflatable fitness balls…

  • If a ball explodes while you’re sitting or lying on it, the sudden fall to the floor could leave you with an injury to the back, neck, head or other area. That’s why Dr. Bushman recommended paying a few extra dollars for a ball labeled “burst-resistant,” which is designed to deflate relatively slowly if punctured.
  • Also check the product label for inflation instructions. Overinflating may cause the ball to pop while you’re pumping it up, potentially hurling pieces of plastic into your eye.
  • If possible, do your ball workout on a floor that is carpeted or padded with rubber tile so you won’t land as hard in the event of a sudden fall.
  • Be sure the floor is free of sharp objects…stay away from furniture…and keep pets out of the area.

For added safety: No matter what type of equipment you choose, if you are not familiar with it, Dr. Bushman suggested taking a few lessons from a qualified fitness professional…or buying a how-to DVD featuring a credentialed instructor, not a celebrity.

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