15yr Old Boy Crushed by Barbell: Training Safely in the Gym

It is with great sadness that I write this article.

Ben Shaw, a 15-year-old boy from Brisbane, Queensland has tragically passed away after being trapped under a barbell. My deepest sympathies go to Ben’s family and friends. It is just so heartbreaking to see such a promising life ended so young.

The incident occurred on the evening of Tuesday, 26th September at the Pine Rivers PCYC gym, about 26km North of Brisbane—one of several popular local sporting facilities in the area. Ben’s neck was crushed under the weight of a barbell loaded with 98kg. He had reportedly been pinned for at least 30 minutes when he was discovered by another local gym member.

Although CPR was performed by club staff at the scene and he was taken to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital where he was placed on life support, Ben succumbed to his injuries and passed away on Saturday.

An investigation is now underway by Work Safe Queensland.

The PCYC have made it clear that children under the age of 16 years aren’t allowed to use any weight training equipment without supervision. They also state the members use the equipment at their own risk, assuming no responsibility for injury that might occur. Whichever way you slice it though, Ben found himself in a dangerous situation with nobody there to help him.

The reason that I am writing this article is in response to the media’s reaction to this tragic accident.

When someone loses their life in such circumstances, it is important that we learn from these accidents and do our best to avoid it ever happening again. But in doing so, we must make sure the action is balanced and rational.

Weight Training & Body Image

Firstly, there was the inference by certain members of the media that Ben and other young men who train in the gym at such a relatively young age is due to body image issues. Yes, there has never been more pressure on young men and woman in relation to physical appearance, but to assume this is the sole reason why young men go to the gym is ridiculous. Ben played rugby league, a game where physical strength is essential. Even if he didn’t, strength training by young men has been a popular pastime even before “body image” became an issue.

As a society, we can’t fix the body image issue by stopping young men and women from going to the gym or looking at weight lifting as a poor choice of a hobby. We fix it as a society by not glorifying people based on their beauty. As parents of young children, my wife and I don’t watch crappy reality shows that star bimbos and himbos. We don’t have our faces buried in social media looking at people that wouldn’t be famous if it wasn’t for Instagram.

We are both committed to training and a healthy lifestyle, but don’t obsess over our physical appearance. Our role models are our parents – so the kids look up to their grandparents. We point out talented people like teachers, plumbers, pilots, nurses – people who are way more important than a Hollywood movie star. When my kids are Ben’s age I hope they are training instead of stuck on social media. We can all change this by setting the right example for young people.

Education, Not Rules

The other reaction from the media was the push to put in place more rules regarding weight training. There seems to be a belief in modern society that we can save everyone and everything by adding more rules. My belief is that this is having the opposite effect of destroying our society.

People were questioning how a young man was training by himself in a gym. The solution put forward was that there should be a rule in place where nobody can train alone in a gym. Yes, this rule would have saved Ben. But if we put this rule into place, how many people will stop going to the gym because of it? If you can’t find someone to train with, you miss out. Or should we put an age limit in place?

As a father, I would rather have my kids training in the gym when they are fifteen than stuck in their rooms glued to their phones. We should be encouraging training, not making it harder.

The other reason why I think this is a bad idea is because people can still train at home by themselves. How do you stop this? Ban people from buying gym equipment? The solution to the problem is education. When your son or daughter comes to you and tells you he or she wants to start weight training, instead of telling them that it is too dangerous, sit down and talk to them. Let them know that if done dangerously, weight training could be deadly. But if you follow some simple principles, weight lifting can be hugely beneficial, not just physically but mentally.

Weight Training, Safely

Training safely by yourself is so easy to do. I know because I have been doing it for years and never even come close to an accident. If you follow these simple guidelines, and as part of the weight training community, encourage everyone else to follow them so we can all train safely.

1. Choose the right gym equipment

This will solve most issues. The barbell bench press would have to be the most dangerous exercise in terms of being deadly. If you can’t complete a rep, you get trapped under the barbell. This doesn’t mean we have to take all bench presses out of gyms. They are perfectly safe if used properly.

An Olympic bench press have spotter arms. These are adjustable arms that you can place on both sides of your bench and set at your desired height so that you can still get the full range of motion. However, if you can’t complete the repetition, you can safely put the barbell down on the arms. You are perfectly safe to train by yourself, provided you have correctly set the spotter arms in place.

If the bench press doesn’t have spotter arms, then don’t do barbell bench press. It is that simple. If you want to train chest and you don’t have a training partner that day, then use dumbbells. Or if you really need to do barbell bench press get someone to spot you – but make sure they are up to the task. Don’t expect a beginner to help you out of the hole with 140kgs on the bar. These sorts of things are just common sense.

Squatting is probably the most dangerous in terms of severe injury. If you can’t complete a rep, you can get crushed if the bar falls on you, in preference to dumping it off your back. If you are training by yourself without a spotter, then train in a power rack or half cage with spotter bars. These follow the same principles as the bench press. With these in place, you are perfectly safe.

For home trainers, Spud Inc makes Suspension Straps for racks. If you have a half rack and don’t think your spotter arms are long enough, then invest in a pair of these. There is simply no excuse. The range of equipment available these days gives you every opportunity to train safely.

2. Weight and Form

These two go hand in hand. Even if you are benching or squatting with the right gym equipment, you can still injure yourself. Most injuries from weight lifting occur when people try to lift a weight that they can’t handle with proper form.

Not only is it safer, but it is far more beneficial to lift lighter weight with correct form than to lift heavy weight with poor form. Sadly, on social media, in this world where we are only entertained by people performing more and more death-defying acts, that this sort of behaviour is promoted. It is stupid and, hopefully, tragic events like this will make these meatheads think before posting stuff like this.

This is one reason for our long association with Lee Priest. Lee is a professional bodybuilder who has taken on the best and won Mr. Universe in 2013. Even with super heavy weights he still maintains textbook form.

3. Strength & Muscle: It’s a journey, not a destination

This one lesson I had learnt earlier in my weight training journey. Although it is critical to push yourself to get results, you don’t need to push yourself to the point of injuring yourself – this takes you out of the game. Building strength is all about building up small and consistent gains. You don’t need to lift a weight heavier than you have before to be stronger. You might be able to squeeze out an extra rep or two on a lighter weight – this is still a strength gain.

If you want to lift a heavier weight, you don’t need to beat it by 10kgs. You only need to beat it by 2.5kg for it to be a PB. If you do it easy then go for another 2.5kg PB in a month.

This is particularly important for young people. The modern world is all about instant gratification – people need it now. So they think if they train hard for 6 weeks, they will be dripping with muscle. It doesn’t work like that. Where would the fun be?

Weight training is the ultimate life lesson. Good things only come from hard work and sacrifice for long periods. For 98% of us, we get bugger all physical rewards for our years of arduous work. By the time we figure out we are not gifted to be champions, we just love training. This to me is simply the best.

Accidents Do Happen

The more things we do in life, the more we expose ourselves to risk. Whether it is going on holidays, driving to the shops or riding a bike. The more we try to fix these things with rules, the harder it is to do things. Or we try to protect ourselves and children by not doing things.

I see this with kids these days. We are that worried about them that we try and protect them by wrapping them in cotton wool. We would rather keep them inside watching TV or playing video games than letting them play outside.

Has this worked? Childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and a raft of modern-day illnesses are on the rise. We make knee jerk reactions to tragedies like Ben’s but have become complacent to these contemporary diseases that are killing people, too. They just take longer.

Life is all about taking risks. It has been since the birth of man and always will be. Young people will always take risks – it is called growing up. We can’t change this. Education and setting the right example is the most effective way.