ATLANTA • A newbie may not be a good fit in a gym. This alert is especially timely in January, when millions of people flock - at least temporarily - to health clubs to try to shed kilograms acquired over the holidays.
But for the inexperienced, the gym can pose unexpected hazards.
Many fitness wannabes are not familiar with how to use exercise machines and can sustain head, back, neck, hip, leg and ankle injuries.
"Right after the holidays, there's a mad rush of people who have never exercised before or haven't exercised in a long time," said Mr Leon Popovitz, a veteran orthopaedic surgeon at New York Bone and Joint Specialists in Manhattan.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans suffer injuries every year while working out - stumbling on treadmills, falling off exercise balls, getting snapped in the face by resistance bands, dropping weights on their toes and wrenching their backs by lifting too much weight.
Nearly 460,000 people went to hospital emergency rooms in 2012 for injuries related to exercise equipment, according to Consumer Products Safety Commission data analysed by USA Today in 2015.
About 32,000 were hospitalised and a few were pronounced dead on arrival.
Here are five tips from Mr Popovitz and other fitness experts to avoid mishaps on the gym floor.
1. Get a professional trainer to show you the ropes
The biggest mistake a newcomer can make is springing to action on treadmills, elliptical trainers, leg presses, pulleys and other equipment without basic instructions for avoiding accidents.
"It wouldn't hurt to have a second pair of eyes to watch you while you are doing a workout," said Mr Popovitz.
2. Beware of treadmills
While they may seem to be the most basic and benign piece of equipment, studies suggest that they cause the most injuries.
One of the biggest problems is that users "zone out". They often listen to music on their ear buds, watch television or read a book. Gym goers have been seriously injured by falling off the treadmill after losing their balance or simply reaching for a water bottle.
In May 2015, Silicon Valley executive Dave Goldberg, 47, husband of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, died after falling off a treadmill and striking his head.
As crazy as it sounds, some people sustain back injuries by trying to move a treadmill by themselves.
Finally, persistent running on a treadmill can cause inflammation of the joints in the hip as well as tendinitis and bursitis.
Users often alter their gait to compensate for the narrow path or fast pace of the treadmill.
3. Moderate your weightlifting
Many novices obsess over maximising the weight they are lifting and the number of repetitions rather than good form and sensible loads.
When properly executed, the overhead standing lift is great for toning the shoulders. It requires distributing the weight evenly across the shoulders and spine. But many people add far too much weight to the bar, which causes them to hold the bar slightly in front of their body.
Mr Popovitz warns that doing this can place an inordinate amount of pressure on the spine, especially the lower back. That is a recipe for chronic back problems.
He added that vigorous curling with excessive weights to build up the arms and pectorals can lead to ruptured tendons in the chest that require surgery to repair.
4. Know your limitations
While this may be more of a problem for exercise fanatics than newbies, experts warn that people who regularly push their bodies to the breaking point can do serious damage to their shoulders and joints and risk life-threatening breakdowns of their muscles.
One little-known danger zone is rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which overactive, highly fatigued muscles break down and release proteins and enzymes into the bloodstream at a dangerous rate.
The runaway proteins and enzymes attack the kidneys. If left untreated, the condition can cause kidney failure.
Even more scary, the condition can be triggered by a single, especially taxing workout, such as a beginner persevering through an hour-long spin-cycle class or a runner undertaking a marathon under hot, humid conditions.
5. Clumsiness can do you in
Just running and jumping or lugging heavy objects such as medicine balls or kettlebells around in a crowded gym can result in stumbling and falling. Trainers are also notorious for leaving equipment lying around.
Finally, watch out for slippery areas, such as in locker rooms.