There are lots of amazing exercises… and then there are ones which you should avoid like the bubonic plague… or like bad training advice.
Good exercises are safe and effective but it’s crucial for you to know which ones are downright dangerous or just not as effective you think!
So, we’ve re-compiled a list of the 11 worst exercises you should avoid because your gains and longevity depend on choosing the right ones for effective training….
1. Upright Row
The upright row is an exercise which intends to work the lateral deltoids and even traps. But the problem is they cause too much internal rotation of the shoulders which can cause impingement issues. (1)
Now, a lot of people get away with doing this exercise but issues aren’t always immediate. The strains that we place on joints now, can most certainly cause problems down the road. So, it’s just best to skip this one altogether.
Our joints can often come back and kick us in the butt when we least expect it. So, be safe and allow your body to move through as natural of a movement as possible when training.
Best alternative: Side lateral raise with hands slightly externally rotated
How to do it – Grab a light pair of dumbbells and stand straight with arms relaxed by your sides. Turn both wrists slightly outward. Bend your knees and lean forward slightly. With elbows slightly bent, raise both arms laterally to chin level. Lower arms and repeat.
2. Behind-the-Neck Cable Lat Pulldown
Here’s another exercise which can potentially jack up your rotator cuffs.
The behind-the-neck lat pulldown places your shoulder joints in a compromised position. And the stress on your joints ain’t worth it! So, like the plague, avoid it.
Plus, the behind-the-neck pulldown is less effective for muscle stimulation than the front-of-the neck pulldown according to one study. (2)
Best alternative: Front-of-the-neck pulldown
How to do it – Grip the bar overhand wider than shoulder-width. Lean back slightly and pull the bar down to a few inches from your lower chest. Extend your arms back up but keep your elbows slightly bent.
3. The Dumbbell Chest Fly
The shoulders seem to take the brunt of injury due to bad upper body exercises. And the dumbbell chest fly is an issue for the shoulder health of many people.
But the problem with the movement is that your coracobrachialis muscles are being stretched rather than your chest when arms are fully extended during the fly. The pectoralis muscles can only stretch so far and increased leverage from extended arms will only increase the risk of tearing a pec muscle. (3, 4)
Best Alternative: Single-arm cable crossover with arms bent
How to do it – Grab the single-grip handle attached to the cable pulley at chest level while facing the machine. With elbows bent, turn away from the machine and extend your arm across your chest while contracting your muscles. Repeat with the opposite arm.
4. Leg Extensions
The leg extension is a staple for many people. But the stress it places on the knees and tension on the ACL means it should be thrown away for good.
If you think about… when you’re doing the leg extension, your knees are pretty much bearing all of the weight. And there’s no support for your knees which causes gradual breakdown and excessive pressure on the joints.
Best alternative: Lunges
How to do it – Step forward with one foot about 3-4 feet until your knee is bent at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Push yourself back up by pressing through your heel. Then, perform the same movement with your other leg. Repeat.
5. Smith Machine Squat
The Smith machine is one of the best exercise tools at any gym. But some exercises are safer and more effective than others depending on experience. But the problem with doing a squat on this machine is that it can place a lot of stress on the spine if the feet are not close to your body. Then your knees are in a dangerous position because you’ll be pushing through more of the ball of your foot and the locked-in position will limit natural movement.
However, some people can pull it off if they know how to effectively work with their own body mechanics.
Best alternative: The leg press is a better option because the back is at least supported. And your back is not at a 90-degree angle to the floor like with the Smith machine. So, you won’t have that downward force being placed on the spine.
How to do it: Lie flat on the leg press machine so your back and butt are on the padding. Place your feet higher up on the platform so that you’ll press through your heels. Push up and move the supports outward then bend the knees until legs are at a 90-degree angle. Push back up but avoid locking out your knees.
6. Behind-the-Neck Barbell Shoulder Press
This exercise causes you to press in an abnormal plane of motion. Not only do you increase the risk of shoulder impingement, but the ball of your shoulder socket cannot move effectively or naturally.
And your shoulder is not a muscle you want to screw up due to careless training.
Best alternative: Front-of-the-neck shoulder press
How to do it – Grip the barbell with your hands at a slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart. Unrack the bar and lower it to forehead level, then press it back up.
7. Good Mornings
Good mornings are a good functional exercise but many people aren’t capable of doing them safely. So, it’s better to be safe than sorry in this case. You must know how to maintain thoracic extension to do a good morning effectively.
And if you don’t, there’s a big risk of pulling a disk in your lower back.
The movement is not conducive for supporting the resistance placed on your back.
Best alternative: Romanian Deadlift
How to do it – Bend your knees and lean your torso forward while keeping it slightly arched throughout the exercise. Grip the barbell with hands wider than shoulder-width.
Deadlift the bar from the floor until you’re erect. Now, lower the bar with knees bent but stop mid-calf. Push upward with your heels and thrust your hips forward. Repeat.
8. Ballistic Stretches
Bouncing and stretching don’t necessarily make for a good pairing, especially if you’re inexperienced with stretching in general. You could injure yourself and suffer from a muscle tear.
Best alternatives: Do movements like straight-leg lateral swings where you place your hands on the wall and swing one leg laterally back and forth.
Side lunges and single-leg deadlift are good examples as well. You only need to do 30-45 seconds of each to effectively warm up.
9. Superman Exercise
Changing the direction of your natural, safe back position is not a good idea. The Superman involves lying face down and hyperextending your back and it works the posterior chain. But we think it’s best avoided due to the potential for long-term back issues.
Best alternative: Do a plank variation where you can keep the back straight and core tight. So, you’ll actually be working the core muscles which is important for protecting the lower back. There’s no hyperextension in this position and you’ll essentially strengthen the same muscles.
How to do it: Use your forearms to hold yourself up and maintain this position for at least 30 seconds for a few sets.
10. Kipping Pull-Up
No… just no! Unless you’re very experienced with this movement then stay away. But even then, it can place a lot of stress on your shoulders since you’re hanging from a bar. It just doesn’t seem feasible for long term joint health.
Best alternative: The conventional pull-up has always been a great exercise, so if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it.
How to do it: Pull yourself up to the bar using just a little momentum during each repetition. Use a pull-up assist machine if you can’t do a controlled pull-up.
11. Rebound Box Jumps
Box jumps are great for the explosive benefits they offer. But anytime you’re jumping and landing your tendons and joints will feel the impact.
Now, these may be good for experienced athletes; however, this movement places the Achilles tendon in a dangerous position with the impact.
Best alternative: Step down off of the platform after the jump. This will save your tendons big time!
Wrapping it Up
Well, there you have it! 6 worst exercises you might be doing but need to stop from this point on. These movements show lots of potential,… for causing injury and cheating you out of the gains you could have by doing much better exercises.
So, make the swap ASAP with the recommended alternatives. And remember, just because an exercise may not have repercussions now, doesn’t mean it won’t in the future.
Injuries and pain tend to show up out of nowhere from long term wear and tear on a joint or tendon.
But, you can make good choices which will allow you to train harder and longer.
In the worst exercises article, under behind the neck cable lat pulldowns, you show a picture of a behind the neck military press.
Thank you for pointing out, we already changed the image!
Behind the neck pulldown is dangerous, if done incorrectly and with too much weight.
There are several studies that showed that there is no way to prove that behind the back is less safe than front pulldowns, they just couldn’t reproduce the myth.
However there is more than one study pointing out out that there’s more muscles involved in behind the back pull compared to front, there’s even a YouTube video with sensors hooked up, check it out!
Funny how this article highlights some of the exercises that have been used for over 50 years by some of the worlds biggest and best body builders today and yester years. I think ALL exercises have a place if done correctly and with the right form and weight.
Take this advice with a grain of salt.
My own advice would be to consult a certified physician who is educated in how the human body works and how it is intended to be. They can analyze if you have any medical conditions, your medical constitution, everyone is different and requires different methods to sustain health, then letting that physician advice you in what would be best for you. Perhaps all you need is just an hour of walk each day?