While some gym movements are definitely more popular than others, did you know that there are also exercises to avoid? Sometimes it’s because the exercise is too hard to perform properly, leaves you susceptible to injury, or simply just doesn’t work that well. Below are five exercises to avoid, as well as what exercises you should replace them with, instead.
#1 on this list of exercises to avoid is one of the more common exercises you see in home fitness routines, school PE classes, and even in military bootcamps – the situp. Situps aren’t necessarily a bad exercise when done properly, but most people perform them completely wrong.
They clasp their hands behind their head, which has them pulling with their lats instead of their abdominal muscles. They also often have their toes or feet hooked under something, which more often than not will have the trainee pulling with their groin or hip flexors instead of their core.
If you’re going to do situps, do the janda variation where you put your lower leg over something solid, such that a stable bar is behind your calves. Pulling into this bar with your lower leg eliminates groin or hip flexor involvement, and forces you to contract the abs. Also keep your arms at your sides so you’re not putting undue pressure on your neck.
However, if you don’t have something like this to drape your lower leg over, just do crunches. Put yourself in the same position (feet flat on the ground, lying flat, arms at your sides), and slowly crunch. Try to visualize as if you were “rolling” one abdominal muscle onto another as you curl your torso up.
The triceps dumbbell kickback is another high on the list of exercises to avoid. Most people use way too much weight, swinging the entire arm around. Too much momentum gets involved, taking emphasis off the triceps. Because the lifter is cheating so much, hyperextending the elbow is also a potential danger.
Even when kickbacks are done properly, they can cause strain to the shoulder. This is because you’re statically holding your upper arm in a horizontal position. The shoulder joint wasn’t meant to hold the arm in a stationary position like that, often resulting in rotator cuff pain.
Instead, do dumbbell triceps extensions lying on the floor. You can either do one arm at a time or both, but keep your upper arm vertical, bending only at the elbow. Lower until the dumbbell touches the floor just to the side of your head before returning to the starting position.
Cross training and athletic workouts have become more popular in recent years. One of the exercises to avoid that you often see in these programs is the barbell front squat. The problem with this movement isn’t that it’s not effective, because it’s a great leg builder. However, most trainees try to do this movement like an Olympic lifter, holding the bar in the “racked” position.
This means the bar is lying across their shoulders, their fingers loosely wrapped around the bar for stability, and their arms out in front of them, elbows pointing forward. The reason this is a bad idea is because most lifters don’t have anywhere near enough flexibility in the shoulders or wrists to hold a bar in the racked position properly.
This leads often leads a lifter to holding the bar in their hands, wrists bent backward, bar not resting on the shoulders, and elbows pointing downward. Not only does this put entirely too much strain on the wrists, but it also leads to improper form – usually leaning forward with the torso.
A much better option is the goblet squat. Holding a dumbbell with both hands at shoulder level puts you in the same sort of front squat position, but without any of the drawbacks. At the same time, goblet squats all but automatically require proper squat form with an upright torso, virtually no unnecessary bending of the lower back, and feet flat.
It might be tempting to use the smith machine as it eliminates balance issues, doesn’t require as much coordination, and gives you a certain element of safety. However, squatting in one is a bad idea. This is because the squat is a three-dimensional exercise.
When you watch a proper squat performed from the side, you’ll see that the bar doesn’t just travel in a straight, vertical line. Instead, while it’s traveling up and down, it’s also moving in an arc forward and backward. This is because this arc follows the natural movement pattern of the body.
The smith machine doesn’t let you do this. This means while you think you’re being safer, you’re actually forcing the body into a specific range of motion it doesn’t naturally want to move in. And while you might feel more comfortable with heavier weight, the aforementioned elimination of balance and coordination actually leads to less nervous system involvement.
Instead, you should stick with the regular barbell squat. You’ll build more strength, be more athletic, and end up with better muscle stimulation. It might take a little longer to perfect the form in the long run, but the improved results will be worth it.
Though you don’t see these exercises much these days, doing pulldowns or pullups behind the head used to be a staple of bodybuilders’ routines. They were considered separate exercises to pulldowns or pullups in front of the head, just like doing them with a different grip or handle is.
The fully contracted position is the weakest part of these movements, and this position generally puts a lot of strain on the rotator cuff. This is because most lifters don’t have sufficient shoulder flexibility, and pressure is put on the joint as they try to pull to full contraction. A lack of flexibility also usually has trainees leaning their head forward at extreme angles, just so that the handle or pullup bar can get behind their head. This lends itself to easily straining something in the neck.
The safer and more effective option is to just pull in front of the head. If you feel like you need or want to do multiple variations, instead use the aforementioned different grips and/or handles. Couple your regular pulldowns or pullups with those done with a parallel grip or with your palms facing you.
There’s really not any reason to do any of the exercises listed on this page. While some of them can provide a good workout when done properly, most of them just aren’t necessary. Instead, use the suggested alternatives to ensure you still get a good workout and maximize performance, but fend off injury without having to learn any complicated technique.