7 Gym Exercises You Need to Avoid
For most of my adult life, I've held to the belief that there is no such thing as bad exercises - only bad ways to do good exercises. You can take the most effective exercises and make them useless and compromising just as you can turn an ineffective exercise into a safe and functional one. That said, some exercise machines and movements are just flat-out awful.
Here are the "Unlucky 7": exercises where the risks far outweigh the benefits.
- Inverted Leg Press:
The angle on most of these machines can cause injury due to the awkward position of the hips and spine. It is very difficult not to push the lower back into the backrest in this exercise. Doing so places stress on the disc when loaded. Additionally, straightening out the torso (as in a squat) gets full recruitment of the hamstring and butt muscles. The leg press keeps your upper body fixed, which takes this out.
Better Alternative: Squats (barbell or dumbbell)
- Smith Machine:
Any way you slice it this machine (AKA "the expensive towel rack") is biomechanically horrendous. Like any other machine, you have to conform to a fixed movement - which doesn't take the lifters natural mechanics into consideration, and doesn't allow for subtle mechanical adjustments. This can cause problems in the knees and lower back if used to squat. Eric Cressey, who is the king of smith machine debunking, gives these 10 good uses for it (hint; none of them include squats or bench presses.
Better Alternative: Any barbell or dumbbell alternative
- Back Extension:
This machine promotes putting the back into a forced hyper-extended position. Combine the undesirable end position with the typical way in which people perform the movement (read fast and jerky) and you risk damaging joints in your spine (facet joints).
Better alternative: On all fours - raising opposite arm/leg simultaneously (birddogs/pointing dogs).
- Ab Twist Machine:
Or any exercise whereby your lower
body is fixed and your upper body is rotating against great force. The abdominal muscles are designed to prevent rotation, not encourage it. Further, your rotation is coming almost exclusively from the lumbar spine - an area that is prone to injury when placed in such a position.
- Upright Rows:
Due to the grip and the nature of the movement, upright rows place stress on the shoulder joint by causing a bone-on bone collision with every rep. Eventually, this may lead to rotator cuff tendonitis.
Better Alternative: Lateral dumbbell raises
- Shoulder Press Machine:
The positioning and the plane of movement of the arms when pushing above the head is highly individual. When your grip and movement are locked in one plane of movement, you may be asking for trouble over time. Having the arms too far in front of you or too far back can place stress on the shoulder joint.
Better Alternative: Dumbbell shoulder presses
- Sit Ups (especially on a ball):
Again, the architecture of the big abdominal muscles dictate that it is not meant for big movements as in a full sit-up on the ball. Further, sit-ups promote an often undesirable flexion of the back (rounding). In fact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a limit of 3400 newtons of force to keep the back safe. Sit-ups contribute 3413 newtons.
Better alternative: Short range crunch, tabletops, prayers.
Better alternative: Short range twists with tubing or cable - allowing for some hip movement
So while we need to take individual training factors such as; ability, goals and experience into consideration when determining the value of an exercise, I don't think there is much place for any of the above.