Just as there is bad nutrition and good nutrition, unhealthy habits and healthy habits, there are bad exercises and beneficial exercises. The worst exercises are not just bad, but can be dangerous. From watching workouts in gyms to videos online, we’ve seen our share of some of the worst exercises people can dream up. Here, we’ve picked out some of our personal all-time worst exercises to avoid in order to reduce chances of injury and instead get the results you intended.
And the Losers Are…
1. Sit-ups: If these aren’t on the top of every fitness professional’s “never to perform” exercise list, they should be. We’re not talking about proper abdominal crunches, but the old military style sit-ups where you bring your upper body completely off the floor towards your knees. Besides doing little to nothing for your core, they push your curved spine against the floor which can cause injury to your back. And, they work your hip flexors, which, frankly…why? Most of our hip flexors are already overworked sitting in front of computers all day.
Do this instead…Plank. Not only do these work your abdominals, but also your back and shoulders. Proper form includes keeping your back flat, tucking the chin slightly and tightening your abs.
2. Side Bends with Weights: Proper side bends for stretching are great. But, someone, somewhere, came up with this exercise with weights that supposedly was to strengthen the oblique muscles. However, all this exercise does is put more stress on the low spine, which again can lead to injury. Really want to work the obliques?
Do this instead…Wood Chopper. This works both the oblique and transverse abdominal muscles—the ones that allow you to twist, swing a bat, golf club, etc. This also has the added benefit of working your back and shoulders. Proper form includes tightening your abs, avoiding arching your back, and using a weight that freely allows you to perform the exercise without stress on your shoulders.
3. Lat Pull-downs Behind the Neck: This is a common exercise seen in gyms anywhere, and carries with it a greater potential for injury to the spine, neck and rotator cuffs. To avoid hitting your head with the bar, you have to extend your head forward. This puts stress on your spine. Additionally, the exercise forces your shoulders into an angle they aren’t really built for, which can lead to tearing your rotator cuffs.
Do this instead…Lat Pull-Down to the Chest. This is the correct form of the exercise. Pull the bar down in front of you towards the chest. Proper form includes keeping your feet flat on the floor and leaning slightly back. Be sure when you release the bar doesn’t extend beyond your reach to avoid injury to the shoulders.
4. Hip Abductor/Adductor Machine. This piece of equipment appears in almost every gym. You sit down and push your thighs in and out. Sorry, but besides looking ridiculous, this works very few muscles and is a complete waste of precious exercise time. It also puts stress on the spine, and unnecessarily tightens the IT (iliotibial) band which can lead to pain between the hip and knee.
Do this instead…Side Lunges. Not only do these work the major muscles of the legs, but also the hip abductors and adductors due to the side to side movement. Proper form includes keeping your spine straight, tightening your abs and keeping the bent knee from overshooting the toe.
5. Hurdler’s Stretch. We still see a lot of people doing this. One leg is stretched in front and the other bent behind, which puts the bent knee in a very awkward position. This puts a lot of stress on the knee and can cause pain and injury.
Do these instead…Basic hamstring, quad and hip flexor stretches. These stretches will do everything the hurdler’s stretch was trying to do without the added risk of injury. Proper form includes: minimizing rounding your back in a hamstring stretch so as to avoid putting stress on the spine; avoiding overstretching the quad to where it causes pain; and whether seated or standing for a hip flexor stretch, avoid arching your back.
Most, if not all of these, were made popular during the early gym days. They are tough, and they fit into the model of “no pain, no gain.” However, they are not very effective, and worse, they are dangerous. People have injured themselves doing these before. Remember – pain does not equal gain, and often will slow down progress. The key is to work at exercise in a smart and efficient way. Challenge yourself, instead of hurting yourself.