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5 Exercises That Can Hurt You

When it comes to exercise selection for your workouts the choices are virtually endless. As long as you’re starting with a natural human movement, the exercise will likely be safe and effective.

A lot of trainers would have you believe that exercise program design needs to be complicated and requires in-depth knowledge. The reality is this is a bunch of B.S.

Some trainers are stuck believing textbook periodization plans are the only way to produce results for their clients or athletes. Instead of testing theory in the real world and experimenting, they only add to the misconception that exercise selection must be some sort of a formula.

Now granted, there are benefits of periodization plans for athletes. But for the most part the average individual looking to get in shape and improve their body composition, exercise selection need not be difficult or overcomplicated.

Making exercise selection simple by following natural human movement patterns…

The bottom line is you want to incorporate a broad mix of exercises that work the body through all planes of motion and movement patterns.

The most effective exercises will always be the ones that mimic the natural human movement patterns. You simply need to push, pull, rotate, squat, change levels, and perform some sort of locomotion.

When an exercise doesn’t look natural or feels awkward…

The more unnatural an exercise looks, the less likely it is to be effective. While there are exceptions to this rule, you’ll stand a greater chance of being assured an exercise is safe and effective the more it resembles a natural human movement.

Real world example comparing a functional movement with an isolation movement…

Let me give you two quick examples. Say you want to do an exercise for your legs. One option is to do a seated hamstring curl on a machine.

This is where you’d sit upright and pull your legs back toward you with weighted resistance. How many times would you ever have to do this in everyday life? None that I can think of.

Sure you may be applying resistance to work the hamstrings but they’re being completely isolated in the movement.

The hamstrings never work in isolation when you have to use your legs to push something or say pick something off the floor. They work with integration along with your glutes, core muscles, low back muscles, etc.

Now let’s look at an exercise like the barbell squat. You’re applying resistance to the hamstrings but this time you’re also working the quads, glutes, core muscles, and a host of others. More importantly you’re replicating a natural human movement pattern….you’re doing a squat.

Squats are bad for your knees, right?

It kills me when someone will tell me they don’t do squats because it’s bad for the knees or some other excuse. Granted a squat done without proper form and technique will put stress on the knees or low back, but it’s because the exercise is being done incorrectly.

I’ve got news for you…if you’ve got two functioning legs you’re squatting on a regular basis. Every time you bend down to pick something off the floor, get up out of chair, or raise yourself off the toilet, you’re squatting!

Having said all that, there are numerous exercises that I recommend people avoid because they’re just not all that effective or safe. See my article on “The Top 5 Machines In A Health Club To Avoid,” for some specific examples of machine based exercises to leave out of your workout routines.

Here are 5 additional exercises that can hurt you:

Behind the neck lat pull-downs: Without question, this is probably the exercise I see being done incorrectly most often in the health clubs. I guess it’s because most people learn how to do exercises from watching others. The only problem with this is what if the person you’re watching is doing the exercise incorrectly?

When doing a lat pulldown, you want to bring the bar down to your chest in front of your body and not behind the neck.

When you bring the bar down behind your neck you put a significant amount of stress on the shoulders. Overly rotating the shoulders this way is a recipe for injury. Don’t pull anything behind your head period.

Lying Straight Leg Lifts: While a reverse crunch with knees bent is an effective movement for most anyone, I recommend beginners avoid doing lying leg lifts with their knees locked.

Performing this movement with locked knees and straight legs can cause the pelvis to rotate and lead to lower-back lordosis. Leave this out exercise out of your routine unless you have a strong core and good posterior chain integration.

Straight Leg Sit-Up’s: Doing sit-up’s with straight legs can also contribute to lower back pain and increased risk of injury. The hip flexors end up doing the bulk of this movement along with low back extensors which are typically already over-tight on most individuals.

As a certified Charleston personal trainer, the majority of clients I see who are just starting out on a fitness routine have what’s called “lower-crossed syndrome.” Their low-back muscles are overly tight along with their hip flexors and possibly the hamstrings.

The core muscles and glutes are weak and inhibited due to sitting or standing too much. It’s probably the most common muscle imbalance seen in people who haven’t been exercising regularly.

The protocol for correction is simply integrating squats, reaches, lunges, and other bookends of human movement to get the glutes and core muscles strengthened and firing again.

Stretching for the hip flexors and hamstrings is also beneficial. Significant improvement can be seen in a very short period of time but you just want to avoid exercises that isolate the muscles and connective tissue that’s already overly tight.

Hack Squats: While this is a favorite exercise for a lot of bodybuilders, it’s one of my least favorite movements. The inclined angle of platform allows the user to put more isolation on the quads during a squat movement.

While this certainly works, it also puts a lot of pressure on the knees. Once again look at the exercise in relation to an “every day” movement.

When you squat, 99.9% of the time you’ll be doing so on level ground with your feet flat and your knees over your toes. Keep it this way and you’ll save your knees.

Decline Bench Press: This is another exercise that I see being done in the gyms all the time and it drives me crazy. The assumption is that if you lie on your back at a declined angle you’ll put more isolation on the lower chest.

All you end up doing is putting more stress on the shoulder joint. You can get plenty of work across the entire chest by doing a flat bench press, stick with this movement.

With all bench press movements it’s important that you maintain the proper hand position and grip so your shoulders don’t overly rotate. Keep your grip just outside of shoulder width and bring the bar down right across your nipples.

The more your hands are rotating back towards your head (or the higher on the chest the bar comes down), the more the shoulders are at risk.

The bottom line…

The important thing to remember is that any repeated movement done in an unnatural position can create problems.

Two key areas of the body to be concerned with are the knees and the lower back. If an exercise is painful, perhaps you are doing it improperly, or it is too advanced for you. Or it may simply be a movement you want to avoid.

When in doubt consult with a trained and knowledgeable fitness professional who can show you proper form and technique. Learning how to do an exercise correctly will not only help you see better results but it will also significantly reduce the risk of injury.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a fitness trainer in Charleston, you can receive a FREE, no-obligations (2) session trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs.

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