5 Strength Training Exercises You Should NEVER Do


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Warning! This list may be controversial, so feel free to disagree. I imagine that, for many people, several of the exercises on my personal DON'T DO list may be on your favorites list–and one, in particular, is probably on almost every gym rat’s favorite list.

But I think the following five exercises all have problems that make them worth avoiding for the general fitness enthusiast. Either the exercise isn’t nearly as effective as alternates you could do instead, which means it’s wasting precious time, or it may actually increase your risk of fairly common injuries or problems.

So, here’s the list, counting down from No.5 to No.1, along with some better alternatives. Are any on your list of regular exercises?

Number 5. Wrist Curls. I see a lot of people in the gym doing wrist curls with barbells or, sometimes, special gadgets designed for this exercise. This is usually a waste of time. It’s true that your grip strength and wrist strength can be a limiting factor in how much weight you can handle. People with poor grip strength often aren’t able to use enough weight to really challenge their larger arm, back, and chest muscles. But, unless you’re a bodybuilder who needs to handle extremely heavy weights, you’ll be increasing your grip/wrist strength effectively enough when you do any challenging pull exercise. If you do use pretty heavy weights, or find that your hands are getting fatigued before your arms or other muscles are, you should probably be using weight lifting gloves. In any case, you can definitely find a better way to use the time you've been spending on those 2-3 sets of isolation wrist exercises.
Better exercises: rows, lat pulldowns, or pull-ups (including assisted pull-ups)

Number 4. Triceps kickbacks. The problem here is that the angle of your arm in this exercise doesn’t allow you to use a weight sufficient to overload the triceps muscle effectively, and it does put stress on your shoulder in a way it’s not really designed to handle.
Better exercises: Triceps pull-down, triceps extensions, dips, pushups with hands close together.

Number 3. Smith Machine Squats. This is the exercise where the barbell you have on your shoulders travels up and down in a straight line, attached to a supporting frame. The problem is that your body doesn’t naturally do squats this way–your upper body will naturally tilt forward to help maintain your center of balance over your heels. If you want to be able to do real-life squatting movements more effectively, you should do regular squats without the machine. If you aren’t comfortable using a free weight barbell to add resistance, try these alternatives.
Better exercises: squats with dumbbells, goblet squats (lowering single dumbbell in front between your feet), plyometric squats (eg, jumping up onto a step), deadlifts.

Number 2. Crunches on the floor. Are you one of those people who does hundreds of ab crunches per day? Do you do them on the floor or on a mat? If so, save yourself some time and, potentially, some back problems. Doing forward ab crunches on a firm surface exposes portions of your spine to unnecessary pressure, and this has caused problems for many people. And doing dozens or hundreds of crunches on any surface is not nearly as effective as doing sets of 3-25 repetitions with enough added resistance to fatigue those muscles.
Better exercises. Reverse crunches; crunches with added weight on a stability ball; planks (especially rotating planks–try doing a full rotation of front plank, right plank, reverse plank, and left plank, holding each position for as long as you can without resting in between).

Number 1. The Common Bench Press. This may well be the most popular of all gym exercises. The problem with it is not the movement itself (as long as you don't let your upper arms dip below parallel to the floor)--it's the bench. Most gym benches are narrow enough that they force your shoulder blades into an unnatural movement pattern to accomplish this exercise. This is not necessarily a problem, but it often can be if you’re also straining to increase the amount of weight you’re lifting–something most serious bench pressers are very prone to do.
Better exercises: Cable or band chest presses; push-ups and dips(weighted, if necessary)--for great results, try doing alternating sets of push-ups and dips without resting in between.

These aren't the only potentially risky or ineffective gym exercises, or even the worst offenders (for those, see this article).

How many of these exercises do you do regularly? Ever had any problems with them? Obviously, many people can and do manage to use these exercises without problems, and get good results from them. But they can be more risky for many others, and the "better" exercises will usually give you better results without these potential risks.

What's your opinion on these weighty matters?

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  • 48
    I knew most of these but this is a lot more informational. Thank you for sharing. - 12/3/2008   10:18:32 AM
  • 47
    yep, gulity of them all at some point in my life! - 12/3/2008   10:17:03 AM
  • 46
    I've been doing Smith Squats for a very, very long time and have built legs of steel, also the good thing about using the smith machine is it lowers the risk of injury. For all others I completely agree.

    Thanks for the article :)) - 12/3/2008   10:13:25 AM
  • 45
    Interesting article, I had already transitioned to using the ball for crunches and squats much more comfortable for the back. - 12/3/2008   10:02:50 AM
  • 44
    I agree that floor crunches aren't that effective. What I do to workout my abs is a 10 minute pilates DVD for abs, it really challenges me and it doesn't take that long to complete. Exercises like criss cross and teasers are way better. - 12/3/2008   9:42:03 AM
  • BURNO1955
    totally appreciate all your points except :

    Number 3. Smith Machine Squats. This is the exercise where the barbell you have on your shoulders travels up and down in a straight line, attached to a supporting frame. The problem is that your body doesn’t naturally do squats this way–your upper body will naturally tilt forward to help maintain your center of balance over your heels. If you want to be able to do real-life squatting movements more effectively, you should do regular squats without the machine. If you aren’t comfortable using a free weight barbell to add resistance, try these alternatives. Better exercises: squats with dumbbells, goblet squats (lowering single dumbbell in front between your feet), plyometric squats (eg, jumping up onto a step), deadlifts.

    i do this at curves and you have to stand straight and lift the handles... Since you are measured on the strength then this becomes effective....

    - 12/3/2008   9:38:35 AM
    This article really makes sense and, thankfully, I had a personal trainer that didn't teach me many of these "bad exercises." She really knew what she was doing. - 12/3/2008   9:38:34 AM
  • 41
    I meant wrist extensors...not extendors. - 12/3/2008   9:32:14 AM
  • 40
    I agree with Piglet about the behind the neck lat pull-down. NOT a good idea and I see it so often.
    I think most of these exercises are ok otherwise if done properly. The tricep kick-backs can be tricky because of the form..but otherwise doesn't take much to fire up the muscles involved. It would be more of a muscle endurance exercise.
    I agree about the bench press causing possible injury. Most times, the arms shouldn't be hyperextended beyond about 90 degrees in a horizontally extended position, but for serious strength training and those who have spotters...it can be a good way to really work the chest. I wouldn't recommend it for just anyone though.
    Wrist curls may be a waste of time for many...but for some, the strengthening of the wrist flexors/extendors muscles can be beneficial.
    All in all...good aricle. - 12/3/2008   9:30:10 AM
  • 39
    Interesting article, especially since I do a lot of ST videos and they do lots of these moves.
    - 12/3/2008   9:24:12 AM
  • 38
    Standing crunches, like the ones done in Hip Hop Abs, are much more comfortable and for me, very effective. - 12/3/2008   9:22:52 AM
  • 37
    Thanks for the info - 12/3/2008   8:50:31 AM
  • 36
    Perfect, thanks. I hate crunches as it hurts my lower back, I do love them on the ball though ! As for wrist curls, I have mild carpal tunnel, so I avoid these as much as possible. - 12/3/2008   8:49:11 AM
  • 35
    Lots of choices. Good to mix them up no matter what exercises they are. - 12/3/2008   2:19:39 AM
    this sounds like good advise ... however, last year ... under the direction of the owner / trainer i torn my shoulder ... been in re hab, had to have surgery .... still don't have full range of motion. be careful at the gym ... not all advise is good advise. instead invest in a few P.T. sessions for proper instructions. - 12/3/2008   1:02:02 AM
  • 33
    I do wrist curls because I have a wrist injury and I need to strengthen them. I have been doing Smith machine squats because I work out alone, have a back problem and I can't lift a heavy barbell onto my shoulders. - 12/3/2008   12:48:55 AM
  • EVIE13
    All of these can be done effectively if people would pay attention to what they're doing. And people should never do an exercise that doesn't work for them. The only one on the list I do on a regular basis is triceps kickbacks, but that's because it's works well for me. Tricep extensions hurt my shoulders. Everyone is different. It's all about finding what works for them. - 12/3/2008   12:26:18 AM
  • 31
    bench press? crunches? hum. I have never been to the gym without seeing someone bench pressing. And they all look so buff. I can't stop crunching; they haven't caused me any problems. - 12/3/2008   12:02:10 AM
  • 30
    Oh thank god. I had been avoiding the Smith machine and just doing free weight squats. Something seemed unnatural to me about it, but after having watched the actual TRAINERS at my gym take advantage of it, I was considering jumping over. Glad to know I wasn't crazy. - 12/2/2008   11:57:26 PM
  • 29
    Very good information, some of them I was doing at the gym. I guess I need to change the way I workout. - 12/2/2008   11:47:49 PM
  • 28
    hmmmm --- I read this exact info earlier today in an Email from another site - 12/2/2008   11:36:14 PM
  • 27
    I'm glad the author of this article brought this subject up! Sometimes I think we get so excited/motivated to exercise that we forget that there are some exercises that are not so nice to us! As long as we listen to the professionals (trainers, nutritionists, and doctors), but also our own bodies, we can be safe and protected. Happy SparkPeopling (the safe way)! :D - 12/2/2008   11:28:07 PM
  • 26
    I do wrist curls when my physical therapist tells me to. I assume they are good for some things. - 12/2/2008   11:16:33 PM
  • 25
    Whoa. - 12/2/2008   11:10:23 PM
    I do the wrist curls! :( I only started doing them recently, because I thought they might help with my indoor bike riding and the added pressure on my wrists.(I ride a different bike outdoors, but it doesn't fit my indoor gizmo.)

    Am I mistaken in thinking that wrist curls would help build wrist strength? I'm open, if anyone has suggestions. I should say that I have some OA in my hands, wrists, etc...which make regular pushups difficult...maybe wall pushups?

    Anyway, thanks for the article! - 12/2/2008   11:07:06 PM
  • 23
    I recently started working on strength training with a trainer, so I was interested to see if any of the exercises she has given me to do were on the list. Happily, none of these are on my program. - 12/2/2008   10:52:33 PM
  • 22
    Although I see your points on a lot of these, I think the main problem is form. I hired a personal trainer before my wedding, and she had me doing all kinds of crazy exercises I would never have thought of or attempted on my own, but she also corrected many form mistakes that I was making and could have lead to injury. - 12/2/2008   10:46:54 PM
    What is a tricep Pulldown? I typically do tricep kickbacks or overhead extensions with a 3 lb. weight. - 12/2/2008   10:25:23 PM
  • 20
    I am glad to say my clients and I pretty much never do the exercises lifted, except for the bench press. However, I prefer pushups and floor presses to bench presses.

    Smith squats and lunges make me want to cry. - 12/2/2008   10:03:02 PM
  • SHERI1969
    I don't do wrist curls because I play piano and other items using those muscles already. As for the crunches, I was told by my doctor NOT to do any form of them because of the back issues. Instead I am doing toe touches. He agrees with this. It works the same muscles but without the strain. I also do the side bends in place of twist crunches. My doctor agrees with this as well. - 12/2/2008   9:10:56 PM
  • 18
    I read another article here on Spark about 3 (I think there were 3) exercises a woman should do. One of them is the bicycle crunch. I do the plank, I do stability ball crunches, but I also like bicycle crunches. And yes, I agree with what other people have said: it's all about the form. I don't do hundreds of them. I only do them as long as I can do them properly... Yes, another excuse for couch potatoes... - 12/2/2008   8:58:54 PM
  • 17
    Terrific article - no more crunches. I am just starting my strength training, so knowing I am doing this correctly to begin with will help keep me motivated. - 12/2/2008   8:58:24 PM
  • 16
    Like IRONORCHID said: it's all about form. It doesn't matter what exercise you're doing if your form is wrong, and most of those "don't"s could be fixed with form and knowing what the heck you're doing instead of just copying the person beside you. - 12/2/2008   8:07:23 PM
  • 15
    Thanks !! - 12/2/2008   7:53:43 PM
  • LISALU910
    I do about a dozen different upper body moves with dumbbells/barbells. One of them is the triceps kickback. It is the one and only move I really hate to do.

    I do the triceps dips and extensions, so I get other triceps workouts. It wouldn't take much to take me out of doing the kickbacks....this article is the perfect excuse to stop doing them! :) - 12/2/2008   7:37:25 PM
    If you have lower back problems, you really shouldn't do sit-ups or crunches. When I ruptured a disk in my lower back, my D.O. said I can't even do crunches on an exercise ball. He said it causes too much strain on that part of the back. He also wasn't a real fan of any activity that resulted in me bending at the waist. I wish I had known this before I hurt my back. - 12/2/2008   7:22:05 PM
  • 12
    *standing applauding* Horrayy! Five more excuses for lazy coach potatoes!

    These are all the basics of weight training. That means that you should learn the proper technique to avoid injury.
    By the way, sit-ups and bench presses are still in police agility tests. - 12/2/2008   7:18:30 PM
  • 11
    Regarding the bench press, if you keep your elbows pointed forward and maintain the proper form, the bench is still very effective. I think the problem is that it is used as a measuring stick for overall strength. So, people work their way up to weight they can't handle with VERY poor form and that WILL cause an injury. - 12/2/2008   7:04:34 PM
  • 10
    I kind of see where you're going with this...but I think that poor form and excess resistance are the real culprits. Aside from wrist curls (which I agree are a complete waste of time) I have done 1-4 throughout the years with great results and no adverse affects. I use low weight and complete a high # of reps.

    Why don't we talk about the real no-no's like:
    behind the neck lat pulldowns
    close grip upright rows
    full sit ups
    deep squats (beyond parallel) with weight

    These are substantiative claims. - 12/2/2008   6:59:58 PM
    ha! so glad to see those darn crunches on this list...i totally HATE them and never do them. i do planks lately and i like the challenge - 12/2/2008   6:50:26 PM
  • MS-CEE
    Very interesting. Something new to think about! - 12/2/2008   6:47:19 PM
  • 7
    While I totally agree about the Smith Machines, I think they are good for at least one thing: training pullups. :) - 12/2/2008   6:27:38 PM
  • 6
    I agree with you on all the above except one. I do the bench press with free weights and place my feet on the bench which reduces stress on my lower back. - 12/2/2008   6:16:26 PM
    Great tips! I am gonna go buy some weight lifting gloves now! - 12/2/2008   6:09:07 PM
  • 1JULES
    Yahoo-I have to quit doing crunches:) - 12/2/2008   6:07:41 PM
  • 3
    Guess I'll have to adjust my crunches and bench presses...Thanks, Dean! - 12/2/2008   5:58:49 PM
  • 2
    Nice! - 12/2/2008   5:53:31 PM
  • 1
    Great article! I can see your valid points! I am a group exercise instructor, so I will take some of this to my next weight class! Thanks - 12/2/2008   5:41:26 PM

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