Fitness Articles

5 Exercises You Should Never Do

Do You Avoid These Danger Zones?

Most people believe that all exercises are good, safe and effective. After all it's exercise—and that has to count for something, doesn't it?

The truth is that some common exercises aren't safe at all (especially for people who have muscle, joint, and health problems). Certain exercises require a bit more know-how than the average person possesses. And other exercises are downright wastes of your time.

But before we examine some of the most controversial exercises, I want to make it clear that every exercise on this list isn't always unsafe or ineffective for everyone. What you should do—or avoid—depends on your goals, fitness level, health history, workout schedule, and other personal issues. An article like this can't replace your own efforts to identify your goals and needs. That requires you to do some research on your own, talk to your medical professional about any pain or physical limitations you have, and learn how to exercise with proper form and technique.

So what makes an exercise risky? Here are a few red flags to look out for:
  • Any unusual or “unnatural” movement pattern in the exercise
  • Any movement that causes pain or discomfort in any way
  • Any movement that enhances muscular imbalances that are already present
  • Any movement that requires joint flexibility that is above and beyond your range of motion
  • Any exercise with risks of injury that outweigh the potential benefit of the exercise itself
That said, the following exercises pose high risks and are generally considered controversial by reputable fitness organizations and experts.

Think Twice Before Trying These 5 Moves

1. Behind-the-Head Lat Pull-Downs
In the old days, people were actually taught to pull the bar behind their heads when doing a lat pull-down exercise--and many people still do that today. Bad idea.

The problem? Pulling the bar behind the neck puts far too much stress on the shoulder joint, explains Michele Olson, PhD, an ACSM fellow and NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist.

"The amount of outward rotation on the humerus combined with pulling it downward has a very un-stabilizing effect on the shoulder joint. The top of the humerus is actually pushing outward and away from the joint, overstretching the tendons and ligaments on the front of the shoulder," she explains, which can lead to injury. In addition, almost anyone who spends their days deskbound is likely to have rounded shoulders or poor posture—a symptom of poor shoulder flexibility (among other things). Pulling the bar behind your neck only accentuates this misalignment, making this exercise a no-no.
The Alternative: You can still work your lats without the risk of behind-the-head pull-downs by pulling the bar down in front of you. Sit with your spine straight, abs pulled in, and then lean your torso back slightly, keeping your spine straight. Pull the bar down towards your chest, but not below your collar bone.

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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • 🎵🎵
    ;danger zone 🎵🎵
    ;🎵 - 12/23/2014 11:18:10 AM
  • Ah, the hovering leg lift. During my last week of boot camp, my company was pretty complacent. One of the company commanders caught us goofing off as we came out of the mess hall. The punishment? A 45-minute PT session right there, right after stuffing ourselves on spaghetti & meatballs. I particularly remember holding our ankles 12" about the ground, then up to 45 degrees, then back down, then back up. OMG it was awful.

    At least I wasn't the person who puked up dinner. - 10/19/2014 12:35:29 AM
    Three out of five of these exercises we did back in high school, and the hovering leg lifts were absolutely killer. I remember being in so much pain doing those, and not just because I was overweight! - 9/6/2014 2:57:51 PM
  • It seems like for some of these it isn't the exercise itself that's the problem - they can be really good with some straightforward modifications; the issue is the balance of power between various muscle groups. Of course, if doing a particular exercise causes pain (the bad kind)...don't do it. - 7/12/2014 10:50:42 PM
  • If these are exercises to avoid then why can you find some of them on the fitness recommendations? Not sure what to think. - 7/12/2014 12:19:55 PM
  • If these are exercises to avoid then why can you find some of them on the fitness recommendations? Not sure what to think. - 7/12/2014 12:16:15 PM
  • I've avoided most of these, especially #2 since they just didn't feel right. - 7/12/2014 8:00:05 AM
  • I've been strength training for years, and this is the first time I'd heard of some of these risks. I don't know if I'll give up my upright rows or seated leg extensions, but I'll definitely pay more attention if my joints start giving me trouble. - 7/12/2014 7:04:23 AM
  • I've been strength training for years, and this is the first time I'd heard of some of these risks. I don't know if I'll give up my upright rows or seated leg extensions, but I'll definitely pay more attention if my joints start giving me trouble. - 7/12/2014 7:04:22 AM
  • Good article on preventing injury! The owners of Quality Strength here in Tucson do NOT do any of these unsafe moves. In fact, one where you back up to a chair and lower yourself for tricep work, ALSO a no no. Very hard on the rotator cuff. - 7/12/2014 1:00:37 AM
  • Stopping at 90 degrees doing a squat places the maximum sheer stress on the knee joint according to the current research. If sumo wrestlers and people of all ages can comfortable squat to full depth even sitting for long periods with their buttocks resting on the back of their legs I doubt that the stop at 90 degrees is a valid recommendation. Learning to do a proper squat is a better recommendation.

    As an aside doing triceps dips with the hands place on a chair or bench behind the back is a noted do not do exercise however the Propel ad on virtually every article page in the forums has the model doing just that exercise. I suggest that allowing that to be a part of Spark is flawed and misleading. - 4/25/2014 10:21:27 AM
    powerlifters and bodybuilders disagree with your squat advice... and they lift much more weight than anyone here. if your form is good and you have the joint mobility going below 90 degrees isn't a problem. - 4/9/2014 4:17:10 PM
  • I'm not so sure about this. The machines, yes, I believe that they can pose dangers, but I've known people to live in perfect health up through their 90's and did the squats with deep knee bends every single day since their 20s and they never had the problems that you mentioned here. Sorry to dispute, but I can't believe that that one is bad. - 4/9/2014 9:49:44 AM
  • Thank you for letting me know to avoid these exercises. I have had lumbar back surgery in the past and do not want to damage any cartilage or strain muscles by doing something not good for me. - 4/9/2014 8:12:37 AM
    My physical therapist has a love/hate relationship with a couple of these--the leg press and the leg extension machines. Deep squats too. They are easy to do wrong, but they bring her a lot of money, including over a thousand $ of mine thanks in large part to mistakes I made using, gee, those two machines. - 4/9/2014 7:47:34 AM
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