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Fitness Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

5 Exercises You Should Never Do

Do You Avoid These Danger Zones?

-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness Expert
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Most people believe that all exercises are good, safe and effective. After all, it's all exercise, and that has to count for something, doesn't it?

The truth is that some of the machines in gyms aren't safe at all (especially for people who have common 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 contraindicated (if not controversial) by reputable fitness organizations and experts.
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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

  • MADSPLATT
    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
  • ITSCHRIS
    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
  • How ironic that the "Exercise of the Day" shown at the right of the article is the "Upright Dumbbell Rows" listed as RISKY in the article. The woman in the photo is the same in both places.
    I do agree with the guidelines, however. If it hurts, don't do it, or modify it or have someone check your form. - 4/9/2014 6:31:39 AM
  • LIVEEASYRUNHARD
    Squats with a deep knee bend are actually safer for the knees if done with good form. Obviously the woman pictured doing them has terrible form. Any exercise is dangerous if you don't pay attention to what your joints are actually doing, - 4/9/2014 4:07:08 AM
  • Thanks for the information. - 11/23/2013 6:21:32 PM
  • Thanks for the info. - 11/21/2013 12:44:26 PM
  • Thanks for this very helpful article. I have been using that seated leg extension and the seated hip adduction/hip abduction machines before. I admit, I have been in pain after using them. Now, I know it's not good.

    Thanks for helping me be more knowledgeable about what is best for me. - 9/4/2013 7:35:20 PM
  • This is great to find this considering some of these are in the workouts generated in the workout generator - 7/12/2013 9:39:32 PM
  • This is a very informative article. I am guilty of doing 3 out of the 5 "dangerous exercises" thinking I was doing it correctly. My only complaint about the article is that I wish the pictures were bigger so I could see the proper way to conduct the recommended exercises. - 6/19/2013 1:28:22 AM
  • Thanks for a very informative article. The alternatives are some great ideas. - 5/26/2013 10:27:11 AM
  • Great information followed up by alternative solutions. Thanks for posting this. As a gym owner, I try to stay abreast of not only the ever changing gym software and technology that I use at the gym, but also the new scientific discoveries for the health of my members. - 2/26/2013 4:43:13 PM
  • BITTERCAT, I agree, and add that proper form is key as well. Like SALONKITTY, I perform deep squats and have found them strongly beneficial. I imagine that would not be the case if I were sloppy or uneducated in form or used excessive weight. - 12/4/2012 5:55:18 PM
  • Personally, I think a lot of injuries with machines probably come down to two things: Improperly calculating the weight for each rep and doing too many reps in one set/sitting. If properly calculated and if people stretch before and after, I think you'll find injuries are less common.

    The other issue is people need to know the limits of their own bodies. I used to love using nautilus equipment, and I had good results! (It's been a long time, though, and I would have to ease back into it.) - 11/27/2012 1:33:50 PM
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