Fitness Articles

5 Exercises You Should Never Do

Do You Avoid These Danger Zones?

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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

  • FAUST723
    Registered just to be able to leave a comment.

    As a PT for going on 5 years now, this article concisely sums up what I've had to explain a thousand times over and with accurate and detailed information. Love it, the industry needs more like this. - 2/28/2016 10:44:49 AM
  • I have also heard from reliable sources that side lifts on a roman chair are dangerous because they might cause a disc in your back to slip out of place. - 2/26/2016 1:11:11 PM
  • Thank you, very good to know what not to do. - 2/24/2016 7:27:06 PM
  • Thank you! - 2/24/2016 6:37:59 AM
  • Interesting! - 1/9/2016 6:43:42 PM
  • Thank you...this is a great article. As a yoga instructor, you are spot on about the ab work and how too often the improper alignment or form will put stress on the lower back. And the knee extensions! I really did not know ...thanks. - 12/29/2015 11:50:04 AM
  • When I was a kid and played football, I had to do many hovering leg lifts. The coaches always said they were good for the muscles around the thigh, including the hamstrings. Those lifts tortured my back, and I'm convinced that ever since then that they are the cause of my backaches whenever I twist to either side. - 12/20/2015 10:15:44 PM
  • Great article.!!! Especially like the resistance band alternative's.

    Thanks for this well described workout info!! - 9/8/2015 12:23:58 PM
  • I threw my back out doing "Hovering Leg Lifts" a month ago and I'm still recovering. - 8/16/2015 3:20:48 PM
  • Great info, thanks for providing options...I appreciate that you included visuals, they sure help. - 8/15/2015 7:14:08 AM
    #2 is absolutely true in my case. Felt something happen during one set and the lower back has never been the same. - 8/14/2015 10:21:50 AM
  • CLAY10237
    Use the leg press for quads and hamstrings. I'm on the shady side of 65 and have been doing this for years. You can follow your improvement as you add weight every now and then. I kind of resent all the attention given to floor exercises. Some of us, for whatever reason, have difficulty getting up/down from the floor. I'd like to see a second option when recommending floor exercises. - 5/19/2015 11:31:03 PM
  • yes, i used to do these very exercises, no wonder I my hips hurt for a year or more after this. - 3/21/2015 5:11:29 PM
    I'm so glad I saw this on my start page this morning. I've done all of those exercises, but I will change them right away. - 3/21/2015 2:01:34 PM
  • This is a great article. Now that I see the demo's I can see how it would hurt myself and others. Thanks so much Doc! - 2/24/2015 9:58:46 AM

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