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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BONDMANUS2002 6/7/2018
Absolutely great Report
MUSICNUT 5/18/2018
Thanks for the great information! :) Report
SHELLLEY2 4/21/2018
I cringe in the gym when I see people exercises incorrectly. I worry about injury for the people doing it. I do crunches but am going to look into doing some other type of exercise such as planks Report
I've never had a problem with the bench being too narrow when I bench press. For me, the only hard thing is getting enough arch in my back when I prepare for the lift. Report
Fairylander, here is a site explaining how to do the plank exercise: http://exercise.about.com/od/abs/ss

You can definitely feel these in your abs! Hope this helps. Report
I did a search for plank on Sparkpeople but nothing came up. What is a plank? Report
hi coach dean. read this on my bike, while clicking on the table you got me to get. can't type on the table yet. working on it.
crunches hurt my neck and make me nauseus. got off to do plank and i'm back on.
minnie Report
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.

The problem I have with this and HAVE SEEN IT SO MANY TIMES is your alternative exercises... CABLE FLYES or Chest Presses they grab the cables ADD WAY TOO MUCH WEIGHT and are Struggling and letting the cables pull them back and are just wrecking havok on their Shoulders WHOA!! Stick to the Bench press!!! unless you have a trainer or some one qualified to show you proper lifting techniques before you go to the gym and pull your arms from their sockets! Report
Thanks for this Coach Dean!

I've been doing crunches for the past month (it could even be more) And as I've increased my running, I've been a little lax on my pilates and yoga. I've noticed they've been taking a toll on my lower back (not a lot but I can feel it when I move in certain positions) So I'm definitely going to switch them out for something else, and get back to Pilates and Yoga!

Thanks!! Report
Tricep kickbacks are on this list...that's a surprise! But I'm glad to see floor crunches on this list because I've always suspected that they were not as effective as they're made out to be. I've always preferred reverse crunches. Report
Whats wrong with doing crunches? They seem to work for the military just fine and they do those all the time.. and I do them also and had no problems with them.
Good stuff. I'm surprised by the Smith squats. I really enjoy those because they allow me to do deep squats without hurting my knees. I've always thought that if I keep my head up and chest forward, I'd be okay. I'll watch my form next time. Report
I like that you offer suggestions of what to do instead of the "what not to do" list. It's always helpful to have options. Report
interesting, but probably not entirely accurate for those of us who have been weightlifting for years. it is important to work with a trainer at first, or in front of a mirror to be VERY careful about form. But i will not stop doing my tricep kickbacks or bench press. If you LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, you won't get hurt. Switch up your routine frequently. Don't do a set of 50 reps. That's where you run into fatigue injuries. Report
Thanks for sharing. Most of these I don't do because I don't go to a gym. The crunches on the floor are the ones I am doing. So glad you were able to offer other exercises to do that will be just as good and probably better for me. It is nice to have people share this information with us!!! Report
I agree with you coach on 4 out of 5. And on the 5th one (tricep kickbacks) I agree with you partially. It is one that requires constant attention to form to be both effective and safe because the natural tendancy is to lean forward too far, but if done correctly, they can be effective and safe for both tricep and shoulder muscles. As an added comment for wrist curls, not only are not very effective, they can cause wrist sprains even with correct form if you wrists aren't already strong....been there done that....not fun. And finally, for ab crunches, the Pilates version is much more effective (lying down and using your ab muscles to lift and lower legs) is much more effective than either lying down and lifting your upper body or standing ab crunches. Report
I find it very interesting that the triceps kickback is on the list of exercises you should NOT do, and yet that is the featured exercise today on Spark People.

????????????????????? Report
Take these suggestions with a grain of salt! If you've been doing them with no problems, then why stop? I've done 4 of the 5 for almost 2 years now and have no problems. As some of the other posters have said, correct form in lifting is so important! Report
Strange that one of these is actually today's featured exercise!

I want to say thanks. While in the army I had to do most of the not to do list.
For years noe I have been telling my friends not to do crunches on the floor/mat, that this can cause back problems. I am glad I was on the right track.

The only thing I do on this do not do list is the wrist curles, but I need the extra grip strength to help with my competitive shooting. Report
Seems there are so many opinions about this subject out there. Who is right and who isn't? Now I am totally confused. Should I do them or should I skip them? I work out a Curves daily with some machines (not a Smith) but I do not do crunches on the floor with a mat or without, I us a ball. I was thinking about going on to other venues to more strengthening exercises, but now I really don't know. Help!!! Report
I don't disagree with Any of the exercises they are all GRREAT !!! Report
thanks for the tip. The floor crunch is nasty on the neck too. Got article recommended and added it to my favorites. Report
interesting... Report
I agree with #2. But, no matter what ab exercises I do, I cannot seem to strenghten my abs. I shake and cannot maintain and smooth up and down.

Any suggestions from ANYONE? I have had 4 kids (including one set of twins) and that just wreaked havoc on my torso. That's the area I would most like to see gone. Well, improved anyway. :) Thanks in advance! Report
5 exercises you should never do? I don't know if I would go that far. There is so much conflicting information out there when it comes to diet and exercise. There are educated personal trainers who can "hands on" teach you proper form, technique and range of motion. I can see your point if you are working out alone and are a beginner. You don't want to try any exercise if you are unsure how to do it. I was surprised that the tricep kickback was listed. I am nationally certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, been teaching classes and training for 13 years. A tricep kickback is an isolation exercise. If done correctly, it isolates the tricep muscle and if you keep the muscle loaded you should be able to feel it. The key is to lock your arm next to your body, keep your elbow lifted no higher than your back(to keep the work out of the shoulder) and only extend the lower arm without swinging the weight or moving at the shoulder. Again, a good personal trainer can show you the correct way so that you can benefit from this exercise. I recommend that before you write these exercises off, you meet with an experienced, credentialed personal trainer and let them design a workout plan that meets your goals and fitness level. Report
Honestly, any exercise can be dangerous and/or useless if you're not doing it the right way. If you're going to go down that road, why not post an article showing the proper way to do exercises to avoid hurting yourself and to get the most effectiveness out of them. There are a lot of common mistakes people make. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people doing lunges and squats incorrectly, even without the machines. Report
Oh no. I don't have a stability ball. So I guess i will have to do floor crunches on a mat for now. I would like to get a stability ball. Doing crunches on the floor with out a mat does hurt a bit. But once I get on the mat I am fine. I do most of my workout at home so I will try to focus on some of the tips given. Report
Yikes! Our class instructor has us doing a few of these in our boot camp class. Report
I usually use a crunch machine or a stability ball. What is a Tricep Kickback? Report
Hmmm... I've definitely been guilty of wrist curls and tricep kick-backs. Report
I appreciate that you didnt just say "Don't do that!" You offered suggestions on safer exercises to do. Thanks Report
I did crunches for years on the floor. I had a personal trainer teach me how to do them when I was 18 or 19 years old. A few years ago, I went to the doctor with a backache. When he saw the shape my back was in...He told me to NEVER do crunches on the floor again! My back was in total misalignment and I had bruises(!) on my spine. I was crunching up and holding, then dropping back down slowly like I had been trained to do, but on the floor it was hard on my spinal column and caused bruises. I will never do crunches on the floor again. I haven't tried a stability ball in years, I will think about it. I have tried the other exercises and came to the same conclusion Dean came to. Big waste of time because I don't know how to do them properly and hurting myself is not in my program.

Thank you, Dean for such an informative article. The people that know how to do these exercises may benefit from them, but those like me that don't know how will benefit from this article more. Report
I do the wrist curls regularly. I don't mind them and I have no muscle, so I will probably keep doing them. I will also try the rows. I have tried to do the tricep kick backs and don't like them at all. Glad to stop them. I do have a bad back and I do crunches regularly. I didn't know why my back bothered me at home when I did my exercise there. Really appreciate that info. Thanks. Report
You know, I've had the same problem with the kickbacks. And with the chest press! I swear, an inch either way on those benches and I'd have fallen off. Not a gym goer now, but I do know what they mean! But because the trainer said do it, I did without question, despite my shoulderblades very uncomfortably on either side of the bench. I do think the squat machine would have been helpful though, if not as functional as without because I got to the weight where I could squat it but it was lifting it onto the bar after that was quite hard, I was up to 95kilograms, so it was that walk to the bar and lift that was the killer! Report
Regarding BURNO1955's comment, just for the record, Curves centers do not have Smith machines. Report
I do not do any of the exercises on this "Don't Do" list. I will do regular crunches on a stability ball though, and I do plenty of reverse crunches with and without the stability ball - on a padded surface. Funny I read this because on my to do list is to go get a new exercise mat today. Report
Also, this doesn't encourage anyone to be lazy. It encourages them to find exercises that not only work, but won't lead them to injure themselves! If you can do them fine, then do them! Report
The only one I've done is triceps kickbacks, I THOUGHT it didn't really feel like anything!! So I'm definitely going to skip them completely from now on. Report
I am a massage therapist and I know that what you are saying is definately true when it comes to bench presses. Your scapula is out of alignment when the barbell is brought down to your chest and over the narrow bench and is not a good idea. Report
I've wondered about the tricep kickbacks...I don't seem to "feel" anything when I do them. I've been using the stability ball, holding it behind me and lifting it. Now THAT I can feel when I'm done. Report
Guilty of crunches on the floor on a mat, but never so many reps..... Not guilty of the others except ocassionally tricep kickbacks--I hate dips, but do modified ones....too painful.......does it ever get easier? Report
WOW! I'm really surprised - I'm one of those who does hundreds of crunches on the carpeted floor. You've certainly opened my eyes! Report
My Dr told me about the triceps kickbacks not being good. I didn't believe her until I noticed I always had stiff neck at least once a month. Report
#1 the bench press..come on..my favorite! Report
I have to agree somewhat with the last two posts but not as de-enthusiastically (is that even a word?)... I think it's a good article that points out the cons of some popular weight training moves and provides some alternatives. Weight training is all about variety and it's important that we don't get stuck in a rut.

Are these exercises bad? On their own, maybe. As part of a broader workout plan and executed safely and with proper technique... probably not. Report
Some of this is good - some is garbage.

The wrist curls - yeah - it is kind of a waste of time - doesn't strengthen your wrists as much as your forearms. If you are going to do this then do it with a straight bar - (low weight / high reps) and behind your back. This isolates your forearm muscle and won't put as much stress on the wrist, however you are going to work your forearms well enough if you are doing the rest of your upperbody strength training with the correct techniques anyway.

Tri-ceps kickbacks - I agree - it is too hard to isolate the tricep and you end up doing most of the work with your shoulder. Dips and extensions are much better.

Smith Machine squats - totally agree - really hurt my back doing this last year. Haven't done them since - won't do them again. It is better to do dumbell squats with low weights and high reps, the problem for me is that I squat alot - close to 500 lbs so to really work my legs, I need to squat heavy - so I do it free and with a spotter.

Floor crunches - some BS here. Crunches done slowly and properly are probably one of the best ab exercises you can do - as long as you do it with complimentary ab exercises as well. The problem is that people like to "blow them out" - do 60 as fast as they can. This is more about burning calories than training your abs. Do them slowy - 2 count up with an explosion at the end, two count down - do sets of lower reps and you will be fine.

Bench press - pure BS here though it makes some good points. Bench press is a technique exercise that when done properly works your chest, arms, shoulders and back. Again the key is go slow and have the proper equipment. Most benches are OK if you do it right. Try them with dumbells instead of a straight bar - you can turn your wrists as you press to you get a better range of motion and you can focus on the negative portion of the lift. Report
OMG! Sparkpeople should be ashamed!

#5 is just altogether wrong. Pure and simple. Have I seen results from wrist curls? ABSOLUTELY! Have other people? OF COURSE!
#4 wrong
#3 ACCURATE! Surprisingly.
#2 wrong again
#1 Misleading. True, you can tear your rotator cuff from going up in weights quicker than your tendons and ligaments can grow. Muscle grows faster so people (men) think they can keep adding weights. Every REAL bodybuilder will tell you different. Don't listen to your testosterone. Listen to Dave Draper.

I will listen to actual bodybuilders like Dave Draper and Anja Langer, not some nobody. SHAME on Sparkpeople for not doing their research on this one. Report
I do tricep kickbacks, but don't really like them. I will focus on the tricep extention from now on. Thanks for the information. Report
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