Fitness / Strength Training

5 Exercises Trainers Don’t Do (and You Shouldn’t Either)

Trainers know that when it comes to certain fitness moves, the risk is greater than the reward.

Workout trends come and go. And, for the most part, proud fitness devotees love the variety that brings. This year alone we’ve already seen the rise of body weight training, HIIT (high intensity interval training), and boxing—and we’ve just barely passed the halfway mark. At this speed it’s nearly impossible for your gym time to turn stale.

But, if you’re anything like us (and we’re betting you are), sometimes you hop on the newest workout train so quickly that you don’t do your research. A new class that blasts through calories and gets your heart pumping? A machine or move that seems to offer big results? Sold.

Yet, just because every method is tried, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Sometimes these classes or moves look like they can offer impressive results in the short-term, but end up hurting or—even worse—injuring you in the long-term. It’s surprisingly common. In fact, some of these common moves are so risky, trainers are telling their clients to forego them altogether.

Increasingly aware of the long term damage (your back is still aching?), we sought to bring these moves to light. Read on to discover five of the most talked about exercises that even trainers don’t do, let alone recommend to others. Also, check out fitness expert Kelly Chase’s comments towards the end!

5 workouts that are more harmful than helpful.

Pull-Ups

Let us preface this with: In most cases, these dangerous moves can be made much safer and more effective when done with proper form (we’ll touch on that later). Ahem. Now that that’s out of the way….what!? The pull-up has been around for so long that it’s hard to think that anyone would come up with reasons not to do it this late in the game. On the other hand, even standbys such as push-ups and crunches are being criticized or replaced nowadays.

In this case, both pull-ups and chin-ups are widely considered by trainers to be very demanding for beginners. Because of that, it’s easy to cheat yourself and slip into bad habits—straining your neck, wrists, and back in order to get above the bar. It’s also easy to create a muscular imbalance, since you might have one stronger arm from the get go. That makes for injury risk strike two.

Try instead: If you’re still determined to master the perfect pull-up, start out by working with an assisted machine (à la gravitron). Once you’ve got that down, move on to the bar, but pay special attention to your form.

At Aaptiv, we know it can be hard to gauge form yourself. That’s why we have visual workout guides across all of our strength categories, so you know exactly what to do and how to do it. 

Anything that over-rotates your shoulders

That means behind-the-head shoulder presses, military barbell presses, and behind-the-neck pulldowns. Not-so-fun fact: Aside from hand joints, your shoulder joints are the most susceptible to dislocation. Likely because of moves like these that tend to not only over-rotate the joints but also, load weight onto them. Even if you consider yourself to have a wide range of shoulder motion, doing these moves can lock out your shoulder blades and collar bone.

Try instead: Front pulldowns and standard shoulder presses using dumbbells have all of the arm-strengthening abilities as their risky counterparts, sans injury.

Weighted Torso Rotations

This move is usually done while seated on a machine. Usually you sit with your back straight and pelvis still, hold a weight, and rotate side to side. This type of exercise can also include Russian twists or twisting exercises using a medicine ball. While this move is popular with those looking for toned obliques (aka all of us), it can be a burden on your spine. When using a seated machine, your pelvis is blocked from rotating with the rest of your upper body. Even when standing and enabling yourself to rotate, lifting that much weight while twisting can prove to be hazardous. Forget your back for a moment—can you imagine dropping one of those weights on your foot!? Yikes.

Try instead: Many trainers now advising clients to skip weight rotations altogether. To spare your spine, try standing cable pulls or do a side plank with one arm in the air. Slowly thread that arm underneath your stable arm and back up. This safe twisting motion will sculpt your sides and protect your spine.

Double Leg Lifts

Have you ever laid on your back and started a set of these, only to stop half way through because of back pain? Yeah, we’ve been there too. Turns out it’s actually quite the damaging way to strengthen your lower abs. That’s because while your abs are feeling the burn, your lower back is twisting itself into a burn of its own (and not the kind we crave). The hyperextension is only worsened when you include a partner. With someone standing above your shoulders, pushing your legs down, it becomes a matter of how quickly your hip flexors can stop the force. Enter excess stress. Not good.

Try instead: Instead of repeatedly lifting, leave your legs at a 90-degree angle. From there, stretch your legs a couple inches and pull back in. Repeat. And keep your core engaged, of course.

Stiff-Legged Anything

The importance of having a slight bend in your knees during most, if not all, exercises should go without saying. Yet, stiff-legged deadlifts, be it with dumbbells or a barbell, abound. Two major parts of your body are under intense stress here: your spine and (surprise, surprise) knees.

The problem with locking your joints (such as your knees) is that they then take on all the weight, not your muscles. In the worst case scenario—brace yourself—your knees can even bend backwards. Really.

Try instead: Kettlebell deadlifts have been dubbed quite the fail-safe, since there isn’t a bar (causing you to have a natural grip) and your back can remain upright. Dead-squats and trap bar deadlifts are also touted for their safety and combined benefit of two movements in one. But in all reality? As long as you use proper form and don’t lock your joints, normal deadlifts are 100 percent okay.

A word from an expert:

When we asked the incredible Kelly Chase for her take, she was quick to comment on overall form. “I know that I’ll see people at the gym doing exercises with improper form,” she said. As earlier, each of the exercises listed here can be adjusted in some way or another to be way safer. In most cases that means knowing and really using proper form; range of motion, muscle targeting, and alignment included.

At Aaptiv, we’ve got your form covered. Our trainers offer in-depth cues so you can make sure you’re using proper form and targeting the right muscles.

“Anyone with back problems, whether it be sore/tight/weak back muscles [or] actual join/vertebral issues (bulging/herniated discs) should avoid loading their shoulders with weight (moderate to heavy weight that is),” Chase said.

Sounds like piling the pounds on your shoulders is bad in more than just the case of over-rotating. “There are numerous ways people can sculpt their glutes without loading a heavy barbell on their shoulders/upper back to do squats,” Chase said.

She points out that being unaware of which muscles you’re actively using during a workout can be cause for further pain and injury. Even if you don’t expect that part of the body (the back, in this case) to be working. “It’s more situational, but it could help others, because I did not even think about it as harming me when I continued doing those types of exercises while having a bulging disc.”

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