Weight Training Exercises You May Want To Think Twice About by Michael J. Merlino, ACE, BSMI (CPFT, RES), Cooper Institute
Owner, Merlino Fitness, MerlinoFitness.com
Risk versus benefit. Making choices.
There are things we juggle every day with every decision we make. Whether
it is investing our money in the stock market, deciding on the best career
opportunity or choosing what to eat for lunch. But weighing the expected
benefits with the amount of risk involved is something I don't see practiced
as much in the gym everyday. What most people don't understand is that adding
higher risk exercises to your work out plan and performing them over many
repetitions, many workouts and many years can actually damage your joints,
do more harm than good and put some of your hard-earned cash in your local
surgeon's pocket. Sure, some people that have great genetics may perform
risky exercises their entire life and not have a problem just like a smoker
may smoke his entire life and not get lung cancer. But why take the risk?
I hate to think about how many rotator cuffs, knee joints and back injuries
are a result of poor lifting form and technique or simply picking the wrong
exercises and putting the body in a position it was never designed to be
What to Avoid & Safer Alternatives
Let's face it, most of us that lift weights are just duplicating what
we learned in high school, picked up from friends or workout partners
over the years or read about in Shape magazine or one of many hyped-up
muscle mags. Reality says that most of us will not be body builders and
super models anyway. Saying that, vanity is the driving force that keeps
us all showing up at the gym in record numbers. As more fitness research
emerges some of the old tried and true exercises may now be health hazards.
Manufacturers like Cybex are continually changing the design of their
machines to address these issues but it is up to the human being using
the machine to get the form right. So what do you do about it? Very simple.
Avoid those movements that are high risk for just about anyone and use
some safer alternatives that accomplish the same result. The following
is a list of a few exercises I have decided to outlaw as a certified professional
personal fitness trainer and avoid performing with my clients. I have
also included a brief explanation justifying why these exercises may not
be the best choice. I don't pretend to know everything but the physics
of the human body is a real science and God designed our bodies to move
a certain way. Using these risky exercises forces your body into some
uncompromising positions that it was never meant to be in. Below is a
brief history of my top 10 most hated exercises and why they are not the
best alternative. I've picked four of the worst ones to highlight in this
article, so read on.
Top Ten Most Hated Exercises
Why It Is High Risk
Leg extensions locking knees
Lat pull behind the head
shoulder & neck stress
major stress on the knee joint
lower than 90 degrees, knee/hip stress
Butt blaster machine
stress on lower spine
Hip abductor machine (outer)
tension on hip joint
Ab rotator machine
stress on spine
Chest press with elbows below shoulders
rotator cuff stress
Overhead DB military presses
stress on anterior deltoid/rotator
Muscle: Latissimus Dorsi (Lat or Back)
Bad Choice: Behind the Neck Lat Cable PulldownsWhy it's Risky?
This movement not only stresses out the rotator cuff by putting the
shoulder in a closed impact position but it also puts the upper spine
in a very awkward and vulnerable position that you would never put yourself
in during the course of your everyday life anyway. Recently the American
College of Sports Medicine ranked this as one of the most common way
to injury yourself in the gym. If your goal is to efficiently work the
back or Lat muscles you just defeated the purpose by not aligning the
line of resistance (cable) with the direction of the muscle fiber in
the back or Latissimus Dorsi (Lat) muscle.
Safer Alternative - Front Lat Cable Pulldowns
Unlike it's evil cousin, the behind the head pull down, front lat
pull downs do not stress the shoulder joint and properly align the
line of resistance with the direction of the muscle fiber. In other
words this movement puts your body in a natural and efficient position
to get some quality back work in and avoid injury.
Form & Technique
First find your proper grip width on the bar by griping it where your
forearm and upper arm are at 90 degrees . Before you start, tilt your
body back at about a 30 degree angle and maintain your back stability
by keeping the shoulders down, squeezing the shoulder blades together,
tightening the abs and maintaining the natural arch of the low back.
Pull the bar down in front of the head aiming towards your collar
bone until the bar is just below your chin while squeezing or flexing
the lat muscles and holding the flex for about a second. Return to
the top until the arm is almost straight but still has a slight bend
at the elbow joint. Go with a 2-4 count with a 2 count pulling down
and twice as slow on the way up with a 4 count. Exhale as you pull
down and inhale on the way up.
Muscle: Anterior Deltoid (Front part of shoulder)
Bad Choice: Upright Barbell Rows
Why it's risky?
This movement puts undue stress on the shoulder and wrist joints while
attempting to work the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder).
Safer Alternative - Seated Front Duo Dumbbell Raises
Seated front dumbbell raises performed with a back supported bench,
do a great job of working the anterior (front) shoulder while eleviating
stress on the wrist, elbow and shoulder joint.
Form & Technique
Sit on a bench with a high back for lower back support. Bring the
legs in narrow and grip the dumbbells in a hammer position with the
face of the dumbells facing the floor and the ceiling. Your starting
point is where you arms are to our side with the elbows bositioned
under the shoulder . Keep a little bend to your elbow, tighen your
stomach and raise the dumbbells until the wrist is level with the
shoulder. Hesitate slightly on the top and return the the starting
position. Remember to go with a 2 count on the way up and a slower
four count on the way down.
Muscle: Gluteus Maximus (Buttocks)
Bad Choice: Traveling Dumbbell or Barbell Lunges
Why it's risky?
Ah yes...the favorite exercise of many women because of their magic
ability to melt fat off the butt. Not so fast little Missy! First
off, spot reducing fat using weights doesn't work. Cardiovascular
fitness using aerobic exercise burns the fat. But beyond that if you
really think about it traveling lunges are really no more than a one
legged squat in motion. How many times in the course of your everyday
life do you squat on one leg while traveling across the room with
a weight bearing force on your back? May sound like a stupid question
but I'm a big believer that if a movement in the gym doesn't mimic
one that you will encounter in your everyday life then why even bother
with it anyway? This concept is called functional exercise. You may
feel these in the gluts but along with a nice "butt burn" comes the
added bonus of about 5 times your body weight plus the weight of the
bar or dumbbell on each knee joint as you lunge forward with momentum.
Not too cool.
Safer Alternatives - Stationery Lunges
There are many other ways to get some good butt or glute work in without
risking the integrity of one of the most important joints in the body,
the knee. A statonery modified lunge is a gret way to work the glutes
without using momentum.
Form & Technique - Whether you use a barbell in a Smith machine
or free standing with good old fashioned dumbbells, these are much
safer than any walking lunge. Stand with your legs about shoulder
width apart and bring on leg forward and one leg backward. Position
your legs so as you bend your knees and lower your body to the floor,
both legs are at 90 degree angles. Start in a standing position with
good posture by keeping the abs tight and spine perpendicular to the
floor. Gently lower your body weight while holding a dumbbell in each
hand until the knee on your back leg almost touches the floor. Push
through the floor on the front foot as you return to the starting
position and flex your front thigh muscle. When you are almost stanind
upright again, flex the glute muscle on the trailing leg.
Muscle: Medial & Anterior (middle & front shoulder)
Bad Choice: Behind the head military barbell press
Why it's risky?
Behind the head military press using dumbbells, barbell or machines
has almost the same negative affects as the behind the head lat pulldown
by stressing the rotator cuff and upper spine. How many times in your
everyday life do you decide to left heavy things behind your back
and over your head while in a seated or standing position? I don't
know about you but I can think of about a million more things I would
much rather do with my time. Just isn't functional.
Safer Alternative - Side Lateral Dumbbell Raises Side lateral raises are a much more effective exercise for working
the medial (middle) deltoid or shoulder without putting stress on
the shoulder joint or rotator cuff. The key here is limiting the range
of motion so the elbows are not lifted above the shoulders at the
top of the movement or too far inside the body at the bottom of the
Form & Technique
When in doubt check the spine!
The simplest way to make good exercise choices is checking your spinal
alignment out. If an exercise does not allow you to maintain the natural
s-curves or positioning of your spine then it is probably not the wisest
choice regardless of what your fitness level is. Try this theory out by
just watching others performing exercises in the gym while you are resting
between sets and zoom in on their back alignment. If the natural arch
or curves in the upper and lower back are being compromised while performing
the exercise, then there is probably a better choice available that is
much safer and much more functional. If performing the exercise looks
painful it probably is.
Use your head, listen to your body!
Ok, so now that you know my take on what I don't recommend it is up to
you to make the choice. It's your body but I would really like to see
you be able to weight train way beyond your retirement years. Weight training
will benefit you as long as you can do it so don't cut your strength training
career short by risking injuries to your joints while trying to do yourself
some good. The no pain no gain cliché is nothing more than that. If you
experience joint pain from a movement or find that an exercise or machine
just doesn't feel right then you should be asking yourself why it is still
in your workout routine. It may be the best excuse to add some variety
to your workouts anyway. Ask a qualified trainer at your gym for safe
alternatives that accomplish the same thing. There is more than one way
to work a muscle and more importantly protect your joints at the same
time. Once the joint breaks down you can't work much muscle anyway. Maximize
your results by minimizing risk every time you show up at the gym.
Always consult your physician before starting any exercise program including
cardiovascular or resistance training.
Good health to you. Exercise often...eat well...fuel your
body...train smart...build momentum...stay focused...train for life ! TM.
Michael Merlino is a Freelance, Certified Professional Fitness
Trainer and owner of Merlino Fitness and MerlinoFitness.com. He trains
his clients at the Houston Downtown YMCA. Michael can be reached at 832-577-7770
or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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