First, before we get into today’s list, I have a damaging admission to make. The truth is that I was FIRED a few times by personal training clients back in the day because they didn’t like my strict workout rules, which included:
- Absolutely NO talking during the performance of an exercise
- Perfect form must be used in every exercise
- No quitting on an exercise
Not surprisingly, that didn’t go over very well with some clients who liked to “gab” more than they liked to workout, or clients who liked to say they could do 5 chin-ups, when all they could REALLY do was 5 “quarter reps”.
The bottom line is that I take my training serious. You want a buddy to chat with? Train with someone else. I’m just not a chatty-Craiggy.
And because I take my training seriously, I’ve built up a list of exercises that should no longer be in your workouts because they are ineffective or downright dangerous.
Here are the top 10 exercises to remove from your program right now.
#1 – Lunges without Perfect Form
Lunges are good, but they aren’t so good that you should be risking the health of your knees to do them. If you aren’t ready for them, stick to squats with proper form, step-ups, or lying 1-leg hip extensions.
#2 – Anything done with a rounded back (even picking up dumbbells)
It doesn’t matter if you’re squatting, deadlifting, straight-leg deadlifting, rowing, or even doing triceps kickbacks, you must STOP doing these exercises with a rounded lower back.
That’s a one-way ticket to a herniated disc. And you do not want to go there, girl.
So make sure that you brace your abs, and keep your back in the neutral position – and even with a slight arch in your low back – as you do dumbbell rows, deadlifts, squats, and Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs).
If you don’t know what I mean, or you still aren’t comfortable with those exercises, by all means DROP them and just ask for a substitute exercise. There are plenty of other movements I can recommend.
And one more thing…I see a lot of people (including my clients) who use great form in all exercises and then pick up dumbbells off the floor with a rounded back.
That’s another no-no.
You can just as easily hurt your back doing that as you can in an “official” exercise. So always, always, ALWAYS pick stuff up by bending at the knees and keeping the object close to your body – but NEVER by rounding your back (even when tying your shoes!).
#3 – Bench dips (where your hands are placed on the bench behind you) – SHOULDER Destroyer!
Cut these shoulder destroyers out of your program immediately.
Personally, I’ve never been one to use this exercise, as I thought it was lame-o. And then 2 years ago I attended a Bill Hartman lecture, and he was very unkind to this exercise. (Who’s Bill Hartman? He’s a guy that has been crowned “the smartest man in fitness” by Brian Grasso, Alwyn Cosgrove, and myself.)
Here’s what Bill says about those bench dips…
“To achieve that much range of motion the scapula must tilt forward which is a pretty unstable position. This also means that the shoulder joint is unstable and increases demands on the rotator cuff especially the subscapularis.
“Over time this is a lot of undesireable stress leading to impingement of the cuff. This doesn’t even consider the stress on the AC joint. It’s also a crap exercise for overload.”
Cut those out of your program immediately.
#4 – “Clean and Presses” done with a fixed bar
Clean and presses are a great exercise when done with proper form, but almost every time I go to a big box gym I see people using those fixed “body bars” and doing some mangled “reverse-curl/external rotation/body contortion” movement.
Worse, I’ve watched groups of women do this in aerobics classes.
Listen, it’s nice that people see the value in the total body movements, but if you can’t do the exercise properly, it shouldn’t be done at all.
When I see a person trying to clean and press a 2-inch diameter, 24 pound body bar, it ALWAYS looks bad…because it is. Again, there are plenty of other ways to train the body. You could do a front squat combined with a push press. That would be safer and would still work all the muscles you want (and even more).
#5 – Squats where your knees bend first
If your squat starts with a dip in the knee rather than a “push-back of the hips”, then you are putting excessive strain on your knee joint.
Your squat movement should push your hips back first, and then your knees should begin to bend. This puts the weight back onto your heels so that you don’t rise up on your toes. It also works your glutes and hamstrings more.
#6 – Narrow-grip Upright Row
The narrow grip upright row causes tremendous impingement in the shoulder joint. This is one dangerous exercise that I was stupid enough to do as a kid, and it likely caused me some of the shoulder pain that I had for years.
When people pull their hands (carrying the weight) up to their chin, they are going to compress the nerves in the shoulder area, impinging the shoulder
#7 – Side bends
Unless you’re a powerlifter or strongman competitor, I’d suggest you stay away from side bends.
You don’t want to repeatedly bend your spine sideways any more than you want to flex your spine forward with crunches and sit-ups.
And besides, who has ever gotten sexy abs with side bends?
They sure didn’t help me or Bally the Dog with our six pack abs.
#8 – Plyometrics to Failure
Hey, I appreciate the fact that people are putting more athletic movements into their fat-loss programs. After all, you will get more results with athletic training than slow cardio.
But…you must be smart with your training. Doing “explosive” exercises to the point of muscle failure – and therefore, to the point of improper form – is simply wrong.
That’s what causes injury. And that causes people to drop out of their fat loss program.
So listen…be conservative. YES, you can use jump training in your fat loss program…after all, some of the advanced TT programs do.
But you can’t be doing plyometrics to failure. You can’t be doing plyometrics with sloppy form. And you can’t be getting hurt.
Train hard, but train safe.
#9 – Russian twists
Be on the safe side, don’t do this exercise.
Listen, I have nothing against Russians. Sometimes when I go on holiday I like to relax at the bar with a Black Russian, and I also think Russian women are some of the most beautiful in the world…
…but this exercise they’ve given us gets a big fat NYET!
Don’t do this. It combines spinal flexion and rotation, and is unsafe for your low back. Sorry, it belongs in Siberia!
#10 – Sit-ups
“You may not like Stuart McGill, but the guy has done his home work on the spine. If you want to get your lower back healthy, there are safer and more effective ways to train the core than performing sit-ups until you enjoy the unique pleasure of a herniated disc.”
I agree 100%, and so does Mike Robertson, Men’s Health fitness expert, who recently wrote this about the crunch debate:
“I can’t believe we’re still arguing this stuff. I would’ve hoped by now that we’ve all thrown crunches and sit-ups by the wayside…think about the body-wide effects of crunching – a crunch trains the rectus abdominus by pulling the rib cage down. When we pull the rib cage down, we increase the thoracic kyphosis. This sets off a cascade of events – we increase the kyphosis, thus losing t-spine extension. This consistently puts our scapulae in a poor position, not to mention putting our gleno-humeral joint at an increased risk for impingement as well.”
Let me translate Mike’s science…
Basically he said, STOP doing crunches!
So ditch the crunches and situps and focus on abdominal stability exercises like the ones I have for you in TT programs.
Stay strong and safe,
Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Certified Turbulence Trainer
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