Strength Workouts Beginners Should Avoid (and Which to Do Instead)

So you’ve decided to give strength workouts a try — go you! But before you start, ask yourself this: Do you know where to (safely) begin?

Whether you’re working out with dumbbells, weight machines, or just your bodyweight, building muscle takes time — and a lot of practice and repetition. The last thing you want to do is rush into a new exercise thinking you can handle it — only to end up injured, exhausted, and miserable. Here are the exercises anyone new to strength training should stay away from — and suggestions for better workouts to get you started off on the right foot.

Don’t do: Barbell squats

Beginners might want to stay away from strength workouts involving barbells, for now.

If done incorrectly, weighted squats can hurt. | iStock.com

Barbell squats — sometimes called loaded or weighted squats — combine squatting with weightlifting to give your muscles more resistance. BuiltLean says you’re doing your muscles and joints a lot of favors — as long as you’re using proper technique. Beginners who try squatting with extra weight — and do so incorrectly — are at greater risk of injury. Plus, doing an exercise wrong just isn’t effective.

Nerd Fitness advises you should only start with the type of squats you know you can handle — which means you need to be able to do them with proper form. If you’re just starting your weight training, and you’re not confident enough to do weighted squats flawlessly, start with something easier.

Try instead: Bodyweight squats

Squats build muscle and teach you proper form for more complex strength workouts.

Don’t make beginner mistakes. | iStock.com/g-stockstudio

Bodyweight squats will teach you proper form — but that’s not all. According to Men’s Fitness, squats can strengthen your core, improve your flexibility, and lower your risk of injury. Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and quad muscles makes any physical activity safer and more efficient. Once you master the bodyweight squat, you can add extra weight to build your muscles even further.

Stand with your feet slightly wider than the width of your hips. Point your toes slightly outward, look straight ahead, and choose a spot on the wall to keep your eyes on as you squat. Put your arms out in front of you, parallel to the ground, push your butt back, and keep your knees lined up with your feet as you squat down. Once your hip joint goes lower than your knees, stand up, keeping your muscles as tight as possible. Don’t forget to squeeze your butt on the way up!

Don’t do: Barbell deadlifts

Deadlifts can injure you if you aren't careful.

You might not be able to do a deadlift yet — but you will someday. | iStock.com

The deadlift is a full-body exercise, that relies on different muscle groups to help you perform essential movements successfully. Therefore, it’s an effective muscle building and fat-burning move you can add to your regular workout routine. That is, as long as you’ve had a lot of practice performing every part of the process correctly.

According to Men’s Fitness, if done incorrectly, deadlifts can lead to injury. Every part of your body has to work in sync to position itself properly before and during the lift — if you don’t want to end up too injured to workout. If you’re just starting out, don’t jump into a barbell deadlift right away. Start with something much lighter and easier to control — like a kettlebell.

Try instead: The kettlebell deadlift

Start with kettlebells before a barbell deadlift.

Kettlebell workouts are a beginner’s best friend. | iStock.com

Starting out with a kettlebell instead of a much heavier barbell can help you build strength and slowly work your way up to a more traditional deadlift. Kettlebell workouts are excellent muscle-builders — and they burn a ton of calories, too. In no time, you’ll be able to safely and effectively lift heavier loads, feeling stronger than you ever have before.

Girls Gone Strong says a deadlift, unlike squatting, requires your hips to hinge, or bend. Also make sure you’re inhaling and exhaling before and after you lift to power your movements without running out of breath too soon.

Don’t do: Box jumps

Box jumps require power, which you just might not have enough of yet.

Is it possible to jump that high? | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

You might look at a box jump and shake your head. “I can do that. How hard can it be?” Jump training, or ploymetrics, isn’t as easy as it looks. According to Breaking Muscle, this type of strength training involves explosive power movements that enhance body control. Many athletes incorporate these types of moves into their training regularly — which is why you might want to start slow before (literally) jumping in.

Before you can launch yourself off the ground and onto an elevated surface (like a box), you need to strengthen your glutes and leg muscles. Consider starting with a workout that’s a step down from a powerful jump.

Try instead: Step-ups

Step-ups are a step down from box jumps, but they're still a great workout.

It’s like climbing stairs, but you feel it in your butt. | iStock.com/Ivanko_Brnjakovic

Step-ups are exactly what they sound like. Pick an elevated surface, like a bench, chair, or box, and step up onto it — and back down again. Your ankles, knees, and hips should all create 90-degree angles with each step. Your mid-foot or heel should support your weight. Your hamstrings and glutes will love this workout — and it doesn’t require the same level of strength and power as an explosive jump.

When it comes to step-ups, says Men’s Health, take as much care on your way down as you do on your way up. Don’t skimp on the last half of the step — you have to work your muscles equally at both ends of the exercise. Step down slowly, instead of just letting your feet hit the ground as quickly as possible.

Don’t do: Burpees

Burpees are a full-body workout you can look forward to.

It’s OK to challenge yourself, but it’s also OK to start simple. | iStock.com

Burpees essentially involve doing a squat, plank, and jump, one right after the other without stopping. You start and end in the same position, and these movements, in quick succession, call on the muscles in your arms, legs, and core to get you through every rep. It’s a full-body workout you can easily add to your repertoire, once you’re strong enough to do them quickly and effectively.

This exercise is extremely challenging, especially since one of the easiest ways to mess up, according to Greatist, is to not keep your entire body straight during plank position. Before you join the burpee craze, start with an exercise that helps you practice keeping your back straight and looking straight ahead as you jump.

Try instead: Jumping jacks or jumping rope

Jumping jacks and jumping rope are both great cardio and strength workouts.

Jumping is more of a workout than you think. | iStock.com/leaf

According to Livestrong.com, jumping jacks are a strength-building workout that also gets your heart pumping. You can’t perform a proper jumping jack without using your body’s largest muscle groups. Doing a few sets before a workout can strengthen your core and even help improve your posture — an essential asset for more advanced core exercises.

Similarly, jumping rope forces you to use a variety of muscles and gain the strength to both jump and rotate a rope simultaneously. Breaking Muscle recommends adding this exercise between other strength training sets to keep your heart rate up and maintain variety in and outside the gym.

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