5 Workout Moves You Need to Avoid At All Costs

woman doing ab exercises while hanging from a bar

There are some exercises you should not attempt. | iStock.com/chrisgraphics

If you’re getting to the gym more than twice a week, you can consider yourself well above average compared to the rest of the United States. Though 58 million people in the U.S. visit the gym annually, about 67% of people with memberships never use them, according to data from Statistic Brain. The average membership owner will visit the gym just twice a week. If you have the motivation to go more than that, you’re already on the right track.

But even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to make mistakes in your fitness routine. Some errors will just mean that you’re not going to reap as many benefits because you’re choosing less effective exercises, like performing 50 crunches instead of a few power-packed planks. Other times, however, you put your health at risk by continuing to do common exercises that have the potential to do more harm than good.

If you’ve got the motivation to be at the gym and stay in shape, do yourself a favor and avoid these five exercises. There are always alternatives to working the same muscle groups, and you’ll have a much higher chance of staying healthy.

1. Leg press

man doing leg presses

Skip the leg press machine and go for squats instead. | iStock.com

The leg press, where you sit and push a weighted sled with your feet, has probably been a staple at every gym since your middle school days. But just because it’s familiar and seems to work your quads well doesn’t mean you should make this a part of your workout routine — ever.

“The leg press machine is very bad mechanically for your body, because it does not allow your muscles/joints to perform in a functional manner and puts a tremendous amount of stress on your knees and lower back,” Josh Stolz, a Tier 4 trainer at Equinox in New York City, told Men’s Fitness. In fact, Stolz said that gym-goers most often need to see a spine specialist for lumbar herniations caused by the leg press. How?

“This exercise forces your back into a rounded position and compresses your spine,” Craig Ballantyne, author of Turbulence Training, told Men’s Health. “That can cause a herniated disk.”

Get rid of the sled and try dumbbell Bulgarian split squats instead, Men’s Health suggests. “This exercise is much closer to real-world movements,” Ballantyne said, “and it hits your core and tests your balance.”

2. Behind-the-neck lat pulldowns

man performing pull-downs

Pull-downs can be dangerous. | iStock.com

In most cases, the exercises on this list put your muscles in unnatural positions, causing strain and increasing the chances of muscle tears, or worse. The lat pulldowns — specifically the ones you do behind your head — are a part of this category.

“Pulling down behind the head can involve excessive shoulder external rotation and horizontal abduction. It can also place inappropriate stress on the anterior ligaments of the shoulder joint,” Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, told Men’s Fitness.

These movements stress your rotator cuffs, and you’re at an especially high risk of injury if you have a limited range of mobility in your shoulders to begin with, Livestrong.com reports. “In this position it is very difficult for the rotator cuff muscles to stabilize the shoulder joint and all of the small structures within the shoulder are very vulnerable to strains and tears,” personal trainer Jessica Rosen explains in a post for AskTheTrainer.com.

If you would still like to use the machine, make sure to keep the movements in front of your breastbone, Livestrong.com recommends.

3. Tricep dips

woman performing dips on a set of parallel bars at a park

Tricep dips are hard on your rotator cuffs. | iStock.com

Your shoulders have some of the most intricate muscle arrangements in your body, which is one of the reasons why these dips make the second shoulder-related exercise to avoid.

“This exercise automatically puts your shoulders in a compromised position, plus having your hands fixated behind you puts a strain on your elbows,” celebrity trainer Patrick Murphy told Men’s Fitness. The position also causes your head to jut forward, Murphy said, which increases your chances of pain and discomfort.

During a dip, the most at-risk part of your shoulder is the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, Rosen said on AskTheTrainer.com. “At the top of the dip when your elbows are locked out, there is enough stress on the AC joint to cause significant damage and even separation in an already weakened shoulder joint,” she writes.

Dips are known to be great muscle builders. “But perfectly executed dips are like unicorns,” Mike Boyle, owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, told Men’s Health. “They’re talked about but never seen.” Many men do dips to work on their chest and triceps, but doing close-hands push-ups can be equally effective while also protecting the ligaments in your shoulders.

4. Upright rows

man doing upright rows

Upright rows aren’t good for your shoulders. | iStock.com

To keep with the shoulder theme, add upright rows to your list of exercises to avoid when you’re at the gym. “Upright rows force the shoulder to move away from the body and externally rotate from an excessively internally rotated position, which causes extreme forces on the shoulder joint,” Murphy told Men’s Fitness. There’s also an increased risk of tendon and muscular impingement, and it puts strain on your wrists as well. “The risk-to-benefit ratio is 95/5,” Murphy added.

Each time you pair an internal shoulder rotation and a lifting action (the exact recipe of an upright row), you pinch a tendon in your shoulder. It’s part of the supraspinatus muscle, and is one of the most common shoulder injuries out there, Rosen writes in AskTheTrainer.com. Even when you perform the lift correctly, you’re putting that tendon at risk.

5. Leg extensions

leg extensions

Leg extensions strain your muscles. | iStock.com

Just like the leg press, leg extensions put strain on muscles that are locked in to moving in unnatural ways, elevating your risk for injury. It might seem safe because you’ve seen it in every gym you go to, but it’s not going to benefit you in the long run, especially if you’re worried about your knees. “From a biomechanical standpoint this exercise is one of the main culprits of aggravating existing knee issues, and even creating new ones,” Rosen said.

The tendons and ligaments in your knees bear a large portion of the pressure to lift the weight at your feet high enough for your quads to engage. “The sheer force put on your knees during this exercise is really unsafe and could lead to injury,” trainer Keli Roberts told Men’s Fitness.

On top of this, you risk straining your hamstrings and your movements don’t mimic any that you’d actually do in real life, Livestrong.com reports.

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