6 Exercises That You Think Are Good For You (Hint: They’re not!)

Overweight woman with trainer doing exercise, gym

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You know the saying “there is no such thing as a stupid question”? Well, that ain’t the truth in the gym. There are plenty of exercises that are just plain stupid and bad. Bad because they cause more injuries than they do benefit and stupid because we keep doing them (remember the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing, over and over again and expecting different results).

Sadly, these are exercises that a lot of people are still doing in the gym, and at times on machines that the industry is still manufacturing.

To help you avoid stupidity (and train to fullest) we have listed the 6 exercises that most people think are good for them, when really aren’t.

1. Abdominal Crunch

Fitness woman doing abs crunches
Fitness woman doing abs crunches

Dr. Stuart McGill, professor of spinal bio-mechanics at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, is one of the world’s leading experts on lumbar research and he says stay away from an abdominal crunch if you want a healthy spine.

According to his studies, an abdominal crunch puts a high level of stress and compression on the lumbar spine. In fact, a crunch or traditional sit-up generates at least 3,350 newtons (the equivalent of 340 kg) of compressive force on the spine.

The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health states that anything above 3,300 newtons is unsafe (1).

What to do instead: a McGill Crunch (of course), or a plank, side plank, or try a stir the pot on a stability ball).

2. Push-up

Doing push-ups

We know you are saying “what?!?!” right now. Here we have just a listed an exercise that is in most of our plans, on our YouTube videos, and a main exercise that we teach personally to our clients.

But, here’s the thing.

Most people do not perform a push-up properly. They let their low back to sag, their head to drop, their thoracic spine to round. The exercise becomes a big ol’ mess in a short period of time.

What to do instead: a push-up – the correct way. If you are unable to maintain your form, then start with your hands elevated (like on a bench or chair) and then nail the form from there.

FYI: when on performing a “modified” push-up on the knees (which is a great alternative in a class setting – where benches and elevating your hands is not option), please understand that you use less core than when you are on your toes. So, get the form perfect, and quick, so that you can perform one from the toes and train the core just as hard as you are training the upper body. 

3. Pec Deck/Pec Fly Machine

If you want to spend some quality time with your physiotherapist, load up one of these machines and then go for it.

Both of these machines can overstretch the front of your shoulder and cause the muscles around the rear of your shoulder to stiffen.

The result: shoulder impingement syndrome and you sponsoring your physio’s next Hawaiian vacation. 

What to do instead: bench press, dumbbell chest press or flyes off a stability ball, or in a bridge, or on a bench. As well, a properly executed push-up is also a FAR better alternative.

4. Behind the Head Lat Pulldown

Pulling the bar on a lat pulldown machine behind the head and neck is another fantastic way to create a shoulder impingement problems. In addition to creating yourself a double whammy shoulder injury, you are also setting yourself up for neck problems too.

You see, to pull do something behind your head you have to poke you chin forward, feeding into a posture that we are trying to avoid for neck health.

What to do instead: same machine, but lean back about 30 degrees, stiffen the core to stabilize the spine and pull the bar down to the front of the chest.

5. The Smith Machine

This machine looks and smells a lot like a squat rack, but instead of a free bar the bar is fixed on gliders and “guides” the exerciser to squat and lunge in a straight up and down pattern.

Our bodies were not meant to squat straight up and down. We were meant to squat down while hinging at the hips and it is due to these gliders that this machine gets a big ol’ thumbs down.

FYI: The Smith Machine is awesome for learning a good push-up though! Because you can adjust the bar to any height you can start it up high, perfect your form when it’s easy and work your way down to the ground.

What to do instead:  squats or lunges with dumbbells

6. Upright Rows

In this exercise you are holding onto a bar, or dumbbells right in front of the body and lifting the hands up until they are under the chin and your elbows are flared out and higher than your hands. Seems innocent enough, but similar to the behind the pulldown and the pec deck machine you are just asking for a shoulder injury.

Because upright rows cause the upper arm bone (humerus) to bang up against the AC (acromion process) joint, this can compress the nerves in the shoulder area and damage the cartilage in the AC joint. Not fun.

What to do instead: one-arm rows, side lateral raises, front lateral raises, shoulder shrugs 


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