Explosive plyometric jumps and lifting huge racks of weight may be impressive, but those exercises arenít for everyone. Lack of strength and flexibility or simple inexperience can quickly turn athletic bravado into a visit to the emergency room.
Explosive plyometric jumps and lifting huge racks of weight may be impressive, but those exercises aren't for everyone. Lack of strength and flexibility or simple inexperience can quickly turn athletic bravado into a visit to the emergency room. In fact, there are a number of moves that the best trainers generally refuse to do themselves. Here's a rundown of the exercises you'd never catch top trainers and fitness pros doing -- and why.
1. Behind-the-Neck Pulldowns
This one lands on nearly every "don't do" list, but it's an especially important exercise to avoid as you age, says Irv Rubenstein, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and founder of STEPS Fitness in Nashville, Tennessee. Pulling a bar down behind your neck causes excessive shoulder rotation. The move is hard on your shoulders in general, but it's especially dangerous over age 40 and even more so after 60, when rotator cuff problems often lie beneath the surface waiting to emerge, says Rubenstein. "Instead do pulldowns to the front, stopping at your upper sternum (below your collarbone)."
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2. Military Barbell Presses
Pushing a bar up by rotating your shoulders and lifting it behind your neck tweaks your shoulder joint similarly to behind-the-neck pulldowns. But it's even worse, says exercise physiologist Irv Rubenstein, because the rotator cuff and shoulder is now loaded with weight, which puts more pressure on the poorly positioned joint. Instead, use dumbbells or a bar in front of your body, pushing off from the level of the collarbone in front of the shoulders.
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3. Stiff-Leg Deadlifts
Exercise physiologist Irv Rubenstein also skips stiff-leg deadlifts, in which you bend forward at the hips while holding a barbell or dumbbells. Locked-out knees while bending forward with a heavy weight creates elevated stress on the spine, says Rubenstein. "Furthermore, when the hips flex to whatever angle the hamstrings allow, the spine will start to flex if you try to go further, which could lead to a number of spine and disk problems." Instead, Rubenstein does a Romanian deadlift, which allows greater hip flexion before the spine is compromised.
4. Weighted Torso Twists
Miami fitness pro Jessica Smith, star of the DVD "Walk On: Strength & Balance," swears off weighted torso twists. "You can do these via a machine at the gym or using a barbell over the shoulders," says Smith, "but any way you try them, adding that much extra weight to the spine during a rotational movement is terribly unsafe." Instead, work the obliques with crossover crunches or side crunches.
5. Squats on a BOSU
Sports performance specialist and kinesiologist Paul Juris, Ed.D., executive director of the Cybex Research Institute, says he'd never squat on a BOSU. If you are not familiar with the device, it is an inflated hemisphere attached to a solid (usually plastic) platform. For one, research shows squatting on unstable surfaces such as a BOSU decreases force output and therefore does not allow for maximum strength gains. "We often witness almost uncontrolled shaking when watching people perform this task," says Juris. "This is frequently attributed to muscle imbalances or even a lack of core strength. In reality, it is neither." The exercise creates a conflicting state. "Muscles responsible for controlling the movement work, while those that don't contribute to the execution of smooth and fluid movement will either work at significantly lower levels or not at all," says Juris. Keep squats on stable ground to avoid the confusion.
6. Lifting Heavy Weights While Lying on a Fitness Ball
Using a fitness ball as a bench for a heavy lift isn't something you'll catch Jamie Walker doing. The NASM and Yoga Alliance certified instructor cites too high of an injury risk. "People in favor of lifting on stability balls say that the uneven balance helps build strength in your stabilizer muscles and further enhances your lift," says Walker. "In reality, however, you're much more likely to injure yourself while lifting on a stability ball. One quick spill and you could be out of the gym for months." Stick with a flat or incline weight bench and leave fitness balls for other exercises.
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The name makes this triceps move sound more dangerous than it is, but lowering and raising a bar over your head while lying on your back could cause unnecessary stress and inflammation in the elbow joint, says Walker. "I stay away from these, although they're fairly commonplace in most gyms." The goal of skullcrushers is to increase the size and strength of the triceps muscle group, but the exercise can cause a ton of stress on your elbow." Stick with triceps pushdowns or other, lower-risk triceps moves.
8. 45-Degree Leg Press
Pressing out with your legs against a heavy object while in a seated position can compromise the health and overall compression of your spine, says Walker. "Many experts believe this exercise creates an unnatural stress on the lower back. I'd avoid it." Walker recommends sticking with proven lower-body builders like squats. "Ditch the machines and let the free weights do the work," he says.
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9. Leg Raises for Lower Abs
Doing leg raises -- lying on your back with straight legs and raising them up and down six inches -- is a dangerous way to work your lower abs, warns Connecticut exercise physiologist Tom Holland, M.S., CSCS. "The torque on the lower back is insane." A better alternative: Lie on your back with your lower back pressed into the mat and bend your legs at a 90-degree angle (shins are parallel to the floor). Engage your abs as you stretch your legs out a few inches and pull back in, recommends Holland.
10. Box Jumps
Plyometric exercises such as box jumps require a solid strength foundation before attempting them, says exercise physiologist Tom Holland. Doing plyometrics without adequate strength, balance, speed and correct technique can easily result in injury. The National Strength and Conditioning Association suggests attempting lower-body plyometrics such as box jumps only after you are able to perform five repetitions of a squat using 60 percent of your own body weight in five seconds or less. "And if you do them, I recommend jumping up but stepping down," says Holland.
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Although pullups are known as a great total-upper-body exercise, people tend to strain their necks or backs too much trying to get over the bar, says Olympic medalist and pro soccer player Lauren Sesselmann, star of the "Fit As A Pro" DVDs. Sometimes pullups can cause you to work the muscles unevenly because one arm may be stronger than the other, she says. "So that arm is pulling more than the other and you can injure yourself." Sesselmann recommends doing them on an assisted machine (such as a Gravitron) or sticking with some of the many other safer exercises you can do for your shoulders, triceps and biceps.
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What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever done any of these exercises? Did you find them difficult or did you get injured? Will you be trying the modifications suggested in this slideshow? Do you know of any exercises that are best to avoid? Leave a comment below and let us know.