Sunday, March 7, 2010


It’s quite surprising the number of people who do exercises that are considered high risk or “No-No’s” for the average individual. If your doctor gave you wrong or outdated information it would be considered malpractice. In the gym, it seems to be standard operating procedure.

It’s bad enough I see people walk in to the gym ignore the cardio equipment and go right into a cold set of heavy weight bench presses. On any given day I can count the number of people that (1) Use incorrect exercise form (2) use inappropriate exercise selection (3) do ineffective Exercise Programs and (4) Some Stupid things that really don’t make much sense.

Contraindicated Exercises are those that pose a high-risk to joint structure, soft tissue injury, or other risks (heart attack, stroke, etc) and should be considered off-limits. Exercise technique has to do with safety and a results oriented program based on the training goal, the individual, joint mechanics and human anatomy.

There is no such thing as one size fits all. You have to realize that just because someone does an exercise doesn’t make it right. There are a number of exercises that are not appropriate while others can be slightly modified to lower risk of injury.

Here are some Controversial Resistant Training Exercises:

Performing chest presses or flyes too deep decreases the ability of the pectoralis major to produce muscular force. The muscle cannot generate enough force and is held together by weaker shoulder muscles & ligaments. Hyperextension of the shoulder causes shoulder joint injury. This mechanical disadvantage of going beyond the midpoint of your body contributes to rotator cuff injury & anterior shoulder instability

A common exercise, the Upright Row has a high-risk to benefit ratio. Poor alignment of the wrists, elbows, shoulders and upper trapezius muscles are poorly aligned against the force of weight being lifted. Drawing weight to the chin causes the elbow flexors to be extremely inward rotated, plus the weight is too heavy for the shoulder’s external rotators.

Alternative: Shrugs for scapular elevation and Dumbbell Press Overhead for upward scapular rotation.

Behind the Neck Cable Pull Downs excessively flexes the neck & forces the shoulder into extreme shoulder external rotation & hyper-extension. Not only does this put strain on the rotator cuffs, paving the way for inflammation but can crack the spinous processes (little nubs on tope of the vertebrae).

Both Cable Pull Downs behind the Neck and Barbell Press Overhead behind the Neck
lock your hands behind your head which can torque your cervical vertebrae and result in neck pain.

Alternative: Anterior Lat Cable Pull Downs: Pulling the bar to your chest while maintaining proper posture is easier on your neck and shoulders and flexes the lats through a greater range of motion, accelerating muscle growth.

Leg extensions are an isolated exercise that can cause uneven compression between the kneecap and thighbone, inflaming the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. In addition, if fully extended this puts heavy load on the ankle.

Alternative: Squats: Done properly this is one of the best exercises not only for your glutes, hips and legs but core as well. To squat safely, place the bar across your shoulders (not your neck) or use a Manta Ray accessory. With your back straight, bending slightly at the hips through the squatting motion, push up with your heels but don’t lock out the knees. Don’t lean forward - focus on keeping your ears in line with your ankles. Knee angle should be between 60 and 90 degrees.

Sit-ups is an in-effective abdominal exercise. It actually strengthens the hip flexors more so than the abdominal muscles. There is a risk of back strain due to sheer force on the spinal discs and possible neck injury. When your feet are fixed, a powerful leverage advantage is created and the use of the hip flexors take over from any abdominal tension. Twisting (right elbow to left knee and vice versa) at the top of the sit-up movement is not only useless but risky. Twisting places tremendous rotational stress on the lower back that can lead to injury.

Alternative: A Crunch or Curl-Up is a safe alternative. If you prefer to do a Sit-up focus on the following cues: Fully flex the spine prior to full sit-up. After curling the spine the hip flexors can take over when the torso moves towards upright full sitting position. Allow your feet to be free so that the trunk can flex and remain neutral. Do not use a straight-leg as this arches the back and creates overextension and strain.

Straight Bar Curls are stressful on both the elbow joints and on the wrists.
You will notice that when you let your arms hang loosely by your sides, you'll notice that your palms face inward. When you face your palms forward your hands will vary on the witdth from your side. With a Barbell, the arms will lock into an unnatural palms-up position, which can lead to tendonitis.

Alternative: E-Z Bar Curls or Dumbbells. An E-Z bar is angled so that your thumbs are higher than your pinkies (pronated) and is not only easier on the wrist but puts your elbows in a more natural neutral position. Dumbbells allow your hands to return to their natural position.


Not all of the exercises I’ve mentioned are necessarily “wrong”. The idea is to train smarter.
The idea is to reduce pain and injury while getting the most out of your exercise session.
Hey, if you want to do dumbbell presses on a Swiss ball go right ahead. Just realize that substituting a ball for a bench will greatly reduce the focus on your chest and shoulders.
If you want to do sit ups or leg raises, just realize that the prime movers are your hip flexors and not your abdominal muscles. Done wrong it’s a waste of time and even harmful. Care must be taken to maintain a neutral lumbar spine and include the modifications explained above.

A good rule to follow is “Keep your hands where you can see them”. If you are using your hands during an exercise and lose sight of them you are at a mechanical disadvantage. At the extreme end of the range of motion your joints are vulnerable to heavy loads and destabilizing forces stretch ligaments, strain muscles and inflame bursa (synovial sac around joints).

With leg exercises it is important to maintain a neutral spine. Any type of standing hip extension exercise strongly challenges the low back muscles as stabilizers. The depth of the exercise is dependent on hamstring flexibility and the ability of the back musculature to stabilize lumbar neutral.


- Always warm-up before starting a training session
- Don’t lock out the knees or elbows during an exercise. Keep tension on the muscle at all times.
- Keep you heels on the floor to generate power.
- Do not use momentum during your rep cycle.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together to help stabilize your core.
- Train smart – set goals, have a plan and write it down.

After a workout session you should feel refreshed and rejuvenated, not tired and sore. You have your whole life ahead of you so stay positive and have fun !

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