The human body is an incredible piece of engineering. It’s capable of such amazing movements.
But just because the body can perform a certain movement does not mean it is good for us.
There seems to be an epidemic at the moment of people in gyms and parks on a mission to totally destroy their body.
Here are 7 of the most common exercises that I see that need to be reconsidered:
# 1 – Dips
Dips have been around for years. They even have specialised dips bars in gyms purely designed for performing sets of dips. Dips however are not shoulder friendly. As you lower yourself down, under full bodyweight, during the Dip exercise you put your shoulder capsule under huge amounts of strain.
Basically the arms are not designed to go backwards in that way. You can see this for yourself just by standing tall and then seeing how far you can take the arms backwards.
The worse types of Dips are the ones you see during boot camps that are performed off a park bench. Ever wondered why your shoulders are sore after performing Dips? It’s because you are stretching all your ligaments and the soft tissue of the shoulder joint. If you don’t want sloppy and unstable shoulder joints that are more likely to dislocate then lay off the Dips.
Safer Alternative: Regular Push Ups or Narrow Push Ups
# 2 – Behind the Head Lat Pull Downs
Everybody seems to have tried or performed this exercise at one time or another. Almost every gym has a Lat Pull Down machine which consist of a T-Bat on a cable suspended from overhead. Pulling the bar down to the upper chest does not present too much of a problem but when the bar is pulled down behind the head then it becomes very dangerous for the shoulder joint.
During the, behind the head, movement the shoulder joint is placed under external rotation and then with force taken well below its natural range. You will even see people lean their head forwards as a natural reaction to the exercise so the shoulder isn’t put under so much strain. Those with hypermobile shoulders will find this exercise much easier but it still compromises the integrity of the shoulder capsule.
Safer Alternative: Pull Downs to the Upper Chest or even better Chin Ups
# 3 – Sit Ups or Crunches
This is an exercise that is always painful to watch. After spending a day hunched over a computer or desk the posture is made even worse by Crunching forward even more. Surely after sitting in such a terrible position all day you would want to train the opposite muscles to pull everything backwards again!
Crunches and Sit Ups also only perform 50% of the natural movement of the spine if you are performing them lying on the floor. If you are going to perform this exercise then at least Crunch over a Stability Ball to get the full range of movement.
Not only do Sit Ups and Crunches seem counter intuitive to posture but they also don’t seem to line up with our natural daily movements. How often do you Crunch in daily life? Working on Core Stabilisation is a much more functional direction to take.
Safer Alternative: Planks, Woodchops, Stability Ball Jack Knife
# 4 – Unprepared Running
Before you get too excited and all the running clubs start sending me hate mail hear me out. Running puts a massive strain on the body. Over 3 times the bodyweight goes through each leg during every stride. In order to absorb this kind of shock the body must have good alignment and core strength.
The Core stabilises the pelvis to provide a solid platform for the legs to operate under. Sadly most people have very weak core muscles due to inactivity and due to excess sitting most people also have bad joint alignment and stabilisation from head to toe.
Now take your average overweight runner looking to lose weight and then add in all these factors and the result is usually injury within 4 weeks. If you want to start running, which I’m not against, then losing excess weight through diet and bodyweight exercises to improve core strength and joint stability would be a safer starting point.
Safter Alternative: Bodyweight Circuits or Hill Walking Intervals
# 5 – Deep Bench Press
The bench press will offer you a great way to add some serious muscle and strength to the chest and triceps but you have to be careful. When loading the barbell or dumbbells you must be very careful not to take the bar down too low. Touching the bar to the chest is usually too deep for the shoulder capsules to handle.
There is a simple test you can try to see how deep you should take the bar. Lie on the bench and use a wooden dowel or broomstick and see how deep you can naturally go. Most people find they cannot go as deep as the chest, it is only the added weight of the bar that forces the shoulders into this position.
The same theory applies to performing dumbbell presses and dumbbell fly’s, just ensure you only go as deep as your shoulders will allow and not how deep the weight dictates.
Safer Alternative: Test your natural range and stick within it
# 6 – Hamstring Curls
You have probably seen this crazy exercise where you lay on your belly on a machine and then pull your heels to your buttocks. If you are into body building and not human movement I can see how this isolates the Hamstrings muscles. But beware, lying down in this position puts huge strain on both the knee joints and the lower back.
Using a machine like this puts the body in a totally unnatural position and forces the joints to work in isolation, as opposed to an integrated unit the way the body is design to operate.
Isolation exercises like this one also force the body to move through a dedicated pattern which in nature is something that the body will avoid to prevent overuse injuries. Finally think about the movement, how often do you perform this movement in nature?
Safer Alternative: Deadlifts or Single Leg Deadlifts
# 7 – Smith Machine Squats
The Squat is one of our fundamental movement patterns and I would always recommend that people learn to squat correctly. Every time you sit down and stand up, or get into your car you are performing a variation of the squat. Not only is the squat highly practical but it also offers huge benefits to the body including activating most muscles, pumping bodily fluids, opening up the lower back and increasing testosterone production.
The Smith machine is a bar that is held on runners that goes up and down along the same path vertically. Many people think it is safe to perform a squat using a smith machine because it does have fail safe measures in case you drop or slip under the bar.
However, the smith machines vertical path does not mimic the natural path that we would take when performing a regular squat. During the regular squat the upper body leans forwards off the vertical line to counterbalance balance the backwards movement of the hips. The smith machine not only compromises the movement but also encourages bad form of this crucial exercise.
Add in the fact that it is very difficult to drop down deep enough to engage the buttocks correctly and you have a very weird and unnatural movement.
Safer Alternative: Dumbbell Squats or Barbell Front Squat
With so many safer exercises available there is no need to be performing movements that will cause you injury.
Think smart and start performing natural movements that will help to improve your health and movement skills and not degrade them.