4 exercises you should stop doing, and what you should do instead
There is an almost infinite number of exercises you can do, but not all of them are equally effective in terms of getting results or avoiding injury. Everyone is at a different stage in his or her development, and while some workouts may be for advanced fitness fanatics only, others are actually dangerous for just about everyone.
We all love to try and add new movements into our workouts to improve our results and break up a routine that's gotten tedious, but there are certain exercises — popular ones — that really shouldn't be a part of anyone's gym time. Here are four such exercises:
1. Sit-ups and crunches
Sit-ups and crunches are probably the most popular abdominal workout. Even the U.S. military tests its recruits on how many sit-ups they can do within a certain timeframe. And yet, this long-beloved move has come under fire from personal trainers and physiologists because of the potential damage it can cause.
According to Harvard Medical School, sit-ups and crunches have fallen out of favor because they pose a major risk to your lower back. Sit-ups put a lot of force on your lower spine, pushing it against the floor and overworking your hip flexors. Combine that with the fact that most people do dozens, if not hundreds, of sit-ups in a single workout, and you have a repeated flexing motion that can do a lot of damage to your lower spine.
Beyond the risks, sit-ups and crunches are simply not very effective when it comes to building up your entire core. As Gizmodo explained, sit-ups only target your rectus abdominis muscle, which is only a small part of your whole core. A good core workout should be much more inclusive, working multiple groups of muscles at once to help build functional strength for sports and the movements of everyday life.
What you can do instead: It's the age of the plank! An increasing number of trainers are having their clients do planks, in which you keep your back and head perfectly aligned and engage your core while balancing on your elbows or hands and tips of your toes. This gives you a more complete core workout without subjecting your back to unnecessary pressure.
2. Seated Knee Extensions
One of the most popular exercises for working the quadriceps is the seated knee extension. Seated knee extensions involve using your ankles/lower legs to pull a bar with weights on it upward, activating the quadriceps. Just like sit-ups and crunches, however, this movement can be dangerous.
SparkPeople noted that the human knee is simply not designed to lift weight that is focused so far below it. With heavy weights, fully extending your knees in this manner puts excessive strain on your knee joints and tendons, and can lead to serious damage to the cartilage in the knees.
What you can do instead: Fortunately, there are plenty of ways in which you can work your upper legs without taking risks on an exercise like the seated knee extension. Squats and lunges — weighted or not — work directly on these muscle groups without introducing undue stress on your knee joints.
3. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns
Wide-grip lat pulldowns on a cable machine are a common upper back workout. Bodybuilding.com explained that while this exercise is quite effective in building muscle in this region, the way that most people go about it is actually very damaging to their shoulders.
The problem is that when completing the motion, many lifters pull the bar down behind their heads. This forces you to rotate your shoulders far more than you should, causing excessive strain. On top of that, you'll likely have to bend your neck forward so the bar clears your head, adding even more strain to your neck muscles.
What you can do instead: Pulldowns can be a great part of a back workout, so you don't have to stop doing them. Bodybuilding.com wrote that by simply pulling the bar down in front of your head, you can get the same results without risking a shoulder or neck injury.
4. The "kipping" pull-up/chin-up
The kipping pull-up/chin-up has gained notoriety in recent years due to its place in the workouts of CrossFitters across the country. This move differs from the traditional pull-up because it involves a pronated grip instead of a supinated grip and also includes a hip-snap as you pull yourself up that reduces the burden on your upper body, Gizmodo explained. The result? You can do more reps in a shorter amount of time.
The grip, combined with the intensity of the hip snap, can put a lot of pressure on your shoulder joints and tendons, which is why many who attempt this move say that they've caused new injuries or aggravated old ones to this area.
What you can do instead: Standard pull-ups are a great exercise that don't involve pushing your joints and ligaments past their limits. But if you don't yet have the strength to do standard pull-ups, you can do a modified pull-up that involves lying on your back with your shoulders under a bar, reaching up and pulling yourself toward the bar.
It's always fun to mix things up, but you want to make sure you're doing exercises that are appropriate for your strength level and don't put you at risk for a serious injury.