9 Horrible Exercises You Should Never Do [And What To Do Instead]

There are a lot of great exercises in the fitness library.

If you have read our series on training, then you probably already have a pretty good idea of which exercises are the best exercises. 

However, there are also a bunch of bad exercises. Some A LOT worse than others.

We have compiled a list of the 9 worst exercises you should never do.

Look, I know you're busy, and I don't want you to waste your time. 

If you are doing any of these horrible exercises, then you are wasting your time.

 
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This post will discuss :

  • The Top 9 Worst Exercises of All Time

  • Why These Are Exercises To Avoid

  • Alternative Options That You can do Instead

 

Alright, let's get started...

 

1. Sit-Ups

The worst thing that has ever happened to the fitness industry was the creation of the sit up. (I'll throw crunches in there too).

Far too many people believe that performing this horrible exercise will give them a six pack.

While this exercise will indeed cause fatigue of the abdominal muscles, you are doing it at the expense of your spinal health.

Performing sit ups is not a functional movement of the human body. Aside from getting up from bed in the morning, how often do you flex your spine from a lying position?

What's even more cringing is when people hold their hands behind their neck and yank on the back of their head to help them perform the repetitions. 

This is almost a crime!

The bulk of our training should come from functional exercises; the ones that help us move better and obtain stronger positions in our normal activities of daily living.

There are far better ways of training your core muscles that do not involve causing injury to the spine.

Even Harvard knows situps are bad for you.

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Cons: Why Are Crunches/Situps Bad For You

  • Causes excessive wear and tear of the spine through repetitive flexion 

  • Worsens your posture by encouraging a more rounded kyphotic position 

  • The abdominal core muscles are meant to stabilize your spine not encourage flexion

 

Alternatives to SitUps:

Planks,

Leg Raises,

Ab Wheel Rollouts

 

2. Tricep Kick Backs

This exercise is just worthless.

First of all, too many people do it with incorrect form, AND they lack the flexibility to perform a full range of motion.

Secondly, you are severely limited by the amount of weight you can use on this exercise. It's just too awkward to use any significant resistance as your shoulders have to be in an extended and externally rotated position.

As a result, you are forced to train each arm individually as it is extremely difficult to perform both arms at the same time.

Having to do each arm individually provides no benefit and is simply a waste of time.

There are plenty of better ways to train your triceps.

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Cons: Why Are Tricep KickBacks Bad?

  • Forces you to train each arm individually, which provides no benefit and is just a waste of time

  • Puts too much stress on the shoulder and elbow joint from poor exercise mechanics

  • Limits the amount of weight that can be used due to the awkward starting position 

 

Tricep KickBack Alternatives:

Close Grip Push-ups,

Close Grip Bench Presses

Lying Tricep Extensions

 

 

 

3. "Chin - Ups"

Do not get me wrong.

Pull-ups and chin ups are an EXCELLENT exercise.

Some people have claimed that pull-ups are to the Upper Body what squats are to the lower body.  

If your hands are pronated (overhand) then the exercise is called a pull-up. If they are supinated (underhand grip) the exercise is called a chin up.

Now, why is this exercise bad?

Somehow, people have assumed that the point of the exercise is to get your chin above the bar.

They do everything they can to ensure that the chin clears the bar so that the rep could 'count.'

This is a shame.

At no point should your chin be involved in the exercise.

To perform the movement correctly, pull yourself up using your upper back and lattisimus dorsii muscles.

When you reach the end range, your chin should naturally clear the bar.

If you cannot complete the full range of motion, simply STOP.

Please stop jerking your neck back so that your chin clears the bar while in actuality you are performing half-repetitions.  

This is doing absolutely nothing for you or your strength. Your neck should remain neutral and never change position throughout the lift.

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Cons: Why Are "Chin-Ups" Bad For You?

  • Gives false reassurance that you are performing full range of motion repetitions

  • Causes neck strain

  • It looks ridiculous

 

Chin Up Alternatives

Full range of Motion Pull ups or Chin Ups (without moving your head)

Pull downs

 

 

4. Chair Dips

Dips are traditionally a great compound exercise for the upper body. In essence, they are a much more difficult variation of a push-up.

However far too many people are trying to perform this advanced exercise without adequate preparation.

Even worse, a lot of workout programs recommend that beginners do a scaled variation of this exercise on a chair or a bench.

The chair makes it easier because your feet are flat on the floor taking away a lot of the weight that you need to lift. However, this is an awful exercise because many people do not have adequate shoulder range of motion to perform this movement safely and effectively.

When looking from the side many people allow their shoulders to go into extreme internal rotation which is a very compromising position.

This forward shoulder roll leads to a lot of damage on the joint, and more money in your orthopedic surgeon's pocket.

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Cons: Why Are Chair Dips Bad For You

 

Chair Dips Alternatives

Close grip push-ups,

Close grip bench press,

Lying tricep extensions

 

 

5. Upright Rows

The upright row is an exercise where your grab two dumbbells (or a barbell) and you lift the weight straight up towards your chin while keeping the weight really close to your body.

Many individuals use this exercise as a three part combo: First, they do bicep curls, then tricep kickbacks followed by side lateral raises or upright rows.

In order to perform the upright row, your shoulder has to go into internal rotation with a heavy weight.

This puts your rotator cuff into a compromising position and increases the chances of causing shoulder impingement. It’s just not worth it.

There are plenty of other exercises you can do to train your shoulders and upper back.

upright-row-alternative
 

 

Why is The Upright Row Bad For You?

  • Places your shoulder in internal rotation, under load

  • Increases the chances of shoulder impingement

  • Can cause wear and tear on your rotator cuff

 

Upright Row Alternative:

Power Cleans

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

DB Overhead Press

 

 

6. Behind the Neck PullDown

I really don’t know how this exercise came about.

The Behind the Neck Pulldown is performed on a cable Lat Pulldown machine.

Instead of pulling the weight down to their chest (how the exercise is meant to be done), they pull the weight down behind their neck.  

People assume that they can get a better activation of the lat muscles this way since they are pulling in a more vertical plane.  

The problem is, you have to crank your neck forward to do this exercise.

Secondly, you place your shoulders in a very unnatural, externally rotated position that is fixed to the bar.

This is also true of the Behind The Neck Press. Both exercises have the same risk.

If you want to walk around with a stiff neck all the time, be my guest.

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Why Is The Behind The Neck Pull-down Bad For You?

  • Places your shoulders in a maximally externally rotated position under load

  • Can strain the muscles of the posterior neck

 

Behind The Neck PullDown Alternatives

Lat Pull Down

Pullups

 

 

7. Back "Hyper-extensions"

Does anything with the word hyper sound good to you?

What about a “hyper" extension of your low back?

Unfortunately, this exercise has been misnamed to the detriment of the fitness industry.

I’m sure you’ve seen this exercise many times before.

You get on a back raise machine, hold a weight on your chest and go to town bending at the spine all the way down and then all the way back up until you can’t anymore.

Your low back should never extend beyond its natural capabilities. Ideally, it should never extend past a neutral spinal position.  

Heres a shocking statistic: According to the NIH, 80% of adults will develop low back pain at some point in their lives.

This is a proper back raise: Note that the spine should never hyper-extend beyond this point.

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Why Are Back Hyperextensions Bad For You?

  • The low back is not meant to extend much beyond a neutral position

  • Hyperextending the low back can lead to disc injury

 

Back Hyperextension Alternatives

Back Raises - Done correctly (stopping at neutral)

Cable Pull Throughs

 

 

9. Shrugs

*Sigh.* Why do people love this exercise?

They grab the heaviest dumbbells they could find, or load up a barbell to 400+ pounds and start shrugging away with as much body english as humanly possible.

Even better the neck starts cranking forward and backward throughout the reps.

If you have done this exercise, have you ever actually felt it in your traps?

And how many people performing this exercise actually have trap development?

This exercise isn’t necessarily bad, but too many people perform it with too much weight, for too many ugly reps for no obvious benefits.

Like Mark Rippetoe says, you have no business performing this exercise if you cannot power clean 225 lbs.

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Why Are Shrugs Bad For You

  • The exercise itself isn't bad, it's just that people rarely do it correctly

  • Many trainees overload this exercise with too much weight, sacrificing their form

  • Improper form can lead to severe neck muscle strain

 

Shrug Alternatives

Power Cleans

Deadlifts

Barbell Rows

 

 

 

9. Any Exercise on the Smith Machine

The smith machine is quite honestly the worst piece of equipment any gym has.

It's the machine that has a barbell that is fixed and can only move in an up-and-down fashion.

The producers of the machine promote it as being a safer alternative to free weights, which is just wrong. 

Sadly, people perform all kinds of barbell exercise on the smith machine, including squats, bench press, shoulder pressing and barbell rows in this contraption.

The truth of the matter is, this machine can be more dangerous than free weights as the fixed barbell forces your body into strange positions that it can't normally achieve.

This is the most common way that injuries occur.

The smith machine also removes the major benefits of free weights which is the need to stabilize yourself while supporting the weight.

There are much easier and safer ways to scale barbell exercises to your needs.

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Why The Smith Machine is Bad For You

  • The fixed bar path does not allow a natural range of motion of barbell exercises

  • Removes the elements of needing to stabilize the weights in functional barbell exercises

  • Risk of injury increases as the fix bar path forces your body into suboptimal positions

 

Instead, Do:

The free weight alternative to the exercise you are doing in the smith machine

 

 

The Best Exercises Everyone Should Do

Please, do yourself a favor and stop doing these exercises. 

These exercises are bad for you!

There are numerous exercises that you can perform which are safer, better, and more time efficient than any of these.

We have written an entire post on The Only Exercises You Need to Get in Shape.

In addition, we have created a 15 week pre-made workout template that you can use to get fit and build strength in as little as 35 minutes a day. Check them out at WCT Men's and Women's Strength Program.

But that’s not all. Maybe you are the kind of person who doesn’t want to go to the gym. Then we have you covered too. Check out our massive post on Bodyweight Training which is a definitive guide on how to workout at home!

 
 

 

Do you perform any of these detrimental exercises? Do you have any other exercises to add to this list? 

Comment below and let us know.

Do you know anyone performing these exercises? Share this list with them so that they can stop wasting their time.

 

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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here