Most moves you’ll see people doing in the gym will have at least some benefit, but there is a rouge’s gallery of weight lifting and conditioning exercises that should be barred for life. At best, they have no real benefit, and at worst they are likely to raise your injury risk to ligament-snapping levels. Luckily, RSNG has the alternative exercises to replace these booby traps in your workout…
DON’T: Barbell Upright Rows These are popular for targeting the shoulders and traps, but the bar locks your arms in place and your upper arms internally rotate towards the shoulder, placing the joint under unnecessary strain. A moment’s bad form, or an existing tightness in the shoulders can cause the flashing red light of ‘INJURED’ to go off very quickly.
DO: Lateral Raise A humbling exercise for many is the simple dumb-bell lateral raise, where you raise a dumb-bell in each hand, to each side, in line with your body. It effectively isolates the medial deltoids and for muscle-building time under tension, go for lighter weights with higher reps (10-15) – get it right and your shoulders will be exhausted without being destroyed.
There’s no need to add a flashy and redundant overhead component to the kettlebell swing
DON’T: American Kettlebell Swing This has become a Crossfit favourite after being bolted onto the genuinely useful and effective ‘vanilla’ Russian kettlebell swing (see below). The problem is that most men have less than textbook shoulder flexibility, often caused by tight lats, which means that we naturally cannot lift our arms straight overhead without repeatedly arching our lower backs. This practically begs to be injured, especially when you consider the weight may be too much for your shoulders to support effectively, or that you could drop it!
The other issue is that it isn’t really going to add much to the training effect – you have to generate more momentum with the hip extension, to swing the kettlebell higher, but you could achieve the same effect by doing a classic kettlebell swing with a slightly bigger weight.
DO: Russian Kettlebell Swing There’s no need to add a flashy and redundant overhead component to this lift. Simply do a classic Russian kettlebell swing, taking the weight to shoulder height or just below and consciously focussing your efforts in your quads and hamstrings.
DON’T: Smith Machine Squat Despite the rise of free weights, most gym chains seem to think it’s essential to have a Smith Machine Squat rack in their line-up. The usual argument goes that it’s somehow a safer alternative to barbell squats. Wrong. In fact, by preventing your hips from rotating naturally as you drop down, your back is held artificially straight, creating an injury hotspot. And because you are removing the requirement for your core to stabilise the weight, you’re missing out on an abdomen workout too.
DO: Barbell Squat Keep it simple and learn how to do a good barbell squat – start with an unloaded bar and go from there. If you already know how to do these, but jump on the Smith when it’s busy, then consider doing dumb-bell squats instead. Those heavy bells will give you a grip workout at the same time.
This curl isn’t even an exercise – it’s just bad form – but we see it so often it’s almost become the ‘new normal
DON’T Kipping Barbell Curl This one isn’t even an exercise, it’s just bad form, but we see it so often in gyms that it’s almost become the ‘new normal’. Barbell curls are an exercise designed to fire up your guns by isolating the biceps muscle. So, any kind of movement in the rest of your body is a fail that’s inviting serious injury, not only to areas like your back but to the targets themselves, because the weight is effectively out of control.
DO Dumb-bell Curl Break it back down to using a dumb-bell in each hand, but this time keep your elbows locked in tight to your sides, with no forwards or backwards movement, lower your arms all the way down for a full range of motion and focus on keeping any hint of movement out from your shoulders, back or the rest of your body. Then you can progress to the barbell with good form, and actually get the results that you want.
DON’T Superman This lower back exercise – where you lie on the floor on your belly and raise your arms and legs in the air – has spread like a virus through websites, workout DVDs and magazines to the point where it’s ubiquitous. The problem is that research suggests it’s terrible for your lower back, generating massive compressive forces on your lumbar spine, which is ironic because you may be doing to ‘help’ a bad back.
DO Plank Or Bird Dog The simple plank is a great core stability move that includes your lower back – do it in reps of up to one minute (any more is flashy but not strictly necessary). If you want to mix it up then try the bird dog by getting on your hands and knees and lifting your left arm and right leg up off the floor. Then alternate.
DON’T Standing Triceps Kickback The triceps is a popular muscle to target, partly to assist with compound moves like the bench press, and partly to balance out biceps gains, but it’s more awkward to achieve peak tension at the point of maximum contraction, unlike with the biceps. However you slice it, this move isn’t the way to do it – it’s far too easy to lean further forwards and cheat with momentum, causing a possible shoulder impingement and injury.
DO Bench Triceps Kickback Switch this move up so that you support your upper body on an incline bench, hold a dumb-bell in each hand and focus on slow reps with lighter weights, which will allow you to place your triceps under peak tension for longer, and get better gains.
WHAT NEXT? If you’re struggling to fit a workout into your day then read RSNG’s guide to time-saving workout hacks.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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