It’s not often you see a list of the worst exercises you can do in the gym, but when it comes to injury prevention and long-term success, there are some exercises you should definitely avoid!
This article isn’t to rail on ego lifting — as I’ve controversially argued in favor of in the past as a means to boost confidence and try weights I once thought were a pipedream (no seriously, don’t ego lift) — but for you to avoid poor exercise choices with low reward and high risk.
You will see many of these worst exercises commonly performed in the gym, but you should run the other way and fire your coach for prescribing you any of the following movements.
The Worst Exercises in the Gym
Many of these exercises are upper body exercises that over-internally-rotate the shoulder joint, thus causing impingements or even more serious injuries that can cut your lifting career short.
Newcomers should be particularly cautious of programming these exercises into their regimen.
Instead, newbies should focus on compound movements conducive to their success rather than poor bang for your buck exercises that place a lot of stress on the joints.
We will not mention any gimmicky exercises involving a Bosu Ball or boxes — you know that adding an extra layer of stability will often result in injury, while barbell training alone should help you reach your training goals.
1. Upright Rows
The Upright Row is a classic exercise that can mangle your shoulder joints.
While it can yield decent results — if done properly — you are placing a lot of unnecessary stress on your shoulders by adding too much internal rotations.
As a seasoned lifter who has picked up a few nagging injuries in the past and who has naturally rounded shoulders, imitating the movement alone — without an empty barbell — already impinges my left shoulder.
Yes, the Upright Row can add mass onto your shoulders and traps, but the way most people approach it makes it one of the worst exercises you can do.
Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, you should take this worst exercise and simply widen your grip, bringing the bar up to your nipples rather than have your elbows flare up to above your head.
2. Behind The Neck Exercises
These worst exercises were a staple for many Golden Era bodybuilders. These include the Behind-The-Neck Shoulder Press and Behind-The-Neck Lat Pull Down.
Look, as everyone is different and have different levels of mobility, it’s difficult to prescribe a one-size-fits-all panacea when it comes to remedying your workouts.
But the average person will not enjoy the mobility needed to perform these exercises impingement-free.
First, for the Overhead Shoulder Press, with the traditional movement starting at the collarbone, you will enjoy a far more natural range of motion, allowing you to safely and comfortably press more weight than with the behind-the-neck variation.
Second, for the Lat Pull Down, the muscular stimulation from the behind-the-neck version is inferior to the Lat Pull Down finishing at your collarbone.
This time, your shoulders are at an externally rotated position that levels them prone to impingement when it comes to controlling a heavy weight, making them some of the worst exercises you can do.
As the name implies, there’s an element of danger involved for this exercise.
Perhaps unfairly added to this list of worst exercises, as the Skullcrusher is an awesome tricep developer, I would advice novices to take caution and leave this exercise for more seasoned lifters.
The Skullcrusher, when overloaded, can place tremendous strain on the elbows, shoulders, and let alone the precarious finishing position of the exercise.
Some lifters, again, will not have the adequate mobility to safely perform this exercise without an increased risk of injury.
This is why I always program Triceps Rope Extensions for new lifters instead.
Once you have gained some experience and learn how to lock your shoulders into place, hinging simply at the elbow, then you can add Skullcrushers into your regimen.
For the meantime, forge some mind-muscle connection and attempt to grow your triceps with the myriad of other exercises out there!
A special shout out to Tricep Kickbacks.
4. The Leg Press
While the Leg Press certainly has a lot of benefits, especially among lifters that lack the ability to squat safely, it’s one of the worst exercises out there due to the high risk of injury associated through improper form, warming up, and EGO LIFTING.
In my time, I’ve seen dislocated knees, torn quads, and herniated lumbar discs among casual lifters for attempting the Leg Press like a fool.
First off, far too many new lifters over-extend their knees at the lockout leading to dislocations; second, some don’t warm up adequately before attempting to Leg Press a small car; third, they ego lift so their butts/lower back come off the supporting platform and lead to lower back injuries.
This is why it is one of the worst exercises.
5. The Bench Press
Now, the Bench Press is one of the worst exercises — when done with poor form.
There’s a lot of risk attached to the Bench Press — namely, the risk of death.
Aside from death, I’ve known people tear pecs, labra, rotator cuffs, and even snap their funny bone through Bench Press.
There are a few reasons why the Bench Press is one of the worst exercises:
- Dangerous without a spotter
- Dangerous with flared elbows
- Dangerous without retracted scapula
- Dangerous with poor grip strength
Don’t get me wrong, the Bench Press is one of my favorite exercises — when done properly!
But make sure you learn how to Bench Press with correct form before putting heavy weight on the bar.
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