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The 7 WORST Exercises to NEVER Do

1) Leg Presses

These are awful. Here’s why: Creates muscle imbalances, zero functional benefit, winds up joint to unsafe position

Muscle Balance Perspective:

•Quads are generally stronger than hamstrings; this reinforces the problem.
When your quadriceps overpower your hamstrings in deep knee flexion, there is increased torsion placed into the meniscus, increasing the likelihood of knee injury.
•Quads and glutes should be used as a pair. In this case, they are not being used effectively.
When your glutes do not fire while using your quads with a great level of force, there is increased risk of low back injury.
An imbalance between your quadriceps and hamstrings can quickly result in a number of knee issues, including patellofemoral (kneecap) and meniscus damage. Even worse, when your quads overpower your hamstrings, it’s not uncommon to develop restrictions in these muscles as your body attempts to even things out. These restrictions lead to increased pull on the top of your pelvis, tipping it forward, and placing pressure in your low spine.

This all sounds complicated, but let’s make it easy. Just stand up and lean backwards. If your hip flexors are tight, you’ll feel a stretch in the front of your thighs. It’s a good bet that we should get you training in more functional abs positions. You may already be spending too much of your day in this pre-shortened position, causing ‘active insufficiency’ to take place.

Functional Benefit Assessment:

•In most cases, people aren’t coming down to a full 90 degrees of knee flexion, which is needed for getting in/out of a chair.
•Even in these cases your abs are so pre-contracted (active insufficiency) and low back extensors so overstretched (passive insufficiency) that it’s tough to use your quads with any abdominal or low back support.
•Since your abs and low back are out of the picture, this exercise loses a lot of its functionality.
Metabolic Effect:

The metabolic effect of this exercise is less because the number of muscles used is less than similar weight-bearing (closed-chain) exercises. Ultimately, the number of muscles and joints you use in a given exercise determines the metabolic effect of that exercise.

2) Leg Extensions

Muscle Balance Perspective:

•Quads are generally stronger than hamstrings; this reinforces the problem.
•Quads and glutes should be used as a pair. In this case, they are not being used effectively.
•Interestingly, if you are having a hard time contracting your vastus medialis oblique (VMO) in your knee, the last 15 degrees of this movement can be helpful, but careful with the torque into your knee joint.
•Again, only for the last 15 degrees until your knee is totally straight, and this can often cause more damage than good.
Functional Benefit Assessment:

•It can also be argued that this exercise may help if you are a soccer player, but power lifting has been demonstrated to improve sprinting and kicking ability much more than any variety of leg extensions.
•When you walk, you use your quads and hamstrings; here, it’s just quads.
This comes down to torque. Think about a long screwdriver and a short screwdriver. It’s easier to use the long one, meaning you don’t have to turn it as hard. This is a result of the force of you turning the screwdriver x the distance to the end of the screwdriver. That’s how torque is calculated.

In this example, we are exercising above our knee, but the weight goes on our ankle. Think about that distance... that’s a lot of torque into our knees with a lot of weight!

Metabolic Effect:

Low. This is a single joint exercise that is isolation-based. By definition, there will be a low metabolic effect. Instead, choose more compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, or lunges for an increased metabolic effect with this muscle group.

3) Machine Leg Curls

Muscle Balance Perspective:

•Majority of force placed through distal hamstring, rather than proximal. This results in increased pressure behind the knee.
•Requires change of position to recruit medial hamstrings and glutes on this exercise, which should be used as a muscle pair.
Functional Benefit Assessment:

•I can’t think of a moment in time where I need to perform this movement in daily life.
•However, if I ran hurdles, this may help, but again deadlifts and power lifts seem to improve sprint capacity at the same time and provide greater benefit.
This is a question of torque into the knee again. Also, in this case, the hamstrings tend to cramp a lot, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, or necessary at all.

If you have a Baker’s Cyst behind your knee, that’s a lot of pressure. For others, it’s really pulling the posterior horn of your meniscus, while missing your proximal (closer to your butt) hamstring altogether.

Metabolic Effect:

Low effect, as this is a single joint exercise.

4) Biceps Preacher Curls

Muscle Balance Perspective:

•Forward shoulder position leads to increased stretch (passive insufficiency) on the rotator cuff and biceps tendon.
◦An imbalance between your pecs and lats/shoulderblade stabilizers results in a forward shoulder position. This leads to rotator cuff tendonitis, biceps tendonitis, and increase risk of tears. Also, this limits the amount of growth of both your pecs and lats, due to the sub-sensory pain stimulus, as well as the actively insufficient pecs and passively insufficient lats (see above for definitions.)
◦This is true for your shoulders and neck. In this forward position, you are at risk for injury. Also, like many people who perform this exercise, you may be placing excessive weight into your armpit, which is where your brachial plexus is. This is the bundle of nerves that controls your arms.
◦This all sounds complicated, but let’s make it easy. Just stand up tall and place your hands straight up into the air. Now, bend your elbow out to the side until your shoulder and elbow are both at right angles. If you already feel a stretch, your pecs are super tight. You may already be spending too much of your day in this pre-shortened position, causing ‘active insufficiency’ to take place. This will limit your strength and fat loss gains, while also increasing your risk of injury.
•Position also leads to increased pressure on the anterior and posterior capsules of the shoulder. Any pain signal or pressure will reduce the recruitment of your delts and shoulder stabilizers.
•Biceps are being shortened in an over-shortened position for your pecs, reinforcing a common imbalance.
•The elbow is only safe when balanced. You need to train your brachioradialis (hammer curls), biceps (curls), and brachialis (reverse curls) in order to hit all elbow flexors.
Functional Benefit Assessment:

•This is an artificial movement, in an abnormal position. It’s only purpose is to build biceps, and there are better ways. For example:
•The biceps is an elbow flexor, but it’s also a supinator (meaning it turns your palm up). Preacher curls only work on elbow flexion, which means you’re missing 50% of the muscle’s action. Whoops!
Evening out all of your elbow flexors has more carryover effect.

Metabolic Effect:

Low effect, as this is a single joint exercise. In fact, it may be detrimental due to the likelihood of the sub-sensory pain stimuli going off in the shoulder girdle, preventing some of the neurological signal from reaching the muscle.

5) Smith Machine Squats

Muscle Balance Perspective:

•Your hamstrings are basically off in this exercise, meaning that it is totally quad dominant.
•Simultaneously, it’s very hard to properly recruit your glutes when the weight is not directly loading your spine. Without glute support, you are weakening your core, ultimately increasing risk of injury and slowing fat loss.
Functional Benefit Assessment:

•Since your hamstrings and glutes don’t really have to work here, you’re not squatting like you would in real life.
Actually, here, it’s unsafe for the opposite reason, interestingly enough. Check this out...
•When you squat with your arms overhead, you tend to lean forward, or your knees come forward, or both. Controlling for this is the controlling inter-related segments so they can get stronger and more mobile together. These segments need to work together to prevent injury, so squats that are not on the smith machine tend to limit you to the correct weight selection, while these squats do not.
Metabolic Effect:

Low to medium. Since you are using your ankle, knee, and hip joints, the metabolic potential goes up slightly. However, it’s important to remember that muscle imbalances lead to all sorts of situations that lend themselves to a metabolic crash.

6) Overhead Tricep Extensions With Dumbbells

Muscle Balance Perspective:

•Overstretched proximal triceps in this position, causing increased tension on the triceps tendon by the elbow.
•Internal rotation, targeting the medial triceps head, can lead to shoulder impingement and more serious issues.
Functional Benefit Assessment:

•This is another movement that never happens in daily life. When are we overhead forcefully extending our elbow like this. It’s kind of silly, if you think about it.
•You may be arching your back while doing this, which could cause a lot of strain and take your abs out of the picture, altogether. Bad idea!
Metabolic Effect:

Low to none. Since we are only really working our elbow joint and a small muscle group, we aren’t gaining much of a metabolic effect whatsoever. Also noteworthy, this is an open-chained exercise that produces a lot of torque into the shoulder and elbow.

7) External Rotation with a Dumbbell, Standing

Functional Benefit Assessment:

•Since this exercise actually is working brachioradialis against gravity (the dumbbell is weighing me down, against gravity, not side to the side), it’s only adding to the muscle imbalances I may already be experiencing.
•Holding a dumbbell in my hands and moving it side to side is not placing tension on the external rotators of my shoulder, just my elbow flexors. This issue is not being resolved.
•The only weight being placed into the shoulder is the torque from your hand, which is holding the dumbbell, through your elbow, and up to your shoulder.
So, all in all, it’s causing a very small amount of damage with no benefit.

Functional, Muscle Balancing, and Metabolic Effect Summary:

As you can see, not all exercises were created equally. I strongly recommend that you analyze an exercise before just going for it. I realize that you’re working hard to get great results, improve your health, and create a higher quality of life for yourself.

by Dr. Kareem Samhouri - CSCS, HFS
Neuro Metabolic Fitness & Rehab Expert

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