In the world of body building there are groups who are what I call the sheep because they follow the herd, these are the people who pick exercises based on what they believe that exercise does to them, and there are those that are the what I call the Neanrderthals, frankly because they are.
Day in, day out in the gym I see people performing exercises because they see someone and think “Oh that exercise looks good I will have a go” but they don’t know what it actually works and no matter what you say to them, advice them they will never change.
Also they tend pick exercises based on who is watching rather than what benefit it constitutes.
I put out a post on facebook the other day about side bends and I received a fair bit of (let’s be polite here) banter. In case you don’t know my facebook url here it is:
Lat pull downs (behind the neck)
So below I am going to show 5 exercises that harm your body, short and long term and give you 5 exercises which are not only safer, but ultimately build more muscle on your body.
- Lat pull downs (behind the neck)
In this position you are risking anterior glenhumeral dislocation, instability and impingements, tears of the rotator cuff muscles, bicep tendonitis.
I can go on but I think you get the picture.
Call it a mechanism for shoulder dislocation. When the shoulder is put in this position the stress is transferred to the anterior (front) part of the shoulder.
Continued stress will result in further problems down the line, such as strain and laxity of anterior shoulder stabilizers.
As you lean forward (trunk flexion) the shoulder is subjected to further external rotation and horizontal abduction. This can lead to a bulging disk because of the increased load.
And did you know that E.M.G studies showed that Lat Pulldown’s done to the front increased muscle activation in the Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) due to the increased internal rotation.
Moral of the story: Never put your body in an uncompromising position especially so under load.
What to do instead
Lat pulldowns to the front so the bar comes down onto the chest.
2. Smith Machine Squat
Charles Poliquin, legendary Canadian strength coach has this to say:
“With a Smith machine, the bar is on a track, and this increased stability decreases the requirement of the body’s neutralizer and stabilizer muscle functions. Therefore, the strength developed on such machines has minimal carryover to a three-dimensionally, unstable environment such as occurs during the freestanding squat”.
- Squatting is a multi-joint exercise, it works the major and stabilizer muscles simultaneously. Certain muscles have to lengthen in order for others to shorten. This is called Reciprocal Inhibition.
- The bar is locked into a fixed plane (Linear) you are trying to line up several joints in a straight line (which never happens). Because the bar is stabilizing you are not using your stability muscles.
- You are simply going up and down. A real life squat movement is back and down.
- You will be placing unnecessary levels of stress on the patellar ligament (if done with feet forward) and anterior cruciate ligament (if done with feet under bar).
- The weight is heavier on the concentric (lengthening) phase of the lift.The natural tendency is to lean back into the bar which takes the hamstrings out of the exercise.
Guess who has to carry the slack? Your lower back.
Also improper hamstring development will mean further problems down the line with your knees.
The ONLY time I use the Smith Machine is to work my CALVES.
What to do instead
Traditional Barbell Squats
- Dumbbell Squats
- Abdominal Crunch Machine
Dear Lord! I don’t even know where to start with this one.
I know, let’s start with a lesson in basic anatomy and exercise science.
A role of any given muscle is “to bring its insertion closer to origin” (i.e. 2 ends) hereby creating movement.
When muscles shorten (contract/flex) they move a limb or other body part by bending the joint as they pass.
For example when the biceps contracts it bends the elbow (because it crosses that joint) which then moves the forearm.
Every muscle in the body works this way.
One of the abdominal muscles (Rectus Abdominus) originates at the base of the ribcage inserts at the pubic bone of the pelvis.
When the abdominal muscles contract they bring the ribcage closer to the pelvis and vice versa, which creates curving (rounding) of the spine.
As the abdominal muscles relax (elongates) they allow the ribcage and pelvis to be farther away from each other which creates or allows the rounding of the spine.
Onto the function of the abs
“To stabilise/prevent unwanted movement in the lumbar spine which is your lower back”.
This is the EXACT position and movement of the stupid and useless crunch machines.
They place an excessive load on the low back with an improper range of motion forcing muscles whose primary role is to extend the spine into a FORWARD FLEXED POSITION UNDER A LOAD!!! (Ever wonder why your low back hurts when you get off the crunch machine?? – NOW you know why!!)
“The mechanism of back injury in athletes is normally the same as in the general population (i.e. prolonged and or repeated spinal flexion, flexion and rotation under load) Gregory S. Kolt and Lynn Snyder-Mackler, Physical Therapies in Sport and Exercise (2003)
A Danish study in 2012 by Emil Sundstrup, MScfound by “using a swiss ball with elastic resistance resulted in greater activation of the Rectus Abdominus (Abdominal Muscle and a lower activation of Rectus Femoris” (Hip Flexor) which acts as a hip flexor and knee extensor.
What is also interesting is that doing crunches on the machines resulted in a “higher Rectus Femoris readings THAN Rectus Abdominus readings”
The authors observed activation levels of more than 100% of nEMG readings for Rectus Abdominis during the Swiss ball crunch compared with 30-60% for the machine.
Importantly, the muscle recruitment when using the Swiss ball was high, regardless of gender, age and pain intensity.
Biomechanically, the seated position in the machine with near 90 degree flexion of both knee and hip promotes assisted hip flexor activity from the rectus femoris while bending the torso forward (Yikes)!.
Need more convincing that this machine is a piece of you know what?
As the ab crunch machine utilises more hip activity from the Psoas, and Rectus Femoris, an overactive hip flexor complex CAN result in what I call a Donald Duck Syndrome (Anterior Pelvic tilt and Lumbar Lordosis).
Hip flexors play a big role in abdominal training. You want your abs to be the PRIME MOVERS not the STABILIZER during any ab exercises or you won’t see your abs, period.
Abdominal Crunch Machine –Recruits MORE hip flexors, LESS abs. Increases risk of Swiss Ball – Much safer option, will target your abs whilst keeping you healthy.
Don’t use the Crunch Machine, Use the Swiss ball.
- Seated Leg Curls
Although it isolates the hamstrings, like Smith Machine Squats you will never use that muscle in isolation.
The hamstrings are meant to work in unison with the lower back and glutes.
Training them alone causes muscle imbalances in the posterior chain which is responsible for speed and power.
If that’s not bad enough, a faulty posterior chain can leave you with hamstring tears and pulls, and trust me you don’t want to there, you WILL be in agony.
What to use instead
A 45 degree back extension apparatus. Works the spinal erectors, glutes and hamstrings together.
You’re unlikely to find yourself in a leg curl position outside the gym, if you pick something up you always have to bend to pick something off the floor.
- Close Grip Upright Rows
A controversial one as it goes against the tradition so to speak.
Most bodybuilders swear by them as it has a reputation to build the traps and lateral delts and I am pretty sure you have seen Arnie et all doing them, but just because some people do something it doesn’t mean that it is correct, so hear me out..
Personally I think this exercise is pointless and dangerous and there are far safer exercises that you can do without compromising the joint.
Moreover, organisations such as ACSM and NFPT now consider this a contraindicated exercise for all their trainees.
Why they’re bad
Extreme inward rotation of the humerous. Your humerous (arm bone) bangs up against your AC joint (Acromion Process) which can compress the nerves in the shoulder area and cause impingement (where the supraspinatus muscle rubs against the acromion) or cause Arthiritis.
When you upright row your shoulder reaches what’s called the 90/90 position – 90 degrees of abduction and internal rotation (and can be external rotation).
When elevating the arms overhead normal biomechanics “dictate that the shoulder should be EXTERNALLY ROTATED to prevent sub acromial impingement”.
Elevating the arms above the shoulder height while internally rotated violates normal biomechanics because the shoulder should externally rotate as a means of preventing impingement of the subacromial structures.
Go to any gym and watch closely how people perform this exercise. Most, if not all don’t do it strictly enough, so it becomes a smaller version of the clean and jerk.
What to do instead
Leaning or seated lateral raises with dumbbells. A much safer exercise that can put meat on your shoulders whilst being safe.
If trap work is your primary objective, dumbbell shrugs (held to the side) is a good variation. It will help improve your grip as well.
OK guys, I hope this has opened your eyes to 5 exercise that harm your body, and what to do instead.
As always any comments leave them below.