I know, I know. A list of exercises that either should or should not be done is nothing new in the weight training world. It’s something you see all the time, actually.
But hear me out, because in this case it’s coming from a different perspective. You see, typical lists like this have titles like “10 Exercises You Must Always Do!” or “10 Exercises Everyone Should Avoid At All Costs!”
Now take a look at the title of the article you’re reading right now. Notice the difference?
But if you’re a regular reader of mine, it shouldn’t surprise you. One point I feel like I repeat over and over again is that there are very few absolutes in terms of things everyone must do or not do. Rather, most aspects of diet and training should be adjusted to suit each person’s individual goals, needs, preferences and body.
And what you’re about to see now is my own personal example of this involving perfectly good weight training exercises that I’ve decided, for one reason or another, I will NEVER do again.
I’m not gonna lie, this one hurts the most to include on this list. And I actually mean that both literally and figuratively.
I’ve written about my history with shoulder injuries in the past and how to avoid them, and while I can think of a few different causes of those injuries at different times, I’m pretty sure the original and most significant culprit was dips. Nothing screwed up my shoulders more than they did.
Which sucks, because at the same time, they were quickly becoming my favorite exercise. This was probably back in 2004. I’m pretty sure I had worked up to doing sets of 6-10 reps with maybe a 25-30lb dumbbell held between my feet.
Progress probably would have gone amazingly well after that, except for the fact that they were killing my shoulders. I didn’t know it was them at the time, but after adding them in and taking them out a few times, I finally realized they were the problem.
I’m certainly not the only one to experience shoulders problems because of dips, either. It turns out that they’re one of those exercises that seem to bother a lot of people’s shoulders for whatever reason. It took me a while to understand that I was one of those people, but as soon as I did, they were gone.
I don’t think I’ve attempted a single rep since 2005, and I hereby vow to keep it that way. Although, I may still shed a tear every time I walk by the dip stand at my gym.
2. Incline Barbell Press
Speaking of exercises that bothered my shoulders, the incline barbell bench press is another exercise I’ll never be doing again.
Now unlike dips which felt absolutely perfect up until the second they weren’t, the incline barbell press always felt a little awkward and uncomfortable for me from day 1, long before it caused any actual pain. I probably should have taken that as a signal to stop doing it.
But once I finally did start to notice it was aggravating my shoulder, it was really easy to drop. With dips, I actually felt bad about not doing them and spent some time “trying” to make it work (turned out to be a terrible idea).
But with the incline barbell press, I didn’t care at all. It was never an exercise I really liked during the period of time that I was doing it, and considering that my primary chest exercise is usually the flat barbell bench press, I’d much rather make the secondary exercise something that doesn’t involve a barbell.
And in that case, there are 2 exercises I absolutely love. The first is the Hammer Strength incline press. I’ve probably said it before and I’ll probably say it again… it’s my favorite “machine” exercise on the planet. Feels just right for me in terms of positioning, range of motion, strength, and training the target muscle group(s).
The other is the incline dumbbell press. Since one of the benefits of dumbbells over a barbell is that dumbbells allow you to move each side individually of the other (whereas a barbell forces you into a fixed position), I’m able to make the tiny adjustments my body needs for it to become shoulder-friendly.
3. Behind The Neck Pressing/Pulling
If you’ve ever read any list of supposed exercises “everyone must avoid,” you’ve probably seen the behind the neck shoulder press, behind the neck lat pull down, and behind the neck pull-up make an appearance.
Why? Because doing anything behind the neck is just another one of those things that seems to cause shoulder problems for a lot of people.
The funny thing is, I mostly wasn’t one of them. I did both the behind the neck barbell shoulder press and behind the neck lat pull-down for years without any problems whatsoever. In fact, I never actually had THAT much of issue with either exercise.
However, as I’ve mentioned, I did have shoulder problems as a result of other causes. And, the feeling of waiting around for things to finally get back to 100% sucked hard enough that I basically just decided to drop any exercise that is known to be not-so-shoulder-friendly, even if they haven’t specifically been the cause of my problems. I guess I just didn’t feel like finding out if they’d ever be.
Pull-ups (overhand grip) are by far one of my favorite and strongest lifts. But chin-ups? Not so much.
Like a lot of people, the underhand grip used during chin-ups completely destroys my wrists, forearms and elbows. It just feels like such an unnatural way for me to be grabbing the bar… like my arms are being rotated in a way they just weren’t meant to be.
I do still sometimes use a chin grip for higher rep lat pull-downs (seems to bother me a lot less), but to actually hang from a bar (typically with additional weight strapped to me) with that same underhand grip? No thanks.
It’s pull-ups and/or neutral grip for me from here on out. My wrists, forearms and elbows are in full agreement.
5. Barbell Biceps Curls
And sticking with exercises that haven’t always felt perfect on my wrists, forearms and elbows, the straight bar biceps curl fits that description quite well. It’s not that surprising I guess considering it’s done with that same underhand grip that gives me problems on chin-ups.
These are actually the most recent addition to my list of exercises to avoid permanently. I’ve done them on and off up until as recently as a couple of months ago. I’m not sure if it just catches up with you after a while or it just gets a little worse once you work up to having a certain amount of weight on the bar, but whatever it is, they’ve been feeling much crappier than usual on my wrists, forearms and elbows.
So much so that I basically stopped in the middle of my set one day and thought to myself, “nah… time to stop doing these.”
Fortunately, between various dumbbell curls and the infinitely more comfortable EZ-curl bar, I doubt I’ll miss them much, if at all. Although, I will miss curling in the squat rack.
6. Lateral Raise Machine
Honestly, there are only 2 different times over the 13 or so years I’ve been training that I ever even knew my gym had a lateral raise machine.
The first was back when I first started lifting and my workout consisted of basically walking around doing a bunch of random machines for a random number of sets and reps. Fun times!
The second was maybe 3 years ago. Since lateral raises (of any kind) are usually best suited for higher rep ranges and just generally not an exercise you’ll be increasing weight on very often, you’re not exactly going to be using too much weight when doing them (especially with anything close to good form).
And when you take into account that most people in most gyms are just doing a bunch of nonsense with lighter weight, you end up with a situation where the dumbbells you need for lateral raises are often in use by 40 other people.
So this one time, I just didn’t feel like waiting around for dumbbells. And since I had just switched back to dumbbell lateral raises after doing them with cables for a while, I didn’t feel like going back to cables.
That’s when I remembered that over on the other side of my gym, there might be a lateral raise machine. And there was! Hooray! So, I used it, liked it and kept using it for the next few weeks.
But then at some point over those next few weeks, one of my shoulders started to feel a little… off. Nothing too crazy, just a very slight twinge of something not good. But with my shoulder history, even a “very slight twinge” makes my “stop-and-fix-this-now!!!” alarm go off immediately.
So, the first thing I did was drop the lateral raise machine. And wouldn’t ya know… that slight twinge of pain instantly went away. And so went the lateral raise machine with it… permanently.
What the exact issue was is hard to say, but I can only imagine it had something to do with the fact that machines force you into fixed positions. If those positions happen to perfectly fit your body, you’re in luck. But if they don’t (which is the case more often than you might think), problems will eventually arise.
In this case, those problems didn’t take long at all. Turns out waiting an extra minute for dumbbells or cables ain’t so bad after all.
You Should Have Your Own List For Your Own Reasons
Like I said back at the beginning, this isn’t a list of exercises I think everyone must always avoid under every circumstance. It’s just a list of exercises that have each given ME a really good reason to permanently avoid. So, I’m being smart and avoiding them… for good.
I know, they say “never say never” (and for any 12 year old girls reading this, I’m not quoting Justin Bieber). But, I’m saying “never” anyway. I will never do these exercises again. I just see no reason at all to ever “give them another shot” or “try to make them work.”
I’ve done that before, and it was soooo not the right thing to do. Instead, I’m listening to my body, and my body has done nothing but give me reasons to avoid these exercises.
Maybe you have similar reasons for avoiding some of these same exercises? If so, you probably should. Or maybe those reasons haven’t shown up yet but they will at some point in the future. Be sure to keep an eye out for it and listen to your body if it happens.
And if it doesn’t? And these exercises all feel perfectly fine, safe and comfortable for you and don’t raise any red flags in your injury history and they suit your body/goals/needs/preferences? Then hey, feel free to keep on doing them.
But the second that changes… don’t wait and don’t be stubborn about it.
Put it on your list of exercises that you just shouldn’t do, period. And don’t fear it, either. Because with VERY few exceptions, there are always plenty of suitable replacements that will yield equal if not better results, and it will always be the right decision.