Q: In your opinion, what are the most dangerous lifts to perform in the gym? I want to stay healthy and injury free, but I hear so many different ideas about what's dangerous or what the "right" way to do certain lifts is. For instance, one of my favorite exercises is “Good Mornings”, but I've been told they're dangerous. I guess I can't believe any of it, unless I have some facts to confirm or deny that certain lifts for body parts are causing more damage than good. Can you name which lifts you don't like and, more important, the lifts you'd replace them with for targeting the same body part?
A: We have a list of exercises we don't particularly believe are of true benefit (if you're trying to stay healthy, injury-free, and build a better body at least). And your Good Mornings are on that list due to their intensity (what you put into them), versus the direct muscular contractions (what you get out of them). As far as the most "dangerous" lift? That's probably the act of lifting someone's wallet, girlfriend, spouse, keys, etc. This may lead to a definite beating and possibly serious injury! All joking aside, the lifts we watch "newbies" or uneducated weight trainers perform dreadfully (which skyrockets their chances of injury) include the following:
Behind-the-Neck Military Presses:
This pressing motion is rarely ever preformed properly (probably because only a few of us were born with the shoulder structure to tolerate this movement) and should be avoided because of the stress it places on the rotator cuffs. Injuries can occur at the top and the bottom of the movement, even when you bring the weight just down to the top of the neck because the shoulders are so vulnerable in this position. Injuries from behind-the-neck presses can occur during the exercise but are most often a result of repetitive poor mechanics over the long term.
INSTEAD DO THIS:Better choices are dumbbell presses, barbell presses to the front, or Iso-presses (machine presses). If you feel you just have to do behind-the-neck presses, pay strict attention to quality movements, hold your chin steady, and try not to lower the bar so far down.
This is an exercise that just doesn't qualified results verses the risks associated with the movement. Good Mornings threaten the lower lumbar (back) as well as place stress on the shoulder joints. Plus, although we've never seen it happen in person, we've heard horror stories of people taking face plants because of the awkward position of the bar. It is such a complicated movement that only advanced, experienced trainers can do it correctly, so we say to avoid the exercise.
INSTEAD DO THIS:Much more effective and safer alternatives include deadlifts and stiff-legged deadlifts as well as controlled hyperextensions. There is still a risk of injury due to the nature of these exercises, but they're much safer.
Behind-the-Head Lat Pull Downs:
Pulling overhead weight down behind your head toward the middle of your back is an extremely unnatural position as far as both physiology and muscle contractions go. The unnatural position places your shoulder muscles at risk, and your forearms do most of the work.
INSTEAD DO THIS:Pulling the bar to the front of your body is much more natural. The result will be less injuries and better lat development due to the fact that you are pulling the bar down and back for a more complete contraction.
Although this exercise has potential for developing excellent quads, the stress placed on the lower back can be unbearable. The room for human error is too great compared to the benefit of the exercise, which is mainly due to the position of the weight at the front of the torso.
INSTEAD DO THIS:A better choice for building powerful quads of course is the traditional squat and an alternative to that are hack squats. Front squats are often considered a core movement because the torso bears most of the weight. So if you're after maximal core stimulation, you could try reverse dumbbell lunges instead.
The beginning of this exercise can cause an unnatural protraction of the shoulders (that is, roll the shoulders forward), placing the easily injured external shoulder muscles at risk. The latter part of this exercise compromises the remaining shoulder muscles. Quite simply, this exercise invites poor form, which leads to poor results and chronic shoulder pain.
INSTEAD DO THIS:Though most people think upright rows work the upper traps, they actually mainly recruit the forearms and the front delts, with very little involvement from the traps. If you want to work the upper traps, try doing dumbbell or barbell shrugs.
Another machine that can wreak havoc on the shoulder joints is the pec dec, which can rotate the position of the shoulders unnaturally and place less resistance on the chest and more on your front delts. Try doing a simulated pec deck press right now touching your elbows together... you'll notice your shoulders will roll forward (slouch), potentially dangerously stressing your shoulder muscles and joints.
INSTEAD DO THIS:Place your shoulders into a more natural mechanical position with dumbbells and cables. Try a flat or incline flye, cable flye, or even cable crossovers at various angles to stimulate the pecs.
Honestly, you'll always have exercises you'll like and dislike. And we're certainly not saying that any of these particular exercises we've mentioned are always dangerous. What we're saying is the benefits you can achieve from doing them may be diminished by the potential risk of injury if they're done incorrectly. Simply put, they may not be worth the agony of attempting. Whether you want to include these exercises in your regimen or not, the main point to consider is, "Do you know how to properly perform the exercise?" This is no joke. Leave your ego at the door, and take the time to learn. Any exercise can cause injury if it's done incorrectly. And any exercise can produce great results if it's performed correctly.