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6 Exercises You Should Never Do Again

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    Machine Leg Extensions

    How often do you just sit around and kick out your legs? Probably not often—if ever. So why do so in the gym? "There's no functional benefit to leg extensions," says strength coach and personal trainer Mike Donavanik, CSCS, CPT. (Functional exercises use your body's natural movement in ways that apply to real-world motions.) Plus, your knees aren't designed to carry weight from that angle, which could cause injury. While your injury risk is low if you have otherwise healthy knees, why take the risk if the exercise isn't even functional to begin with?

    Better Moves: Squats, deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges are all great for training your quads. Not to mention, they simultaneously strengthen your glutes, hamstrings, and smaller stabilizing muscles. Since these are all functional exercises, tapping your body's natural movement patterns, your knees are designed to take their weight, he says.

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    Behind-the-Head Lat Pulldowns

    When performing lat pulldowns, the bar should always stay in front of your body. As in, always. "Otherwise it's a shoulder injury waiting to happen," says women's strength expert Holly Perkins, CSCS. Pulling the bar down and behind your head and neck places extreme stress and strain on the front of the shoulder joint.

    Better Moves: Pulldowns are still your traps' main move—just focus on aiming the bar toward your collarbone. You don't need to bring the bar all the way to your chest, but you should move in that direction, Perkins says.

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    Smith Machine Squats

    Squatting on a Smith machine might look like a safe alternative to the squat rack. In reality, it's anything but. When you lower into a squat using a Smith machine, your back stays straight and almost perfectly perpendicular to the ground, which compresses and stresses the vertebrae, says Lou Schuler, CSCS, co-author of The New Rules of Lifting Supercharged. Also, since using the Smith machine requires leaning back into the bar, you overly stress your knees, never fully contract your glutes or hamstrings, and don't train your core.

    Better Moves: Both body-weight and weighted squats (e.g., goblet, barbell, and dumbbell variations) train your entire lower body functionally, effectively, and without overstressing your joints, Schuler says. Plus, since you're not relying on the stability of a machine, these exercises also work your core.

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    "The amount of force and compression that gets placed on the vertebrae of the low back is unreal," Donavanik says. "Yes, you're working your spinal erectors and many stabilizing muscles throughout the back and core, but you're placing a ton of force and stress on a very sensitive and specific area in the body."

    Better Moves: Get on all fours with the bird-dog exercise, advises Donavanik. The yoga staple strengthens the same muscles, while placing less force on the spine. Good mornings, deadlifts, and floor bridges are also great alternatives, he says.

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    Triceps Dips

    It's meant to train your triceps, but it can easily end up overloading the small muscles that make up your shoulder's rotator cuff. "It's a risk to lift your body weight when your upper arms are behind your torso," Schuler says. Damage those muscles and even everyday tasks—like washing your hair—can become painful.

    Better Moves: Tone your trieps while keeping your arms in front of your body, Schuler suggests. Try cable pushdowns, triceps pushups, and close-grip bench presses.

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    Anything That Hurts

    There's something to be said for pushing through muscle fatigue and discomfort. But when discomfort turns into pain, the opposite is true. "Pain is your body's way of saying, 'Stop! If you keep doing this, I'm going to tear, break, or strain,'" Perkins says. What's the difference, exactly? While discomfort feels like a dull or burning ache in the muscles, acute pain tends to be sharp and sudden, and most often strikes near a joint, she says.

    Better Moves: There's an alternative move (and, sometimes, more like 12 of them) for every exercise out there. Check out our exercises for every body part.