We’ve all walked into a gym or training facility and seen some pretty scary stuff going on right? I mean, some of the exercises out there look like they’ve been invented on the spot or just copied from a magazine with very poor form. There are some exercises that we question but most have there place. Its just a case of why you might be doing the exercise and for what outcome?
Donal has a massive, and I mean massive library of exercises, all that carry over to function and purpose.
I asked Donal his opinion on some of the worst or bad exercises. Here’s his response after I questioned a few (there are many but here are just a few).
C: What are your top 5 worst exercises Donal?
D: Cathy, that really depends on the individual doing the exercise and the reasoning behind the exercise.
The exercises that you would consider bad or negligible, all come down to the person who is doing it. There are many exercises out there that would be considered or related to, as “contra-indicated” in the fitness industry and there are several reasons. One being, the person doing the exercise doesn’t have the body awareness, has joint instability and flexibility issues, or the person doesn’t have the strength to execute the exercises.
There are exercises that we would call “non logical” exercises. An example of a non logical exercise would be someone punching the air with small weights in their hands, or pressing dumbbells out in front of their chest. It just doesn’t work in the laws of gravity. Sure, someone can come up with a reason as to why they might do it but again its not really logical when you look at what the return on investment is.
There are lots of other exercises that have been deemed contra-indicated such as:
Lat Pull Down behind the head & Press behind the head: There might be someone who will come up with a logical explanation and reasoning for doing this exercise, such as a rock climber, for example. Someone that has to reach up behind their head and have to have the joint range of mobility and motion to do so. There are basic tests for this in Physiotherapy and Physiology to screen the range of movement / motion in the neck & shoulder to clarify and clear them for performing the pulling action down over the head/neck. The last research that I looked at in 2002/2003 from the NSCA showed only 5% of the world population can actually do a press behind the head without causing a sheering in C6/C7 (vertebrae in the neck) and an external rotation of the joint in the shoulder which can damage the laborum of the shoulder. So therefore doing a press behind the neck, for 95% of the population, would be deemed to cause ligament strain and sheering in the neck. Here we would call this a contra-indicated exercise.
Wall Sits: When someone sits up against a wall. Yes, it can be used for an isolation exercise to develop the quads in an isometric contraction but how it ties over to every day life? You don’t have to support your base of gravity, under your base of support. When you’re sitting in that position, you would never do that in real life unless someone pulled out a chair from underneath your body and you wanted to use it for some reason? Physio’s have put this exercise in programs to do an isometric contraction of the quads, however there are much better options out there. Its all about the person that went to see the physiotherapist. Have they the availability of equipment? I understand from my experience of being in the industry, you cant look at these exercises just as a singular exercise. You must look at the exercise and determine is it the best exercise to what you want to achieve. Is it a good choice and provide the optimal outcome? As the saying goes, theres no such thing as a bad exercise, its merely a poorly prescribed exercise.
(Click here to see more on the wall sit on our youtube channel: Wall Sit )
Burpees: These have been used for strength and conditioning, calisthenics, the military and the army for decades but whether that determines if its a great exercise or not I just know as these movements cause numerous amounts of injuries with people that are not conditioned enough to do it! Hence you see all these people participating in cross fits and various other training places that put on burpee challenges and Im sure that if you’re a well conditioned athlete or a person that has done these with good technique it does not cause problems. However, a person with poor core control and who cannot stabilise their spine when they jump back to go into the “press-up” position – thats where most people drop their pelvis and create a sheer loading in the lumbar spine. This will not be a problem for a person that has good strong core muscles. Its also jumping – when you pull the knees in as you come up – people can round out their back and if they don’t have good back extensor or core stability, they can cause wear and tear on their spine. Now, if you’re a well conditioned athlete and you’ve been doing exercises like in the military where you have got to pull and jump down to the ground and jump back up again, theres great logic to do these exercises. If you play rugby and you’ve got to hit the deck and jump back up again; if you’re a volley ball player, however you need to have core conditioning to do it. This is not the exercise for someone who’s not done exercise before or for someone returning to exercise. For those who have not done at least 16 – 32 workouts of basic conditioning under their belt should not be doing burpees until they’ve been cleared and have the strength and stability to do so.
Plank: Something that is overused and there are people who will make a logical argument that its an isometrical contraction exercise. From my experience from doing the plank and seeing multiple instructors, personal trainers, athletes trying to demonstrate the plank – when you put a dowel rod on their back and see if they can hold a neutral spine, (in my experience when I lectured for Fitness First for 8 years) – we did not find one personal trainer or fitness instructor that could hold the plank for more than 2 minutes. Most said they could do it for 15 minutes, 30 minutes up to an hour, but when I actually put them under the microscope and taught them how to maintain a neutral spine and do the plank, not one of these people who said they would be able to do it, could hold it for more than 2 minutes! Now, theres a lot of people who may be able to hold a press up position but don’t realise the “sheering” that is being created when your spine drops out of neutral spinal position. There are far better options out there! Doing a plank or style of a press up or pushing up from your elbows and pushing back up again, or a side movement and moving into a lateral plank is ok, but holding a plank in a static position is not really “transferable” in life. Personally Im not a fan of the plank and I know of many orthopaedic surgeons., physical therapists and surgeons that talk about the sheering that happens in the lumbar area of the spine and using the rectus abdominus as a major stabiliser which shuts down on the intrinsic stabilisers (there what they call the joint stability) and theres not enough action in the “inner unit” or those muscles that cause “intrinsic stability”. Those small intervertebral muscles, the ligaments around the spine get stretched because the rectus abdominus turns on and the lower abdominals ie the transverse abdominus & internal obliques don’t really stabilise the joints. Instead you get a compression bracing. Bracing is essential in sports movements, but again you don’t hold an isometric contraction on a rugby field; you don’t hold an isometric contraction when you’re moving. You actually use integrated kinetic energy with various small sections of isometric contractions, they’re split seconds, they’re not sustained for 5, 10 or 15 minutes or longer. Ive seen these challenges and world records for planking so its a means of training yourself to hold yourself in a bad position. Not ideal!
C: Any more?
D: Yes! There are literally 100’s of “bad” exercises. As mentioned above Id rather refer them to as non logical exercises. It depends on what lens you are looking through. Are you looking through an educated lens of physical therapy or are you looking through an educated lens of a strength and conditioning coach or the lens of a corrective specialist? Fortunately, Ive had a few lenses to look through.
Non sensical, idiotic, crazy stuff in gyms are present today, but hopefully most have a rationale for the exercises given.