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5 Exercises You Should Never Do

Man exercising with American flag in background

There are countless videos and articles listing exercises you shouldn’t do. The claim is that they cause injury, or they’re ineffective… or both.

In my opinion, there are only 5 exercises you should avoid.

Before I list them, you need to understand why there are differing opinions on certain exercises, and what this means for you personally.

Mmmm… Cookies

Any movement can hurt you if it’s done improperly. (When I was a teenager I threw out my back grabbing a tray of cookies out of the oven.)

That said, certain exercises are more likely to cause injury (or be less effective) than others.

Still, some reasons people say not to do “Exercise X” aren’t justifiable. Such as:

  • They’ve had a bad personal experience.

  • They’re trying to be catchy so they can sell you something.

  • They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Personally, I’m not a fan of Smith Machines.


I might say something like, “I recommend using free weights instead of a Smith Machine almost always.” (Notice it’s not as catchy.)

When it comes down to it, there are too many individual differences to make a blanket statement about an exercise no one should ever do.

Kind of makes you wonder what 5 exercises I’m going to say you shouldn’t do now, doesn’t it?

1. Exercises That Hurt

Before you write off any exercise that gives you a twinge of pain, read on.

Pain, even minor pain, is your body’s way of saying, “No

t a good idea, bro.” (That’s how the medical textbooks phrase it.)

But that doesn’t mean it’s the exercise itself causing you pain.

What else could it be?

  • The weight. You might be pushing it too hard. Keep your ego in check and use lighter weight.

  • Range of motion. You might need to smart small and build up to a fuller range of motion.

  • Your form. Bad form can make the safest of exercises dangerous. Have someone check it for you. (Feel free to send me a video and I’ll take a look.)

When it comes down to it, no matter how you modify an exercise, if it causes you pain (not just, “I can’t do squats because my legs get tired”), don’t do that exercise.

2. Exercises You Hate

I’m not talking about exercises you don’t like.

You might tell me you “hate” working your legs — I’m not giving you carte blanche to ditch lower body days. What you really mean is it’s hard work, and you’re not particularly looking forward to it.

That’s dislike, not hate.

I’m not always stoked about certain exercises on given days, but for the most part I power through it because that’s how I’ll improve.

However, if you really hate swimming, burpees, running, burpees, leg press, or burpees, and it prevents you from working out at all, that’s a problem.

Cutting one specific exercise won’t make or break your progress toward your goals.

So just don’t do burpees (or whatever).

3. Exercises You Don’t Know How To Do

To be fair, this is pretty much all exercises at the beginning.

And that’s the point.

If you don’t know how to do a certain exercise, don’t dive in head first.

I see people doing deadlifts wrong all the time, loading up plate after plate to see how heavy they can lift. I worry for their safety.

That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t deadlift. It means they shouldn’t deadlift until they learn how to do it correctly.

For any exercise, start light, and learn the movement.

There are many videos teaching the proper form of exercises. I suggest watching several videos of the same exercise, looking for common cues across each. (Here’s one I did about deadlifts.)

4. Exercises Your Doctor or PT Says Not To Do

If a doctor or physical therapist gives you direct orders not to do certain exercises, listen to them.

I don’t care if you watch one of my videos and think, “That’s not really going to hurt me.”

I don’t care if you really want to work your shoulders and, “They’ve been feeling better lately anyway.”

Until you’ve been cleared to do something, don’t do it.

Simple as that.

5. Exercises You Don’t Know the Purpose Of

If you don’t know why you’re doing a specific exercise, it’s time to rethink your routine.

You don’t have to know that the gastrocnemius concentrically accelerates plantar flexion in a calf raise. Or that the brachioradialis acts as a synergist to stabilize your elbow joint in a biceps curl.

I’m talking about a simplistic understanding, like “squats strengthen your quads.”

If you don’t know this, you might accidentally overtrain certain muscles while under-training others, setting yourself up for injury.

On top of that, if you don’t know an exercise’s purpose, you won’t know if it’s working.

Whereas if you can track its results, you’ll know if you need to modify the exercise, or switch it out for something else.

Can You?

For any exercise that causes you problems, there are always alternatives. But figuring it out on your own can be complicated.

The benefit of a good personal trainer is we can help you work around pain.

If you hate a certain exercise, or are under doctor’s orders, we know the alternatives.

We can teach you how to perform the movements with confidence, and succinctly explain the purpose of various aspects of your program.

If you have questions, email me and I’ll respond within 24 hours.

If you’re ready for a personal trainer to tackle these issues for you, check out what our online coaching can do for you here.


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