Think Twice Before Trying These 5 Exercises
I wish there was a “Don’t Try this at Home” warning for the gym.
With YouTube and Instagram, it’s never been easier to share the awesome crazy over the top exercises and workouts you do with others. Hell, CrossFit made a whole sport out of it.
Looking at all the videos being performed by these fit beautiful superhumans can lead you to believe that those are the workouts you need to perform if you want to look and perform as they do.
What goes unmentioned is the hours, weeks, and years of training required to produce the workout you just finished watching.
And the risk of injury for you should you attempt it without the proper background, skills, and mastery of the fundamentals.
Here are the top 5 cool exercises that are performed most commonly in the gym and which you should think twice about before you try it for yourself.
Overhead Presses, pulldowns, and pull-ups are of the most common exercises I see performed by those who shouldn't be performing them. Now I love these exercises and there a great staple to any lifting program but most people lack the mobility to lift the arms overhead.
When you spend all day sitting hunched over a desk, a car seat, a dinner table ext. your body conforms to that position. The back hunches over, the shoulders roll forward and you lose the ability to lift your arms overhead without compensating.
Consider the following example of a stiff, rounded upper back. When the back can’t extend, it means that the only way to get the weight overhead is by either arching the lower back or jamming the shoulder back into its socket. In both scenarios performing overhead exercises without the right mobility is an easy way to wreck your shoulder or pull your back.
Demonstration of poor thoracic mobility
When you lack mobility in your upper back the body must compensate elsewhere. In the video below I demonstrate a kyphotic posture(where the upper back begins to round forward). When I run out of mobility the only way for me to get overhead is either by; compensating with the lower back in the 1st example or by cranking the arm back in its socket as shown in the second.
Test for overhead mobility
In the lying test, you will lay down with knees bent and back against the ground. Take your arms and let gravity pull them down above your head. IF you lats are tight and your mobility is limited you won't be able to go to the ground
In the standing test, we are actively raising the arms instead of letting gravity do the work. Stand with your back to the wall with your feet set up a few inches or so away from the wall. Use the core and keep the lower back on the wall. Next, raise the arms overhead without losing that position - this is your overhead mobility.
If you can't get overhead in these drills then you shouldn't be doing overhead lifts. Instead, focus your energy on improving your thoracic extension.
Alternatives for overhead work
While it would be ill-advised to go overhead, there are a few modifications you can make to continue exercising such as using a Landmine Press or Incline DB Press, a lat pulldown where you lean back on an angle, or a high row.
Plyometric and jumping
Is there anything more athletic that Plyometrics and jumping exercises?
How can you not want to do box jumps after that?
While these exercises are great, you should approach them warningly. Box jumps and various other jumps require a high degree of coordination and can produce high stresses on the tissues of the muscles and joints. If your body is unaccustomed to the stresses or your technique is not perfect injuries will result.
Here are a few best practices for introducing jumping into a routine
Master the squat and its single leg variations first - The squat is the foundation for a good jump. Any flaws in your squat will be exacerbated in your jump.
Technique first - Perform all of your jumps with excellent technique. Don't worry about height, weight or anything else till later.
Use jumps to develop power - Yes, they are challenging and will have you sweating but their best use isn't for conditioning. There are much better and safer alternatives if you're looking for that. Instead, use the jumps to develop power - which is best done when you're fresh. So put jumps at the beginning of your workouts, give adequate recovery between jumps, and avoid doing them while fatigued.
Progress your jumps carefully
Ere on the side of caution and do less than you think you should. Jumps involve absorbing a lot of stresses. Start with only 1 or 2 sets once or twice a week.
As for progressing your jumps consider the following progression
Concentric jump first - this is just jumping up to the box and stepping down. It’s the landing that causes the most stress.
Concentric jump and landing - jump up and jump down then reorganize yourself.
Plyometric - Your muscles act like rubber bands and plyometrics work that stretch contraction cycle. A plyometric jump involves jumping down followed by a quick and rapid jump. These are the most stressful on the body.
Land in the same position you jump from - When jumping onto a box I recommend you land in the same position you took off (typically a quarter squat). Most people make the mistake of setting a platform that's too high. The goal of the exercise is to see how high you can jump, not how high you can bring your knees. Landing in this deep squat position is risky.
1 Rep Max's and other heavy lifts
Your worth is not measured in how much you lift. Strength is a great attribute and few things are as impressive as moving a weight with more plates than you can count. However, lifting those heavyweights like in a one rep max comes at a cost. These lifts are extremely stressful on the joints, are prone to poor technique and compensation, and are at a high risk for a failed rep - all of which can be injurious.
The power lifts and heavyweights have their place but consider first that exercises like the squat, deadlift and bench press are all technical and require months to years to master. Unless you're looking to be a power lifter save the one rep max for them.
Max lifts up the ante, and any lack technique flaw can be catastrophic when placed under such a heavy load. Knees, hips, backs, shoulders - I’ve seen them all wrecked. IF you are looking to gain strength without taking the extra risk, then I suggest starting with a 3x5 reps, or a 5x5 rep program. These are great for building strength without destroying the body and have been used by all the best lifters at some point.
If you would really like to know your max then consider using a sub-max calculator.
Speed and Power
Simple concept here - if you can’t do an exercise slow then you definitely can’t do it fast.
To perform an exercise correctly, you need to know and be proficient at the technique.
To perform an exercise fast that technique needs to be automatic.
Unless your technique is perfect and automatic, then exercises that combine speed and weights are a recipe for injury.
You must earn the right to perform an explosive exercise and this can only be done by mastering the movements fundamental to that exercise.
This means perfecting the deadlift before attempting a kettlebell swing, learning the squat before you attempt box jumps, and a pull-up before a muscle up.
Explosive lifts are often the most technical and I recommend hiring an experienced coach to help guide you through the process.
I love high-level calisthenics - like handstands, muscle ups, Planches, and inversions. They're fun, demanding, highly technical, and make for a great show.
However, they can be dangerous. On several occasions, I’ve seen people attempt handstands and fall on their head. I’ve also seen my share of feet fly through the drywall or break a nearby mirror. Without proper training, progressions, coordination, and spotting these exercises can come with a risk.
The other risk that goes unmentioned is that the exercises can be incredibly demanding on your joints and connective tissues. While muscles recover quickly - connective tissue like tendons, ligaments, and fascia do not. This is why gymnast will spend such long time gradually building up the body in very slow progressions.
This was a lesson I learned the hard way when I developed tendonitis in my wrist from progressing my handstands too quickly. For 8 months I could not perform a push up on the floor without pain.
Know the risk, make sure you have the mobility, and progress much slower than you think you should.
A power saw can be a great tool but in unskilled hands can be dangerous. Just like the power saw the exercises above have great value when done by those who are prepared, experienced, and use proper technique.
The exercises above are the ones I see attempted by those who shouldn’t and I encourage you to think twice before you attempt them. Earn the right to perform those exercises by developing adequate mobility, strength, coordination, and technique. If you do this, you will avoid injuries and see better results than if you didn’t.