5 Exercises A Personal Trainer Wishes You Would Skip

This article was originally published on February 10, 2016.

No matter what kind of exercise you choose, we applaud you for getting out there and doing it. And you’ll feel the benefits almost immediately: You’ll be a little bit more energized, less stressed, and more confident than you were before your workout.

Of course, if you’re going to put in the effort, you might as well do something that will help you get stronger while protecting you from injury. “Selecting movements that are safe and effective can be a challenge, especially for new exercisers, but it is important for long-term results,” says Jacqueline Crockford, an ACE-certified exercise physiologist and education specialist. It doesn’t help that some moves — tricep dips, for example — just won’t go away, even though they’re potentially harmful. You may even go to a group fitness class and have an instructor tell you to do them.

In the slides that follow, we’ve outlined five exercises that are best avoided and better moves to try instead. “If performing exercises like tricep dips has been a part of your workout routine for years, it may be difficult to give them up. But even if you do these moves with perfect form, you likely won’t see the results you want if you keep repeating them — and you may make yourself more injury-prone,” Crockford explains. “It’s always best to change things up.”

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Move to avoid: Crunches
Why: This seemingly simple move can put unnecessary stress on your cervical spine (the seven vertebrae in your neck), which may cause injury to the muscles around the neck and upper back, says Crockford.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
What to do instead: Bird Dog
Why: This exercise actually trains you to stabilize your entire trunk as you move your arms and legs, so you’re far less likely to put stress on your neck.

1. Start on your hands and knees with your knees underneath your hips and your wrists underneath your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Engage your abs.

2. Simultaneously lift and lengthen your left leg until it’s parallel to the floor (don’t lift it above hip height) while raising and straightening your right arm until it’s parallel to the floor (don’t tilt your shoulders). Keep your head in line with your spine.

3. Lower back to starting position, keeping your core engaged and your hips and shoulders steady, and repeat the move on the opposite side. Complete one set of 5 to 10 reps on each side with control. Once those reps are mastered, add additional sets.

You can see a slightly more advanced version of this move here.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Move to avoid: Tricep Bench Dips
Why: This move feels uncomfortable for a reason: The awkward position of your arms means you’re straining your shoulders and elbows. It’s especially easy to push your shoulder joints beyond their normal range of motion, which can result in injury, says Crockford.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
What to do instead: Tricep Push-Ups On Knees
Why: You’ll work your triceps, chest, shoulders, and core muscles while decreasing the risk of injuring your shoulder joints. While you can do this move on your feet instead of your knees, it's a little more challenging than a regular push-up, so you may want to modify at first to ensure you keep perfect form.

1. Start in a plank position on your hands and knees with your wrists underneath your shoulders, fingers pointing forward. Shift your knees back to ensure your weight is on the fleshy part of your knees, above the kneecaps. Keep your elbows close to your ribs.

2. Engage your abs and, keeping your neck in line with your spine, lower your chest toward the floor as far as is comfortable. Keep your abs tight the entire time — watch that your hips don’t sag and that your butt isn’t sticking in the air. Make sure the elbows stay close to the sides of the body, and fully extend your arms when you come back up.

3. Complete one set of 5 to 10 reps with good form. Once those reps are mastered, add additional sets. As you build strength, progress to doing the push-ups on your toes instead of your knees.

You'll find a video of this move here.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Move to avoid: Dumbbell Side Bend
Why: It’s easy to do this move incorrectly, which can cause back injury — as can doing the exercise with weights that are too heavy, says Crockford.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
What to do instead: Standing Wood Chop
Why: This exercise engages various abdominal muscles through rotation of the trunk, which can help build strength and protect your back.

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your back straight, holding a 5 to 10-pound medicine ball in both hands. Stagger your feet so your left foot is slightly forward.

2. As though you’re swinging an ax to chop wood, contract your abs and raise the ball up to your left shoulder, keeping your arms straight. Keep your head and torso facing forward as you move the ball.

3. Then, “chop” the ball across your body and down toward your right hip, keeping your arms straight and your head and torso facing forward.

4. Return to starting position and repeat. Complete one set of 5 to 10 reps on each side (when you switch sides, bring your right foot forward) with good form. Once those reps are mastered, add additional sets and, eventually, additional weight.

You can see more about this move here.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Move to avoid: Biceps curls
Why: This exercise isn’t dangerous, but it’s not the most efficient, effective way to tone your arms, either. It’s what’s called a “single joint” or “isolation” exercise, because only one muscle group is engaged, says Crockford. Plus, many women opt for dumbbells too light to actually see benefits from biceps curls, she notes.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
What to do instead: CrossBody Curl With Exercise Band
Why: Working with a flexible resistance band challenges you as you move both up (concentric contractions) and down (eccentric contractions), and the crossbody action requires a bit more strength and functionality.

1. Stand on the middle of a light-to-moderate resistance band with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold a handle in each hand, arms by your sides, with palms facing forward. Engage your abs and curl the right handle up toward the left shoulder. Release the arm back down to the starting position while simultaneously curling the left handle up toward the right shoulder.

2. Complete one set of 10 to 20 reps total (so you’re lifting each handle 5 to 10 times) with good form. Once those reps are mastered, add additional sets.

Here's a video of this move.
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Move to avoid: Seated Inner and Outer Thigh Machines (Abductor and Adductor Machines)
Why: Most people arch their backs while doing this exercise, which can cause injury, says Crockford. Plus, she adds, it’s a myth that exercises like this will “spot reduce” fat in the thighs. (Spot reduction just isn't a thing, BTW.)
Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
What to do instead: Skaters
Why: This move provides fat-burning cardio while strengthening your inner and outer thighs.

1. From a normal standing position, take a big step out to the right, bending your right knee. As you do, sweep your left leg behind you while bringing your left arm across your body.

2. Then, step to the left, bending your left knee while bringing your right leg behind you and your right arm across your body. Continue alternating sides, building up speed. To make it more challenging, hop instead of stepping. Complete one set of 5 to 10 reps on each side — or about 10 to 15 seconds of continuous activity — with good form. Once those reps are mastered, add additional sets.

Check out our video of this move here.
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