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Exercises to avoid

Exercises to avoid
Exercise should be about improving your health, strength, fitness, body composition and for some your physical appearance. It therefore stands to reason that the type of exercise you do shouldn’t cause you injury or any health issues.

Following is a list of exercises that can or could be detrimental to you. Let me be clear here, just because these are listed here, doesn’t mean they can’t be used by some trainers for a specific purpose and also just because an exercise doesn’t appear in the list, doesn’t mean that it won’t do you harm or be ideal for you either. Also to note, is that many of these exercises can be done in a safe manner and may be the title should read exercise that you may want to avoid. However the ones listed below are often easily done incorrectly and therefore I am simply going to list the ones most likely to cause an issue and give the reasons why.

There are plenty of good exercises that you can do instead of these, as listed in my workout section. You really don’t need to use half a dozen or more exercises per body part to stimulate them, use the ones that you feel comfortable with and with less potential to cause issues.

Exercises you may want to avoid

Upright Rows

(See image above). Although a popular classic bodybuilding exercise for the shoulders and traps, upright rows create an internal rotation under load that can create an impingement and rotator cuff injuries.

Behind the neck presses

Again this exercise also puts your shoulders in an awkward external rotation position that can damage your rotator cuff muscles and tendons. Better to do your presses to the front with a barbell or with dumbbells using a neutral hand position.

Bench dips

Another exercise that puts your shoulders in an awkward internal rotation, with the potential to cause damage to your rotator cuff muscles.

Parallel bar dips

The same as bench dips, but just a little bit better when done with the right hand placement. This exercise can be done much safer by correct shoulder placement, but is often done incorrectly by most people, (see examples on Youtube for proper shoulder safe techniques).

Lat pull downs/pull ups to the back of your neck/head

This can create an external rotation that cannot be stabilised by your rotator cuff muscles, causing damage to them.


These are the pull-ups/chin-ups you see crossfit trainers performing. This is another exercise that can have a negative effect on your shoulder joints. Apart from the use of the swinging momentum to do a half pull up, you are also putting more stress on the shoulder joint with your palms facing forward.

Wrist curls off a bench

Holding a weight with your wrist fully extended puts too much stress on your wrists ligaments and tendons, which could lead to numerous issues and potential need for surgery to resolve them.

Back extensions/good mornings

These exercises have a tendency to place too much stress on the spine. Try something like a birddog exercise or lying flat on the ground back extensions instead.

Leg raises

This exercise places a high amount of strain on your lower spine and really only helps to stimulate your hip flexors.


Many people don’t use proper technique and tend to roll the shoulders which will hurt your rotator cuff muscles. But also direct work to your upper traps can lift the shoulders up and lead to bad posture, when in fact your shoulders should be pulled down and back.

Stiff legged deadlift 

I’m only adding this hear, as most people are unable to maintain good form and use too much weight. The problem with improper technique results in numerous lower back issues from not keeping a neutral spine and having a weak core.

Leg extensions

A popular exercise for isolating the quads, however the use of a weight placed low down at your ankles against the free moving contracting quad muscles creates a shearing force on the knees.

Exercises that may not suit everyone or needs extra care

Side lateral raises

The regular side lateral raise with your thumbs down or even level can place too much stress on your rotator cuff muscles.

Barbell rows

Being bent over and lifting a weight can place a lot of stress on the lower back, use proper technique or do the single arm dumbbell row using a bench for support.

Chest flyes

Using too much weight, over stretching or not slowing down enough before the stretch portion of the exercise and pushing the weight too far back above the head position can all create shoulder issues. Use a lighter weight, slow down the extension part of the exercises and have your elbows around the 60-70 degree angle from your body, not 90 degrees.

Bench press

While great for building the pec muscles, your hand placement on a straight bar forces your elbows out and therefore your shoulders back and in an awkward position for your shoulders. Another issue is wrist pain/injury from not keeping your wrist in a straight line. Use a neutral grip bar or dumbbells and lower the weight to your lower chest not the neck area.

Deep squats

Squats may be king when it comes to leg development, however for some going too deep can place a tremendous amount of strain on your knees. Use proper technique and only squat down to the point that it doesn’t cause knee pain. Deep squats can be used once you have mastered the proper squat technique and gradually worked up enough knee mobility and flexibility.

Heavy barbell squats

While a great mass builder for your whole body, not just your legs, heavy barbell squats can place too much compression on your spine and stress on the lower back. There can also be additional strain on your shoulders and knees. Go lighter and add more reps or swap to using dumbbells.

Regular sit-ups/crunches

For people with lower back issues or bad posture, these may not be the best exercises to do. When you do a sit-up, you create a repeated bend that stresses the lower lumbar back (creates spinal flexion). Also exercises that cause the abdominal muscle to shorten can lead to a hunched over back, use planks or other core exercises that don’t have you crunching. Or if you still want to crunch you can do partials and/or do them with low reps and hold them for a count of 3-5 seconds.


There are some useful exercises that may create an issue for some. The technique you use can help reduce or eliminate these issues. Many upper body exercises can be done much safer by using a neutral grip, that will allow your elbows to come forward of your body and therefore place your shoulders in a much more favourable position. Lower body exercises can be made safer, once you have the necessary flexibility to use the correct form needed to perform them efficiently.

Don’t forget to take note of my comments on both form and potential issues with the list of exercises I do recommend and remember choose exercise that you feel comfortable with and stay healthy, there’s enough of a choice of exercises to not have to do ones that hurt you.