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5 Exercises You Need To Stop Doing Now (And What To Do Instead)

5 Exercises You Need To Stop Doing Now (And What To Do Instead)

Are you still training with many of the same exercises you did back in gym class?

Are you using upright rows to build your shoulders? Maybe ending your workout with a few sets of sit-ups?

Just as we now know that the sit-and-reach is not an effective metric for your flexibility, there are a handful of strength training exercises that not only lack in effectiveness, but may even elevate your risk of injury.

You see, our collective understanding of fitness has evolved rapidly over just the past 10 years. It’s becoming more and more clear that we need to be training movement patterns instead of parts in isolation (think: squat vs. the knee extension machine). We have also learned that some exercises represent not only an unnatural movement pattern, but may even be potentially damaging over the long term.

This is especially important to recognize if you have less than ideal posture (who doesn’t?!) or grumpy joints. Therefore, it is important for you to consult with a medical professional and a certified personal trainer to ensure that you know which exercises and programs are right for you.

That being said, the health and fitness community has generally identified a handful of controversial exercises that are worth substituting with their safer and more joint-friendly counterparts.

So, let’s get to it! Here are five exercises you need to stop doing now, and what you can do instead.

1. Upright rows

Are upright rows a part of your fitness program? Are you using a barbell, a pair of dumbbells, or maybe a sandbag? It’s not the weight used that defines an upright row, but the movement. You stand upright with the weight at arm’s length and then with an overhand, closed grip, lift the weight to near collarbone level.

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I remember being instructed on this exercise back when I was in high school. Since then, I performed the exercise with just about anything that was heavy. If I wanted to train my shoulders and traps, well, upright rows were my go-to exercise.

However, we now know that the upright row movement is a less-than-ideal pattern. Performing too many upright rows may increase your chances of shoulder impingement and overworking your rotator cuffs. Your humerus is impacting against the acromion process in your shoulder joint. This is because your arm is locked into internal rotation by holding the weight close to the center of your chest.

Try this instead: Lateral dumbbell raises

Lateral dumbbell raises are a safer alternative. You’ll need to adopt a well-rounded shoulder workout to make sure you get at all heads of your deltoid, but lateral raises are a good start.

From standing, grip a dumbbell in each hand at arm’s length and, keeping your arms straightened, raise the dumbbells out to the sides so they are level with your shoulders.

2. Seated knee extensions

We’ve all done this at one point or another, haven’t we? It’s one of those very familiar weight machines that people seem to flock to in the gym, probably because it’s very straight forward to use. And if you’re wearing shorts you can see your muscles flex–it must be working, right?!

Unfortunately, seated knee extensions have a tendency to put your knee joint under a lot of stress. Those small and very important tendons and ligaments in your knee will be a heck of a lot happier if you stopped putting so much stress on them in an unnatural way.

Does the seated leg extension look like a natural movement pattern? Of course it doesn’t. Our bodies simply weren’t designed to move a load from our ankles.

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For bodybuilders and those interested in muscle hypertrophy, the leg extension can indeed build muscle tone. However, for the majority of gym goers–those who simply want to move better and feel better–there is a far better alternative out there than extensions.

Try this instead: Goblet squats

Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell, hold it at your chest, and push your hips back as you bend your knees and squat down to a comfortable level. Drive through the heels and press back up.

The squat pattern is a simple movement that we all did wonderfully when we were children, but as we grew up and earned office jobs, many of us started to lose this pattern. The goblet squat is a great starting point for you to relearn how to squat properly.

It’s worth mentioning that a squat can be a very technical lift, but you have to start somewhere! So grab a kettlebell and have a good trainer watch your form. You’ll be moving in both a purposeful and practical manner while sparing your knees from any unnecessary stress.

3. Sit-ups

Oh yes, even the once venerable sit-up is on my list. For decades the sit-up wasn’t considered controversial in the very least. But today, those of us in the health and fitness community have a much better understanding of what the muscles in our core actually do (they do much more than just flex the spine!).

I encourage you to do a quick Internet search and find out for yourself why there are better alternatives for building your core strength than the sit-up. But here’s the least that you need to know: spine bio-mechanics expert Dr. Stuart McGill has learned that sit-ups may put you at a greater risk for disc herniation and disc bulge2.

So how do you work your core?

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Try this instead: Plank slides 

The plank is a great core builder, but I’ll be the first to admit, it can feel a little dull sometimes.

Here’s how you spice it up: Using towels on a slick floor, or gliding discs that you might find in your gym, assume the plank position and place your hands on the towels or discs. Now, play with moving each arm six inches up and down. Then try side to side. All the while, keep your torso in place and mitigate movement everywhere except your arms.

Now that’s a core workout!

4. Behind the neck pull-downs

Similar to upright rows, behind the neck pull-downs are placing extra stress on your shoulder joint. In this case, the humerus is being externally rotated and having to really stretch the front of your shoulder.

To make matters worse, if you’re a desk jockey, odds are that you already have rounded shoulders from hunching toward a computer screen. This posture will only accentuate the stress placed on your shoulders.

Try this instead: Pull-downs (or pull-ups!)

In other words, do the original pull-downs by pulling down in front of you, towards your collarbone. This is a much safer movement pattern and will spare your shoulders from that unnecessary stress. And if you can lift your bodyweight, then why not do the real deal? The pull-up!

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5. Bench dips

We see a lot of bench dips in the gym. Again, I think it’s one of those exercises we learned years ago and continue to perform by habit. The problem with bench dips is that with your hands so far behind your body, you end up putting a significant stress on the front of your shoulders (are you starting to see a theme?). If you put weight plates on your legs, then you’re just amplifying the problem.

Simply put, the risk outweighs the reward with bench dips.

Try this instead: Tricep push-downs

With tricep push-downs you’ll still be able to focus on your triceps (which actually comprise the majority of your upper arm), but you’ll be doing so with your shoulders in a much safer position.

Wrap up

So, there you have it. Five alternate exercises that will help keep you healthy and lifting for a long time to come.

Is this an exhaustive list? No, of course not. But I hope it will get you thinking and encourage you to think critically about your own workout program. Everyone’s body is different and it’s up to you to make sure you’re lifting smart.

We resistance train to keep our bodies healthy, right? But sometimes it is all too easy to do just the opposite unless we take a step back from time to time and take a close look at the movements we’re doing.

Safe lifting everyone!

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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