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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 November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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