In writing this edition of injury prevention I do so knowing that there may be some pushback from personal trainers, exercise physiologists and gym instructors.
Listed below are 3 gym exercises that I despise purely for the unnecessary excessive load it can place on the body. I have seen the repercussions of poor execution of these exercises too often and I believe it's fair and reasonable to ensure people are adequately informed of the risks. In fairness to the advocates of these exercises the issue is not necessarily the exercise itself. If done 100% correctly they certainly are effective exercises. It's their potential to cause injury when the exercise is performed poorly and where the margin for error in these exercises is very low.
Poor form or technique leads to unwanted stress on the body and can occur from either a lack of knowledge of the technique, fatigue towards the end of the exercise set or lack of concentration. Trainers and instructors reduce these risk factors but even subtle form losses increase injury probability. I argue that unless you are a professional athlete there are much safer alternatives that achieve similar outcomes.
That is why I advocate to avoid these 3 gym exercises.
1. Dead Lift
The deadlift primarily targets the gluteus maximus but it also engages key muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings and the erector spinae as stabilizers as well as upper body muscle groups.
Deadlifting creates significant torque through the hips and low back. Poor technique can create an imbalance in the distribution of load increasing pressure on the lumbar spine particularly if the spine bends, increasing the risk of injury to spinal structures such as lumbar discs.
There are many safer ways to strengthen your glutes, hamstrings and back muscles that don’t compromise your spine.
A disc injury can be life long so why take the chance?
2. Deep Squats
The deep squat works most leg muscles as well as back and upper body muscle groups. In particular the quads and gluts are worked efficiently. The squat is a good exercise. It’s the ‘deep’ part of the exercise that is of concern to me. Whilst it’s nice in theory to work muscle groups through the full range, working muscles within a reduced range such as ½ or ¾ squats will achieve what most people need without overloading your knees joints or your back. There are compressive and tensile forces when squatting that start to elevate considerably as we approach and exceed 90 degrees of knee bend. These forces can put pressure on the meniscus (cartilage) and the joints in the knee as the depth increases. Some research shows that if you don’t have any prior injury to these structures there is no evidence that squatting deep will cause injury, however it is recommended to avoid it with any history of injury or wear and tear. I argue why put excessive load through a good knee when there are many ways of strengthening these muscle groups with less load and less risk.
3. Kettle Bell Swings
When ever I see or hear about kettle bell swings I can’t help but cringe. The exercise has gained popularity in recent times, but this popularity may also correlate to increased injury occurrence.
The kettlebell swing targets the abdominals, shoulders, pecs, glutes, quads, hips, hamstrings, and lats. The problem with it even more so than the previous 2 exercises is that it is a ballistic movement. In other words the swinging motion decreases your ability to control unwanted movements.
There are many articles on the internet explaining how to avoid all the pitfalls of the kettle bell exercise including ensuring the hips acting as the fulcrum and not the lower back, avoiding back flexion or over arching. But if there are many aspects that can go wrong and considering it is a ballistic exercise why would someone consider using this as a form of strengthening if there are safer ways of achieving what the average person requires.
You will see that having been exposed over the years to people suffering from chronic pain and injuries that I question why people would risk long term problems for little extra gain by doing high load/high risk exercises when you can achieve similar results safely.
If you choose to perform these exercises I strongly recommend using a trainer, instructor or exercise physiologist to educate you on exact technique and what warning signs to be aware of, and also to give you alternatives if you are not comfortable doing them.
My suggestion is to exercise in a way that you can derive all the benefits whilst minimising the chances of hurting yourself. Good Luck.