I have seen it plenty of time in the gym, an individual performing a fitness exercise that is ill-advised.
It is rare I would ever think that someone shouldn’t do a certain move in the gym because pretty much every exercise in the gym has a specific purpose and many folks don’t always know how to do any of them correctly, deadlifts, bent-over rows, squats, lateral raises etc. Come to mind which can make a perfectly good movement dangerous. Poor form aside however I have decided to write about five exercises in particular which can be dangerous even if done right.
Here’s my top five exercises you should take off your list right away.
Instead of putting your body against the back support of a hack squat, you reverse your body position and face the unit, giving you an all-new move on the machine to work your glutes, hamstrings and quads.
Why is it here?
Well for starters there is nowhere to place your neck so that it isn’t jammed into a poorly aligned position. You always want to keep your neck in a neutral position when training, facing forward and in line with your body. Not up and down or extremely left or right. The machine was designed to support your head when the body is facing outwards so you are now forced to accommodate a highly compromised cervical spinal position and many of us can use fairly heavy weights when training legs. Heavy loads on poor spinal alignment is a bad combination.
This may be a machine movement but you lose body support when facing inward (there is a small amount at the shoulders). Unless you know how to do this movement properly, you can easily bend at the hips or knees a bit too much, not sink your hips back far enough, and/or round your back. You could even hemiate a disc at both the lumber and cervical regions with just one movement.
Getting a stable foot position can also be tricky, the foot sled is designed to be the other way around so it is too far behind your body to be useful. You may even be tempted to use the machine’s supports to plant your feet but they were never designed for that. Not only are your ankle angles wrong meaning your feet are bent awkwardly, but most are metallic surfaces, causing your feet to slide as you push-off.
If you want better support on your body, machine squats and hack squats are the best places to start. Even the lying squat machine allows your spine to be in a safe position.
This is a lateral raise movement for middle delts, a single-joint movement, an EZ-bar is substituted for a dumbbell.
This has been done numerous times at various gyms recently, I can only think it is being done to achieve some sort of muscle confusion stimulus, an EZ-bar is the only confusion here.
The EZ-bar is much harder to control in your hand meaning your grip will get a great workout and you’ll get a better stabilizer movement trying to balance the motion, this comes at a cost like usual. You will need a lighter weight than you would use for a dumbbell, meaning less activation on the middle delts, go ahead if this is an acceptable trade-off for you.
A better choice is lateral raises with a dumbbell or a cable.
You hold an EZ-bar with one arm, centered in the middle of the bar and perform a standing single-arm curl.
If you can do two of these simultaneously then you should have been a baton twirler. Muscle confusion is taken to whole new levels when EZ-bar moves are done with just one arm. It is harder to balance the weight though as you curl, so your forearms end up getting a better workout than your biceps. If you try to supinate this movement, goodluck with that. Use two hands with bars and stick with dumbbells for single-jointed moves.
Better options are either single-arm dumbbell curls or single-arm cable curls.
This is done by setting up a flat bench in the middle of the Smith Machine, slide unto the bench, under the bar and go.
Why on earth is it here?
Remember those puzzles as a kid and even now on social media where you had to guess what was wrong with the picture? This is kind of what is going on here and has to do with what angle the machine uses, whether that is an up and down movement or is slightly angled.
If it is in fact angled, every exercise done on the Smith machine bears scrutiny. When doing bench presses at a barbell station, the natural range of motion is for the bar to go from a point on your lower chest to arms directly in the air, the bar is travelling in an arc when viewed from the side, you can simulate the same kind of arc when your head is inside the angled Smith machine as the bar travels up and back over your face.
But if you accidentally face the wrong direction, with your head outside the Smith machine, the bar is then forced on an unnatural path, and it’s ability to carry over to the free-weight barbell version becomes more limited, this can be solved quite easily by reversing your body position on the bench (if doing inclines, turn the bench around).
It is not always easy to say face in or out when using the Smith machine for exercises on an angled machine but it depends on the arc of the free-weight movement. As an example, with behind-neck barbell presses, the bar travels from behind your head to directly overhead, whereas with front overhead presses, it naturally heads in the opposite direction. On an angled Smith machine, you will be wanting to face in different directions on the bench, dependent on the version of the overhead press you are doing.
Better options are to consider the natural path of the bar and when using an angled Smith machine, select the direction to face that best mimics the natural motion of the bar. With bench presses though, your head should be inside the unit but your body direction is not always the same.
With this, you use accessories to place your body into an unstable position, such as squats on a wobble board or dumbbell bench press on an inflatable exercise ball.
If your main goal is to build strength or muscle, lose the gimmicks, you have to sacrifice so much in terms of weight that you will never be able to get even close to your maximum weight. Try it for yourself, try a dumbbell bench press on a flat bench with your 8-rep max and then the same movement with the same weight on an exercise ball.
Not everyone will train for just size or strength, many athletes actually find themselves on an unstable environment on a field or court. For them, training on an unstable surface could in theory complement normal strength-training methods.
A better way if you are training for size or strength is to stick with basic movements, with your feet on the ground or body supported so that you can go heavy, I would recommend ditching unstable training altogether even for bodybuilders or athletes, any resultant benefits are not worth the decrease in load that you can handle.
Overall the fitness exercises mentioned above will not give you any advantage in the gym so it is best to try avoid them if you can.
There is a program that is not as conventional as normal training routines out there, take a look here as it provides the best results out of anything that I have tested.
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