9 Horrible Exercises You Should Never Do [And What To Do Instead]

There are a lot of great exercises in the fitness library.

If you have read our series on training, then you probably already have a pretty good idea of which exercises are the best exercises.

However, there are also a bunch of bad exercises. Some A LOT worse than others.

We have compiled a list of the 9 worst exercises you should never do.

Look, I know you’re busy, and I don’t want you to waste your time.

If you are doing any of these horrible exercises, then you are wasting your time.



This post will discuss :

  • The Top 9 Worst Exercises of All Time

  • Why These Are Exercises To Avoid

  • Alternative Options That You can do Instead

Alright, let’s get started…

1. Sit-Ups

The worst thing that has ever happened to the fitness industry was the creation of the sit up.

Far too many people believe that performing this horrible exercise will give them a six pack.

While this exercise will indeed cause fatigue of the abdominal muscles, you are doing it at the expense of your spinal health.

Performing sit ups is not a functional movement of the human body. Aside from getting up from bed in the morning, how often do you flex your spine from a lying position?

What’s even more cringing is when people hold their hands behind their neck and yank on the back of their head to help them perform the repetitions.

This is almost a crime!

The bulk of our training should come from functional exercises; the ones that help us move better and obtain stronger positions in our normal activities of daily living. Go get yourself an ab wheel.

There are far better ways of training your core muscles that do not involve causing injury to the spine.

Even Harvard knows situps are bad for you.


Cons: Why Are Sit-ups Bad For You

  • Causes excessive wear and tear of the spine through repetitive flexion

  • Worsens your posture by encouraging a more rounded kyphotic position

  • The abdominal core muscles are meant to stabilize your spine not encourage flexion

Alternatives to Sit-Ups:


Leg Raises,

Ab Wheel Rollouts

2. Tricep Kick Backs

This exercise is just worthless.

First of all, too many people do it with incorrect form, AND they lack the flexibility to perform a full range of motion.

Secondly, you are severely limited by the amount of weight you can use on this exercise. It’s just too awkward to use any significant resistance as your shoulders have to be in an extended and externally rotated position.

As a result, you are forced to train each arm individually as it is extremely difficult to perform both arms at the same time.

Having to do each arm individually provides no benefit and is simply a waste of time.

There are plenty of better ways to train your triceps.


Cons: Why Are Tricep KickBacks Bad?

  • Forces you to train each arm individually, which provides no benefit and is just a waste of time

  • Puts too much stress on the shoulder and elbow joint from poor exercise mechanics

  • Limits the amount of weight that can be used due to the awkward starting position

Tricep KickBack Alternatives:

Close Grip Push-ups,

Close Grip Bench Presses,

Lying Tricep Extensions

3. “Chin – Ups”

Do not get me wrong.

Pull-ups and chin-ups are an EXCELLENT exercise.

Some people have claimed that pull-ups are to the Upper Body what squats are to the lower body.

If your hands are pronated (overhand) then the exercise is called a pull-up. If they are supinated (underhand grip) the exercise is called a chin up.

Now, why is this exercise bad?

Somehow, people have assumed that the point of the exercise is to get your chin above the bar.

They do everything they can to ensure that the chin clears the bar so that the rep could ‘count.’

This is a shame.

At no point should your chin be involved in the exercise.

To perform the movement correctly, pull yourself up using your upper back and lattisimus dorsii muscles.

When you reach the end range, your chin should naturally clear the bar.

If you cannot complete the full range of motion, simply STOP.

Please stop jerking your neck back so that your chin clears the bar while in actuality you are performing half-repetitions.

This is doing absolutely nothing for you or your strength. Your neck should remain neutral and never change position throughout the lift.


Cons: Why Are “Chin-Ups” Bad For You?

  • Gives false reassurance that you are performing full range of motion repetitions

  • Causes neck strain

  • It looks ridiculous

Chin Up Alternatives

Full range of Motion Pull ups or Chin Ups (without moving your head)

Pull downs

4. Chair Dips

Dips are traditionally a great compound exercise for the upper body. In essence, they are a much more difficult variation of a push-up.

However far too many people are trying to perform this advanced exercise without adequate preparation.

Even worse, a lot of workout programs recommend that beginners do a scaled variation of this exercise on a chair or a bench.

The chair makes it easier because your feet are flat on the floor taking away a lot of the weight that you need to lift. However, this is an awful exercise because many people do not have adequate shoulder range of motion to perform this movement safely and effectively.

When looking from the side many people allow their shoulders to go into extreme internal rotation which is a very compromising position.

This forward shoulder roll leads to a lot of damage on the joint, and more money in your orthopedic surgeon’s pocket.


Cons: Why Are Chair Dips Bad For You

Chair Dips Alternatives

Regular Dips

Close grip push-ups,

Close grip bench press,

Lying tricep extensions

5. Upright Rows

The upright row is an exercise where your grab two dumbbells (or a barbell) and you lift the weight straight up towards your chin while keeping the weight really close to your body.

Many individuals use this exercise as a three part combo: First, they do bicep curls, then tricep kickbacks followed by side lateral raises or upright rows.

In order to perform the upright row, your shoulder has to go into internal rotation with a heavy weight.

This puts your rotator cuff into a compromising position and increases the chances of causing shoulder impingement. It’s just not worth it.

There are plenty of other exercises you can do to train your shoulders and upper back.


Why is The Upright Row Bad For You?

  • Places your shoulder in internal rotation, under load

  • Increases the chances of shoulder impingement

  • Can cause wear and tear on your rotator cuff

Upright Row Alternative:

Power Cleans

DB Overhead Press

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

6. Behind the Neck PullDown

I really don’t know how this exercise came about.

The Behind the Neck Pulldown is performed on a cable Lat Pulldown machine.

Instead of pulling the weight down to their chest (how the exercise is meant to be done), they pull the weight down behind their neck.

People assume that they can get a better activation of the lat muscles this way since they are pulling in a more vertical plane.

The problem is, you have to crank your neck forward to do this exercise.

Secondly, you place your shoulders in a very unnatural, externally rotated position that is fixed to the bar.

This is also true of the Behind The Neck Press. Both exercises have the same risk.

If you want to walk around with a stiff neck all the time, be my guest.


Why Is The Behind The Neck Pull-down Bad For You?

  • Places your shoulders in a maximally externally rotated position under load

  • Can strain the muscles of the posterior neck

Behind The Neck PullDown Alternatives

Lat Pull Down


7. Back “Hyper-extensions”

Does anything with the word hyper sound good to you?

What about a “hyper” extension of your low back?

Unfortunately, this exercise has been misnamed to the detriment of the fitness industry.

I’m sure you’ve seen this exercise many times before.

You get on a back raise machine, hold a weight on your chest and go to town bending at the spine all the way down and then all the way back up until you can’t anymore.

Your low back should never extend beyond its natural capabilities. Ideally, it should never extend past a neutral spinal position.

Heres a shocking statistic: According to the NIH, 80% of adults will develop low back pain at some point in their lives.

This is a proper back raise: Note that the spine should never hyper-extend beyond this point.

Why Are Back Hyperextensions Bad For You?

  • The low back is not meant to extend much beyond a neutral position

  • Hyperextending the low back can lead to disc injury

Back Hyperextension Alternatives

Back Raises – Done correctly (stopping at neutral)

Cable Pull Throughs

9. Shrugs

*Sigh.* Why do people love this exercise?

They grab the heaviest dumbbells they could find, or load up a barbell to 400+ pounds and start shrugging away with as much body english as humanly possible.

Even better the neck starts cranking forward and backward throughout the reps.

If you have done this exercise, have you ever actually felt it in your traps?

And how many people performing this exercise actually have trap development?

This exercise isn’t necessarily bad, but too many people perform it with too much weight, for too many ugly reps for no obvious benefits.

Like Mark Rippetoe says, you have no business performing this exercise if you cannot power clean 225 lbs.


Why Are Shrugs Bad For You

  • The exercise itself isn’t bad, it’s just that people rarely do it correctly

  • Many trainees overload this exercise with too much weight, sacrificing their form

  • Improper form can lead to severe neck muscle strain

Shrug Alternatives

Power Cleans


Barbell Rows

9. Any Exercise on the Smith Machine

The smith machine is quite honestly the worst piece of equipment any gym has.

It’s the machine that has a barbell that is fixed and can only move in an up-and-down fashion.

The producers of the machine promote it as being a safer alternative to free weights, which is just wrong.

Sadly, people perform all kinds of barbell exercise on the smith machine, including squats, bench press, shoulder pressing and barbell rows in this contraption.

The truth of the matter is, this machine can be more dangerous than free weights as the fixed barbell forces your body into strange positions that it can’t normally achieve.

This is the most common way that injuries occur.

The smith machine also removes the major benefits of free weights which is the need to stabilize yourself while supporting the weight.

There are much easier and safer ways to scale barbell exercises to your needs.


Why The Smith Machine is Bad For You

  • The fixed bar path does not allow a natural range of motion of barbell exercises

  • Removes the elements of needing to stabilize the weights in functional barbell exercises

  • Risk of injury increases as the fix bar path forces your body into suboptimal positions

Instead, Do:

The free weight alternative to the exercise you are doing in the smith machine

The 46 Best Exercises Everyone Should Do

Please, do yourself a favor and stop doing these exercises.

These exercises are bad for you!

There are numerous exercises that you can perform which are safer, better, and more time efficient than any of these.

We have written an entire post on The Complete List of Gym Exercises Everyone Should Do.

In addition, we have created a 15 week pre-made workout template that you can use to get fit and build strength in as little as 35 minutes a day. Check them out at WCT Men’s and Women’s Strength Program.

But that’s not all. Maybe you are the kind of person who doesn’t want to go to the gym. Then we have you covered too. We also created a comprehensive Home Workout Program that will provide you with a training routine that you can use for months!



Now we turn it over to you:

Do you perform any of these detrimental exercises?

Do you have any other exercises to add to this list?

Comment below and let us know.

Do you know anyone performing these exercises?

Share this list with them so that they can stop wasting their time.


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Once you join, you will continue to get articles like this one, and you’ll receive a copy of our Ebook- The White Coat Trainer Nutrition Guide, as well as a free Template to get you started on a training program.

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Alex & Brittany

Alex & Brittany

Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. They both hold MD degrees and just like you, they lead very busy lives. They believe that anyone can achieve a higher level of fitness by implementing a few simple strategies into their lifestyle!

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40 thoughts on “9 Horrible Exercises You Should Never Do [And What To Do Instead]”

  1. I have seen so many people advocating situps that it never crossed my mind that it can be dangerous. Thanks for sharing this post. We need to exercise caution in our workout regime.

  2. Wow, I always felt there was something not right about crunches. It puts so much pressure on my neck and shoulders. So I will stop doing those and instead do the three other you recommended – which btw I already do anyway. Thanks for your advice.

  3. OMG I totally love this post! I honestly had no idea about the tricep kickbacks and loved doing them. No more!! And that back hyperextension I friggin hate that exercise and when my trainer makes me do it I whine like a 5 yr old!! UGH!!

  4. Hmm… interesting, that part about crunches especially… I too find it hard when it comes to the neck but only when my abs are not strong enough… I wonder though why it would be such an essential part of Pilates as well if it was THAT bad and why would every single fitness coach I know (or ever heard of) use it… ??

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      I think it comes down to misinformation just being propagated over years and years. We simply didn’t understand human function and anatomy as well as we do now. And as of now, the verdict is certainly in about situps and crunches.

  5. I heard about sit ups no longer being a good exercise a while ago but didn’t know about these other ones! Though I am a yogi and I don’t do too much at the gym as I once did, these are good tips to pass on to some of my friends!

  6. Oh no! You’ve listed so many of my favorite exercises, or at least the ones my trainers assign to me regularly! I actually really enjoy tricep kickbacks/dips but I won’t miss chin-ups!! They are the worst.

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      You could keep doing them if you enjoy it, However, just keep in mind that they probably aren’t doing much for your triceps or fitness. Thanks for reading.

  7. Oh gosh! I’ve done every single one of these at one time or another. But sometimes things HURT afterwards – and not in a good way. It’s great that you offer alternatives. 🙂

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Yes, that is the major issue with a lot of these exercises. You can be hurting yourself without even knowing it. I’m sure the alternatives will treat you better 🙂

  8. Woah … this is totally useful information… other than smith machine and chin ups, I do the others regularly… time to talk to my trainer and change things 🙂

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Yea, that the problem. They have been propagated for so long that everyone assumes they are great. Thanks for reading.

  9. Awesome! So I learned to stop trying to do sit ups and chair dips. Those were a part of my routine and I can now toss them out. Thank you for the alternatives and info on how to properly do all the exercises.

  10. I’ve read about how crunches are bad for us (worse, it doesn’t even really work). There’s really lots of info about it out there. Sadly, a lot of people still keep doing it. Articles like this are important for spreading awareness. It’s just sad to see people breaking a sweat, or worse hurting themselves, for nothing.

  11. I think that your hearts are in the right place but honestly, there’s nothing wrong with sit ups and crunches provided you do the correctly. Keep the head and neck straight and use the abdominal muscles to sit up, not pull from the neck with your hands. I use them in my daily life all the time, active people do sit ups, the only people who injure themselves are the people who are out of shape and do them incorrectly. Obviously they were never shown the right way.Triceps kick backs are a great exercise although your demo pic did it no justice. Correct form is everything, you didn’t really emphasize that if you do most of these exercises with correct form that they work great. The only exercises I agree you shouldn’t do are upright rows, behind the neck pull downs or presses, and the smith machine, oh and hyperextension of the back. I really don’t agree with you about shrugs. They are a great trap exercise, look at any pro bodybuilder and you’ll see they work great, again with proper form. The pic of you tricep dips looked injury prone because you were doing them wrong, you should have had you butt closed to the platform, then it wouldn’t look like a bad info-mercial about how we need a new product because the person you see is too inept to do the normal task. I’m not trying to bash, but your information isn’t backed by much knowledge and also no emphasis on correct form. These exercises have been around forever and there’s no real reason everyone should stop. If the exercise isn’t causing problems, and you like it, do it. If it’s causing problems, stop.

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Thanks for your comment Vince.If you ask most exercise physiologist and biomechanics experts, they all agree that situps are indeed bad for you. Stuart McGill who has dedicated his life to the study and treatment of low back pain has also agreed with this statement. There are so many better exercises. Its just not worth the risk. I also mentioned that shrugs themselves are not a bad exercise, it just that there are much better alternatives. You can’t compare pro bodybuilders to the lay person who doesn’t have a lot of time to exercises. Shrugs simply do not provide a good return on investment. Similarly, chair dips and tricep kickbacks just suck. You are much better off doing regular dips or other chest/tricep exercises for numerous reasons that the blog explains in all of our training articles. We have actually studied kinesiology, and understand human movement very well. If you look at our exercise index, we have detailed guides on exercises and we emphasize form over everything. The number one concept of our blog is to use the best exercises, and not the ones that have a poor return on investment.

  12. All exercises are bad if done incorrectly!! So stop thinking about which exercise is good or bad do the ones that you can perform with perfect form. In my experience exercises are like medicines the right dose and regimen will make it work other wise be ready for adverse events no matter how innocuous it might look like….

    1. Totally agree with you Ligase. I would add that you must listen your body. If there are exercise your body really hates – don’t do that. Try alternative.

  13. Well, I now know why my Rotator Cuff is out of commission.Up-Right Row!!I really think you hit the nail on the head. I started doing these a few months ago and shortly after started having issues. I blamed it on Basketball at 52 but I’m convinced.
    Thanks a bunch!

  14. So if sit ups are so bad then why do we do them in military all the time ? In fact why are they part of our fitness test if they don’t do anything but damage the spine?!

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      The problem is that situps have been a traditional exercise for a very long time. It wasn’t until recently that we now know the effects of it on the spine. Over time, I’m sure that it will begin to fall out of favor.
      Just like in medicine, we used to do some crazy things that we thought were appropriate only to learn years later it was crazy.

    2. This made me giggle. The military’s idea of health and fitness is about the biggest joke in history. I was an army medic.

      1. The White Coat Trainer

        Yea, I hear you. Using just pushups, situps and a 2 mile run probably isn’t the most ideal way to test fitness.

  15. that’s a great information, but i think you should write this with a literature or a healt case about that, so the reader will be understand and think the same way.

  16. Fun topic to read about and read people’s comments on. Your picture for tricep kick backs shows a neutral position for the shoulder and not the external rotation mentioned, just a thought. Many disk problems happen in flexion with a twisting motion and the hyperextension puts stress on the facets of the vertebrae. Body weight flexion (without twisting) of the vertebrae is quite healthy to help move fluid and nutrients in the disks. The leg lift alternative for situps can be very dangerous for the low back, all you are really doing is stabilizing the other side of the hips when compared to situps. Leg lifts would be more beneficial if neck problems were occurring with situps. Both situps and leg lifts use the psoas muscle as the major muscle to bend at the waist and this muscle attachess to the front of the lumbar spine. I recognize you would also be using the illiacus, rectus femoris, and the general abdominal muscles that pull the xiphoid process to the pubic symphysis creating flexion of the torso. If you have an instability or step off (spondy) in the lumbar spine these two exercises would not be the best to do until your multifidus is firing and supporting the low back on the back of the spine. Overall you bring up some interesting points that for the general public can be very useful.

  17. Pullups are an awesome exercise if done correctly, as you stated. I never worry about the chin, just work the lats and upper back, go back down slowly and extend the arms fully at the bottom. I hope you don’t scare too many people off this exercise.

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Thanks for the comment. I include it only because I have seen people strain their shoulders and their neck by focusing solely on getting their chins above the bar.
      But like you said, if you focus on proper form, all is well!

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