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Compromising Positions — The Worst Exercises Ever

by StephenKelly

Most guys wouldn't purposely set their hair on fire or hit themselves in the head repeatedly with a hammer, mainly because it's just plain crazy to deliberately hurt yourself. But a lot of guys are doing exactly that by incorporating some potentially dangerous exercises into their workout routines.

The fact is, some of the more popular gym exercises offer some of the greatest injury potential. Worse, injuries from exercises such as the upright rows don't rear their heads immediately, but occur over time as the gradual wearing-down of muscles and tendons causes damage you may not feel for years -- until it's pretty much too late.

Because they force your body into unnatural positions, the exercises outlined here are dangerous, no matter how clean your form. So be prepared to have the harsh facts about some of your gym faves revealed. If you're already doing these exercises, stop. But don't worry -- we'll offer some alternatives. So, in no particular order, here's our exercise Hall of Shame.

Upright Row
Whereas this popular exercise is meant to work the deltoids and trapezius, in reality it is murder on your shoulders. It is performed by holding a loaded barbell or dumbbells at your waist with a close-hand grip and pulling the weight up, leading with the elbows, to just below the chin.

In this position, the arms are bent at the elbow and then internally rotated, an action not usually harmful. Add resistance, though, and every time you raise the weights, the tendons in the shoulder become impinged -- or pinched -- by bones in the shoulder joint. That's going to hurt: Maybe not now, but somewhere down the line, tendon damage is almost a given.

If you absolutely must do this exercise, bring your elbows no higher than 90 degrees to protect the shoulder capsule and rotator cuff muscles. This, of course, limits the range of motion and effectiveness. Safe alternatives for shoulder exercises include military and dumbbell presses and front dumbbell raises for the shoulders, while dumbbell shrugs will work the traps.

Behind-The-Neck Shoulder Press / Lat Pulldown
Behind-the-neck presses and pulldowns rival the upright row for injury potential to the shoulder joint. These types of exercises put intense strain on the rotator cuff muscles -- a group of four muscles instrumental in supporting and stabilizing the shoulder joint. Burdened with a tough task, the rotator cuffs are nonetheless delicate in nature, and rotator cuff strains and tears are some of the most common weightlifting-related injuries.

Behind-the-neck cable exercises force your shoulders to rotate externally, placing the rotator cuffs into a vulnerable position of instability and the entire shoulder joint into a position vulnerable to dislocation. It's also impossible to get a straight-line movement, so you need to tilt your head forward to complete the action, leading to undue neck strain.

Why risk that much injury potential when exercises such as military press, the dumbbell press and lateral raises will accomplish the same shoulder results, while exercises such as front lat and close-grip pulldowns will do the trick for building up the back?

Pec Dec Machine
The cornerstone of a lot of guys' chest routines, the pec dec machine is meant to simulate the action of dumbbell flys to work the pecs and the front deltoids. The pec dec machine is insidious because it, too, forces the shoulders into the unstable dislocation position, particularly at the starting point, where the chance for tearing rotator-cuff ligaments is at its greatest.

If you, like a lot of guys, just love this machine and don't mind ripping your rotator cuffs to shreds, make sure your elbows are positioned well below your shoulders. Better yet, exercises like the bench press and dumbbell or cable flys are safer and less dangerous ways of working your pecs.

Leg Extensions
While leg-extension machines are excellent for building the quadriceps of the thigh, they can be killer on your knees. The action of this exercise forces the kneecap back onto the femur, increasing joint-compression forces that can lead to connective-tissue and ligament damage in the knee joint. Anyone with the slightest knee issues should avoid this exercise, replacing them instead with the far more functional barbell or dumbbell squat or hack-squat machine.