by Bret Contreras December 01, 2014
If there’s one movement that I absolutely loathe, it’s the “movement” that attempts to convince readers to avoid certain exercises altogether. I’ve gone to great lengths in past articles to explain how unique lifters are in terms of anatomy and goals. I’ve filmed videos showing people how to gauge how deep they should go in a squat. I’ve written endless articles on exercise variations. I’ve discussed the biomechanical ramifications and pros and cons of certain exercises. And I’ve advised people on how to train around pain or injury. One thing I have never done is written an article telling lifters to never do a particular exercise (well, I wrote an article to mock these types of articles, which I’ll post below, but it was entirely sarcastic).
Recently, this article went viral on Facebook:
It advised lifters to avoid deep squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench press to the chest, and going heavy on any exercise. This created quite the controversy, but this is nothing new. A quick search on Google for exercises you should avoid yielded the following results:
6 Exercise Machines You Should Do Without
10 Exercise Machines You Must Avoid
The list goes on and on and on and on and on.
Most of these articles are written by well-intentioned people. Perhaps these individuals experienced an injury with one of these exercises, or perhaps they don’t feel them working the muscles thoroughly. My problem with these articles is that they’re often subjective, and they fail to acknowledge the principle of individual differences. Since our anatomy and goals differ, we are naturally going to gravitate more toward some exercises and away from others. Since we’re all different, the exercises we employ will be unique compared to those of the next lifter.
If we listened to all of these articles, there would be no squatting, deadlifting, hip thrusting, bench pressing, military pressing, Olympic lifting, leg extensions, leg curls, leg press, bent over rows, barbell curls, upright rows, behind neck presses and pulldowns, hanging leg raises, pec deck, smith machine exercises, hip abductor/adductor machine exercises, bench dips, jump rope, plyos, crunches, sit ups, elliptical machine, side bends, back extensions, dips, stiff leg deadlift, heavy lifting, seated ab twist machine, shoulder press machine, machine calf raises, shrugs, twisting sit ups, running, box jumps, kipping pull-ups, and ballistic stretching.
In fact, if you were to follow Ryan Lingenfeiser from www.RDLFitness.com, you wouldn’t be allowed to do hardly anything, since he has articles advising his readers to:
Now, I’m sure you agree with some of these, but I’m also sure that there are exercises that you like that you found mentioned. And that’s the point! We are all unique.
Several years ago, I wrote this article:
Please click on the link, I promise you’ll get a chuckle out of it. In the article, I sought to “out-do” all of these articles by being very over-the-top and outlandish. I sarcastically advised lifters to avoid upright rows, behind the neck lifts, squats, deadlifts, bench presses, military presses, back extensions, reverse hypers, glute ham raises, single leg lifts, hip thrusts, dips, push-ups, seated rows, chin-ups, leg press, bent over rows, dynamic core exercises, strongman exercises, single joint exercises, Olympic lifts and jump squats, and core stability exercises.
If you made it half-way through the article, you’d likely be thinking that I’m off my rocker. But then I clarified things by saying the following:
If you know enough about anatomy, physiology, and strength training, you could make a case for why every exercise in the book should be avoided. Conversely, you could also make a case for why every exercise in the book should be performed.
Without further ado, here are President Contreras’ actual new rules to strength training:
• An exercise is judged by how it is supposed to be performed, not by how the jacktards screw it up.
• If you think lifting weights is dangerous, try being weak. Being weak is dangerous.
• There are no contraindicated exercises, just contraindicated individuals. Learn how your body works and master its mechanics.
• If you can’t perform an exercise properly, don’t do it. If an exercise consistently causes pain, don’t do it. If an exercise consistently injures you, don’t do it.
• Earn the right to perform an exercise. Correct any dysfunction and become qualified with bodyweight before loading up a movement pattern.
• There exists a risk-reward continuum and some exercises are safer than others. It’s up to you to determine where you draw the line. Don’t bitch about your lack of progress or poor joint health as you lie in the bed you made for yourself.
• Exercises performed poorly are dangerous, while exercises performed well are beneficial. If you use shitty form, you’ll hurt yourself. It’s only a matter of time.
• If you display optimal levels of joint mobility, stability, and motor control, you’ll distribute forces much better and be able to tolerate more volume, intensity, and frequency.
• Structural balance is critical. You must strengthen joints in opposing manners to ensure that posture isn’t altered. If your posture erodes due to strength training, it means that you’re a shitty program designer.
• Body tissues adjust to become stronger to resist loading. The body is a living organism that adapts to imposed demands.
• Your training will be based on your needs, your goals, and your liking. Different goals require different training methods. The loftier your goals, the more risk entailed.
• There are two types of stress: eustress and distress. Keep yourself in eustress and you’ll be okay.
• If you believe an exercise will hurt you, it probably will.
• Injuries in the weight room have more to do with poor form and poor programming than the exercise itself. Exercises are tools. You are the carpenter. A good carpenter never blames his tools.
• Rather than drift along with popular trends, it’s more fruitful to learn how the body works, which will allow you to understand the pros and cons of every exercise and make educated decisions in your programming.
At the end of the day, how you train is your call. Whether you play it safe or roll the dice, at least you’re not sitting on the couch. Pain and injuries have a way of teaching you proper form and programming, and having a large arsenal of exercises is important to prevent boredom and habituation and spark further adaptation. In short, keep learnin’ and keep liftin’!
Articles advising lifters to avoid exercises will keep resurfacing over the years. Rather than just accepting the authors’ advice at face value, I recommend learning the basics of biomechanics and experimenting with exercise variations prior to making your decision to abstain from a particular exercise.
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