The question of the "exercises dangerous for health" still appears on the Internet. There are equally many sources of valuable information and misinformation. How not to go crazy in this flood of data? Particularly at risk are young people: teenagers and children, but there are exercises that can harm anyone. Remember, you may belong to the group of the lucky ones who have a particularly resistant knee joints, hips, shoulders or ligaments. You may be safe for months of executing threatening workouts, while another athlete after just one workout containing specific exercises will be complaining about discomfort.
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Exercise # 1: Smith machine squat
Squats are one of the best exercises for general development, but... they may become one of the worst if instead of a proper exercise with free weights you use machines, for example the Smith machine. Why? The Smith machine enforces artificial trajectory of movement which can be harmful to the knees and back (rounded in the lower part of the movement in a deep squat).
"But my trainer / instructor said that squats on the Smith machine prepare to squats with free weights."
If you are dealing with a "professional" who does not know the basics of training, you'd better look for another specialist before you experience knee or spine injury. If you want to do squats well with a barbell, never start learning from the Smith machine squats, legs curls on the machine or other isolation exercises. You will never learn to squat!
The Smith machine is a bad solution:
- A research has found that squat on the mchine causes severe stress on the patellar ligament and anterior cruciate ligament => bad distribution of forces during squats. Do you want to damage your knees? Go on with squats on the Smih machine.
- You do not learn the true squats, but their reduced, harmful version,
- You do not train your core muscles (back extensors, abdominal rectus, the deep layer muscles) due to which your overall result will be poor (no matter what discipline you do),
- The strength that you get during a similar exercise does not correlate with the classic squats with a barbell (you'll never do real squats well),
- During "squats" via the Smith machine you do not reach the proper depth due to which your thighs will not be trained enough (including vastus medialis, vastus literalis that will not work). In addition, it is known that in the partial range of motion the knee burden is... the greatest,
- The Smith machine forces a dangerous trajectory for the spine,
- You lose hormonal impulse flowing from the work of large muscle groups (limited work of buttocks, the back part of the thigh and the back),
- You do not prepare your back to work under weight (barbell's pressure). Consequences? Keep wrapping the barbell with a towel or sponge and remain weak.
Do you want to learn how to squat?
Learn from the people who are able to perform FULL squats with a barbell weighing at least 200% of their body weight. Your trainer weighs 100 kg? He should squat with at least 200 kg. What does it mean a full squat? It is a movement in which the back of your thigh comes in contact with your calf.
Watch the film of full squats by Ivan Chakarov:
"But the Smith machine involves quadriceps well"
And allows for instance for unnatural movement of your knees far beyond the bar which intensifies the pressure on the knee. If you think that with damaged ligaments you will achieve better involvement of quadriceps then, unfortunately, no exercises for the legs will be possible for you.
To sum up: you can't do squats? Start from a full squat without weight (or with an empty bar). Do not touch the Smith machine.
Exercise # 2: One legged squat (pistols)
A brilliant concept of a pistol squat comes from the calisthenics school, it is being promoted in books (eg. Paul Wade's). In any kind of sport movement you will not be doing squats on one leg. Yes, you will heavily burden one limb at a time for a moment of for instance while running, climbing stairs or kicking. But the movement of squat on one leg is simply unnatural. What about lunges or Bulgarian split squats? In contrast to pistol squats the weight is distributed between the two legs. In Bulgarian split squat one leg is supported for example on a bench, and in lunges the second limb remains on the floor. Compared to barbell squats - lunges or Bulgarian split squats can also be dangerous. Twenty different things can happen, and each of them means at least several months of recovery from an injury.
To sum up: Perhaps nothing harmful can happen to you during pistols, but you can pay too high a price for the circus tricks. You want to increase the difficulty of the exercise? Squat with a barbell - if this is too little - just add additional 10-20 kg to the bar.
Exercise # 3: all movements with reverse grip in full range of motion
Warning: a drastic film of biceps muscle tear during a full range one handed curl on the preacher bench!
What is the problem? Biceps is very susceptible to injury when it is stretched with great force, eg. during reverse grip rowing, reverse grip pull ups, biceps curl on the preacher bench or with your elbow placed on your knee. The same pathology applies for example to the strongman competition (ie. throwing balls on a platform). Easy to damage the upper part of the short head of biceps brachii. I want to emphasize that we are talking about full stretch (full elbow extension). For the very same reason during the execution of the mixed grip deadlift (one hand in reverse grip, the other in overhand) is good only at the world record breaking in powerlifting and strongman competition. It's easy to damage your biceps. A reverse grip deadlift is asking for injury (the inner part of the biceps can be injured). If you can, row and deadlift with a standard grip (you may use the hook grip). Among others Dorian Yates (one of the best bodybuilders of all time) tore his biceps while rowing using reverse grip in 1994.
What about bicep exercises? No need to fully straighten the elbow, especially with the reverse grip! Why? The biceps particiapation is smaller at the beginning of the movement, and its involvement grows as you approach the shoulder. F. Delavier writes that fibers which form the biceps have little opportunity to bend the arm when it is firmly upright, hands in the reverse grip. The role of the biceps is the approximation of the forearm to the arm, which causes undesirable tension at elbow level. Starting bending arm which is fully straightened is carried out by the biceps only in a minor part. Beginning depends more on Brachioradialis and Brachialis muscle.
Sources: Referencje: 1. „Trening mięśni ramion” F. Delavier, M. Gundill – Atlas Ćwiczeń, Wydawnictwo PZWL 2. „Squats: Barbell VS. Smith Machine”http://www.liftbigeatbig.com/2012/09/squats-barbell-vs-smith-machine.html 3. Schwanbeck, S., Chilibeck, P. D., Binsted, G. A Comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat Using Electromyography. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009. 23(9)/2588-2591. 4. Buddhadeev, H., Bingren, J., et al. Mechanisms Underlying the Reduced Performance Measures from Using Equipment with a Counterbalance Weight System. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(3), 641-647. 5. Vingren, J., Buddhadev, J., et al. Smith Machine Counterbalance System Affects Measures of Maximal Bench Press Throw Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011. 25(7), 1951-1959. 6. „Muscular Develepment” nr lipiec/sierpień 2013,