Exercises your personal trainer hates

Exercises your personal trainer hates

When it comes to staying in shape, most of us tend to have shiny object syndrome. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started an exercise routine, only to become distracted by the next big thing. Unfortunately for us, the next big thing could be ineffective or even dangerous. I had the chance to talk with personal trainers and exercise specialists to learn what exercises are worth it and which ones to skip. These are the exercises your personal trainer hates.

Overhead barbell squats

Lifting heavy barbells may help you look like a serious bodybuilder, but they could also put you at risk for injury. “Any exercises where you’re putting the barbell over your head and bending at the waist have a lot of potential to cause unnecessary injuries,” Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Tyler Spraul told me. “While these exercises aren’t necessarily ‘bad,’ most of the general population lacks the skill and flexibility required to perform them correctly, which makes them susceptible to injury. There is a reason that people take years to learn these moves. They are tough!”

If you’ve got your heart set on the overhead squat, make sure your technique is correct before trying it. “Don’t rush into movements like this and avoid loading up the bar with heavy weight, especially at the end of your workouts,” recommended Spraul. “If you want to get into these moves, it is very important to get a qualified coach to give you guidance and instruction.”

Spraul also told me that dumbbells and kettlebells can get you just as fit. “If you want to do similar moves, I’d recommend starting with dumbbells and kettlebells instead, because you can still train the same movements without the restrictions inherent in holding a barbell overhead,” he told me. “There is a lot more room for error without the high risk of injury.” If you’re still not sure if you are using the equipment correctly, ask your gym about meeting with a personal trainer.

Full sit ups

If you want abs, sit-ups seem like a good place to start. However, just about every personal trainer I spoke with hated them. “People still seem to think that the best way to work the core is to do full sit ups, but actually, you can engage the core and do more effective moves in the plank position,” personal trainer and creator of A Lady Goes West Ashley Pitt told me. “Rather than doing full sit-ups, in which you could hurt your back or strain your neck, try an elbow hover, or the ‘stir the pot’ move with your arms in elbow hover on a stability ball. It’s a killer!” It turns out sit ups are just not that effective, so doing them every night is a waste of time.

“The abdominal muscles that sit ups are supposed to work are activated eccentrically. This means that they work when you are slowly stopping yourself from moving. The only part of a sit up that is actually working the muscles people use them for is when you’ve finished your sit up and are relaxing back to the ground,” owner and lead trainer at Flagship Fitness Richard Wilcock told me. “Slowing that descend down would make it a more effective exercise. A better replacement exercise to work the abdominals would be a leg raise.”


Sorry, I know you’re disappointed to hear that woodchops aren’t a great exercise, except wait, what are they? Woodchops involve swinging your arms across the body and using your core to stabilize.

“This across the body move is designed to work the core, but oftentimes people just hurt their backs by doing it improperly,” explained Pitt. “You will usually see people holding a medicine ball and going diagonally across the body. A better way to work the cross-slings of the core is actually in plank position, by lifting opposite arm and leg at the same time and take them out to the diagonal. Way safer!”

Anything that puts stress on your shoulders

Whenever you’re trying a new exercise, it’s important to pay attention to how your body is feeling. If you notice pain, it’s important to stop, rather than pushing through it. There are certain exercises that are more likely to cause pain in the shoulders, so it’s crucial to avoid them.

“There are two popular exercises that make me wince every time I see them. They are seated press behind the neck and lat pulldowns behind the head,” personal trainer, coach, and powerlifter Robert S. Herbst told me. “These are both very bad because they put too much torque on the shoulders and force the shoulders forward. This can lead to impingement and rotator cuff issues.”

Any move that forces you to twist or rotate your shoulders too much is dangerous. “Better substitutes would be a press in front of the face, bringing the bar down to chin level or higher if that causes shoulder discomfort,” Herbst said. “For lats, the person should bring the bar down in front of the face to the chin or lower, but again can cut it higher if there is discomfort.”