9 Exercises I Don’t Do (and what I do instead) [Part 1 of 2]

You want to exercise, but you should avoid these 9 exercises

Welcome back to the Health REBELs podcast. Today’s episode, I am going to be sharing nine exercises I don’t do and what I do instead. And always remember here at Health REBELs, we help you build a happier, healthier life by redefining what healthy habits are. To redefine healthy, we follow the REBEL Oath– the five part framework that has us swear to…

  • Reject extremes
  • Energize ourselves through healthy habits
  • Break free from common standards
  • Excite ourselves about our potential. And finally,
  • Love ourselves and act accordingly.

Anyway, let’s dive in and talk about nine exercises I don’t do and what I do instead.

Every time I go to the gym, a little bit of my soul dies. I see people doing exercises that I wouldn’t Fathom doing in 100 years. Now, to their credit, most of these are exercises that I have done. And I know now that they’re bad, I’ve either experienced how bad they are on my body, or as I got to understand biomechanics a little better, I learned how bad they are on the joints and on just effectiveness.

Today, I want to share with you nine of the super common exercises that I don’t do, and what I do instead of them.

Now I have to be honest, the original inspiration for this post came from another podcast, I was listening to an episode of Fitness Disrupted 2.0, hosted by Tom Holland. (No not Spider-Man Tom Holland! A different Tom Holland) Tom laid out nine exercises that he doesn’t do, for various reasons, a lot of them because they’re not shoulder friendly, or because they’re too advanced for most people to do correctly.

And although his list wasn’t wrong, I wasn’t really in love with the list either. Some of the exercises he had, I still think are really good exercises for a good amount of people to do. And there were some exercises, he didn’t list that I thought “oh buddy,” that I thought they were gonna be on the list.

So I wanted to make my own list with nine exercises that I don’t do and what I do instead. There’s gonna be some overlap with Tom Holland’s original list (My #1, #2, #4, and #7). But most of these are going to be new and original to myself.

Don’t worry, if you don’t know what these exercises are, I am going to post video demonstrations below.

These are really common exercises that we see all the time in the gym. But a lot of these exercises I’m not going to do either because they’re generally bad exercises, biomechanically speaking, they’re unsafe on the joint, or because the application of the exercise is most often done incorrectly, creating a little bit too much risk. Another consideration for some of these is going to be whether they effectively accomplish what people are hoping for or not.

Exercise #1 That I don’t Do…

And so the first exercise I want to start with, and you’re gonna love this, this is gonna be the one that gives you permission to no longer do this absolutely hateful exercise that nobody likes anyway. I’m going to give you good reasons for not doing it.

The first exercise that I don’t do is the traditional burpee.

I know burpees are super popular right now, especially in some fitness circles. The burpee is super common to see people do and I hate the burpee. There’s a couple of reasons why I hate the burpee.

I’ve been in this industry almost 15 years now. I started in athletics. My first real position in this industry was as an assistant strength coach at Washington State University. We were at a D1 program, and I was watching these elite athletes on the cusp of becoming professional athletes. I think I only saw two of them doing burpees correctly.

In general fitness in gyms as a personal trainer I’ve only seen one person do burpees correctly!!

Most often we’re doing burpee exercises in a really fatigued state, in a really tired state. It’s a fast movement, and speed makes this more difficult to control, especially when tired. What often happens with the burpee is that as you kick the legs back, the belly sinks a little bit, the belly sags and it puts your low back in a lot of flexion that the lumbar spine is not supposed to get into. Over time, all of this bending, this really fast explosive snapping on the spine, can be really dramatic and can cause a lot of back injuries.

Now, you probably won’t feel it doing the burpee. But after the fact, a couple of hours down the road or a couple of days or a couple of weeks. After the accumulation of all the fast snapping sagging spine positions, you’re gonna develop some back problems from this exercise.

So since most people can’t do this correctly, I don’t think anyone should try. Another problem with the burpee is… what is the point of a burpee? When you ask most trainers why they’re giving clients burpees it will be either a time filler or because it’s hard. “Because it’s hard” is not a good reason to do an exercise. Because it’s hard is not a good reason to do anything.

What we want to do is select exercises that serve a purpose that drive us towards our goal. Burpees, really don’t drive towards any goal. Now, sometimes you’ll catch a couple people that will say a few things, that it’s a great job at conditioning that it gets the heart rate elevated, it requires no equipment.

It’s an easy conditioning exercise to do no matter what. And in that regards, what I prefer to do is a mountain climber version. Right there. Mountain climbers are a great bodyweight conditioning exercise that also get the heart rate elevated. But because of the position, because of the speed of movement, there’s not as much sagging on the back, so you’re not going to have any risk to the spine.

A better alternative to Burpee exercises

And then sometimes people will talk about, “well, it’s about that explosive pop!” It gets you really good with that explosion and jumping. In that regard. I think just jumping is fine enough doing broad jumps or jumping jacks. If you want to work on that explosive bodyweight power, there are better options like jumping jacks.

Exercise #2 That I Don’t Do…

The second exercise, and I I haven’t done this exercise since back in college because it just doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t feel good because it’s anatomically compromised, it puts your shoulder into a really bad position (what we call “impinged” position).

And what that means is, the shoulder gets really bunched up, it gets compressed, and bones start to really compress on the ligaments. There’s this little tiny tunnel, in your shoulder joint where ligaments and tendons and veins and arteries and nerves are supposed to run through. In this position, we close off that little tunnel, and then we put weight on it and it causes a lot of pain and discomforts.

That exercises the upright row.

Don’t do it…

The upright row is a really popular and common shoulder exercise. It’s a really old school from the 70s bodybuilding world. But the reality is, it’s got so much risk that whatever muscles you are training, not super effective. It does kind of hit two muscles at once, it will do a little bit of the trapezius (the muscles next to the neck) and it also does the shoulder muscles (the muscles on your shoulders).

In those regards, what we can do instead with less risk, without compromising the shoulder joint itself, we can do exercises I call Dumbbell Iron Crosses. Iron Crosses are going to hit the entire shoulder complex without risking an impinged position.

Better than upright rows

Exercise #3 That I Don’t Do….

Now, the first exercise we talked about, I figured people were going to be happy to hear that they don’t have to do it. This next exercise. This one’s going to get me some hate mail.

I don’t do barbell squats.

The Classic

I know this one’s a really popular exercise. This is almost a sacred cow in the fitness industry. Everybody says that you must squat and for the most part I generally agree with that.

However, when I talk about squats, I’m talking about the motion of a squat– the sitting and standing motion. The particular loading with a barbell on your back to get a really heavy squat, I don’t think is really beneficial.

Confession, I have a personal reason for not doing barbell squats. I do have a steel rod in my left knee, really compromised cartilage and an almost non existent meniscus.

Yeah… No barbell squats for me

Heavy barbell squats are just not smart for me as an individual. But I haven’t given barbell squats to a client in almost seven years. The reason being is a barbell squat has a lot of inherent risk to it. Putting a heavy weight on your spine requires a lot of stability and a lot of strength. If you get a little bit out of position, it can become dangerous, it can become dangerous very quickly.

The barbell squat is something that’s really popular in the fitness circles. People have written poetry about the necessity of barbell squats. But the reality is the risk to the joint is just not really worth it.

And you’re trying to train legs. I think a more effective way is via single leg movements such as lunges, or Bulgarian squats. (And if you’re one of my clients listening, I apologize. I know you hate how much I give you lunges.)

But the reality is a lunge is going to be a superior exercise for the legs than a squat. I know that is a dangerous claim to make. But the reality is a lot of times when people are doing these heavy squats, you can do a squat and not use the legs very much. You can compromise and wiggle and use a lot of back, you can get out of position and go through the motion. And ultimately, you can take a lot of stress off your target muscles so that you’re not really having an effective exercise.

With lunges and Single Leg variations, it’s a lot harder to cheat, it’s a lot harder to do it incorrectly. And it’s very focused on the target muscles.

Single leg work also has a additional benefit. Where squats can be really risky on someone’s back if you do it incorrectly, lunges and single leg exercises, because of that split hip position, is going to work on hip mobility and hip dissociation from the lumbar spine. Single leg exercises actually promotes better back health.

(For more strategies on strength training exercises that are good for low back health, check out THIS ARTICLE HERE)

And with the single leg stabilizing, it’s going to improve knee health because it’s going to work your glutes. It is going to be better for your knees, hips and low back and it’s going to be more targeted on the muscles. Single leg work rocks!

Barbell squats. I hate to say this because I’m going to get hate mail for this, but they’re overrated. Instead, I recommend doing lunges and single leg work such as Bulgarian squats.

Editor’s Note: Because of the length of this post coupled with the amount of video media, we are going to split this post into two parts. Check here for Exercises 4-9 of Exercises I Don’t Do (and what I do instead).

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