Popular Exercises That Can Be Dangerous for You and How to Replace Them

By Matt Dallisson, 21/02/2019

Some exercises can cause more damage than progress for your health, creating issues like unnecessary tension in the neck, spine, and shoulders or too much stress on your joints. There are also exercises that are so ineffective, you’ll just be wasting your time doing them. The good news is that there’s a suitable replacement option for each of them.


1. Behind the neck pull-downs vs Traditional pull-downs

Stop doing. Generally speaking, pulldown exercises target the back muscles, which are a large muscle group that normally requires relatively heavy weight. The problem starts when you pull the weight behind the neck. In this instance, you have no option but to crank your neck forward, putting lots of tension on it. Plus your shoulders get into a very awkward position. The reality is, behind the neck pull-downs have no particular advantages compared to traditional pull-downs, where you pull the weight down to your chest instead.

Start doing. Traditional pull-downs are a great exercise for your upper body strength, targeting the back and bicep muscles using the body’s natural position and moves that are more natural.

Make sure that you adjust the weight correctly. If you find that you have to lean back to complete the pull-down, you’ve probably gotten a little too ambitious with the weight.

2. Tricep dips with hands behind you on the bench vs Tricep extensions

Stop doing. Although dips are effective exercises for your triceps, it’s a good idea to stay away from them. Because they force your shoulders to do extreme internal rotation and put too much pressure on your joints. It gets even worse if you do it on a chair or a high bench, as is usually recommended for beginners.

Start doing. Tricep extensions are a very effective isolated exercise targeting the triceps.

Note: Only the forearms should be moving, the upper arms should stay in the same position, close to the head.

Another alternative is narrow push-ups.

3. Tuck jumps vs Traditional jumps

Stop doing. This is where you do squats or burpees, then jump and tuck your knees up toward your chest. It may look cool, but it puts so much unnecessary stress on your knees and ankles without any real benefits.

Start doing. Jumping raises your heart rate and it’s beneficial for weight loss. If that’s what you are working on and you really like jumping at the end of squats or burpees, avoid tucking your knees. This way you still increase your heart rate, but don’t put too much pressure to your ankles and knees.

4. Crunches vs Plank

Stop doing. We all want to get a flat stomach, but crunches are really not the best way to achieve this goal. They are both ineffective and unsafe. If you are a beginner, it’s natural to pull your neck to far forward, putting way too much stress on it. And if you already have strong abs, you’ll have to do endless crunches to get any results, and your low back won’t forgive you for that.

Start doing. We all love doing plank to different degrees. It’s one of the most beneficial exercises and you can always adjust it to your own level.


There are a few variations of this exercise, so you can always adjust it to your personal comfort level.

5. Sit-ups vs Leg raises

Stop doing. This exercise may be popular, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective. In fact, sit-ups are even worse for your lower back than crunches.

Start doing. Leg raises are a simple, but very effective, exercise for your core and thighs.

Return to the initial position and repeat.

Another good alternative is plank.

6. Side bends vs Side-plank crunch

Stop doing. This exercise is a waste of your time at the gym. If you decide to do it to lose unwanted fat on your sides, it’s not going to happen because you cannot lose fat in specific spots, only in the body as a whole. Plus, this exercise forces you to bend your spine sideways which is a very unnatural movement.

Start doing. Side-plank crunch works on core, shoulders, back, and arms.

Start by laying on your left side with your forearm directly below your shoulder and your right hand behind your head, but don’t put any pressure on your neck with this hand, it’s just supposed to rest there for balance;

Lift the body keeping the legs long and the feet stacked;

Engage your core;

Lower your body and then lift it up all the way, repeat.

7. Seated leg extensions vs Goblet squats

Stop doing. The leg extension exercises do work on your leg muscles, but these machines put your knees under so much stress that the damage overwhelms the benefits. These exercises target muscles which can normally handle relatively heavy weight, but the way these are setup the weight becomes way too much for those small and very important tendons and ligaments in your knees.

Start doing. Goblet squat works your entire body and is a very natural movement and posture.

8. Back hyperextensions vs Back raises

Stop doing. Back hyperextensions put a lot of strain on your lower back, simply because the lower back is not meant to extend much beyond a neutral position.

Start doing. Back raises target the same area and are just as beneficial, but they’re a much safer exercise for your lower back.

Important note

Remember that it is always better to be safe than sorry. If you have any medical concerns, have a chat with your doctor or physiotherapist first to check and see if there are some exercises that you should avoid, and how to replace them. And if you are new to the gym world, it is very beneficial to book a few sessions with a personal trainer to learn how to do the exercises correctly. Quality in workouts is always more critical than quantity.

What do you think about this list? Do you agree with it or disagree? Do you know of any more exercises that are not safe to perform? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. Stay fit and stay safe.