What are forbidden exercises and do they really exist?
It’s bound to have happened to you at least once. You’ve been doing an exercise, as you have been for months, maybe years, with no problems, and someone has approaches you in the gym to tell you:
“Be careful! If you keep doing that you’re going to injure your back”.
Why are some exercises forbidden?
Exercises are considered “forbidden” when their practice is generally discouraged as a result of posing greater risk than benefit.
Although for those pointing them out in the gym they’re movements that threaten your back and knee health, always.
Behind the neck press.
Some of these exercises pose a risk in that they place a body segment (such as a joint or limb) under excessive load in a particular (usually unusual) position that can pose a clear risk of injury.
However, a blanket prohibition of exercises is a mistake, as there’s no such thing as universally inadvisable exercises.
What are the risks of forbidden exercises?
The risks of forbidden exercises are the same as those of any other exercise:
Subjecting any segment of the body to a stress that exceeds the functional capacity for management, and leads to the appearance of discomfort or alterations in mobility due to acute injury or repetition.
Prohibited exercises differ from other exercises in that the body’s ability to handle the load is much lower, so the prevalence of injury tends to be higher when performing these exercises.
What exercises can you do?
Most people can do any exercise, unless they have a history of injury that renders them unable to perform a particular movement, for a specific period of time (post-operative, for example).
It is simply a matter of managing the training load, and the movement in particular, which poses a risk of pain or other disturbances to the user, in order to prevent this from occurring.
How can a ballet dancer stand on their toes for several hours a day without injuring themselves? Surely, if most of us were to stand on our toes (if we managed to do so) for little more than a few minutes a day, within a few days we would feel it in our muscles.
Dancers have nothing that prevents them from experiencing this, or from suffering injuries, other than hours and hours of practice over the years, which leads to their tissues being adapted to adopt this position on a sustained basis, without this entailing a greater risk of injury than simply standing with the whole sole of the foot supported.
Therein lies the difference, in adaptation, one of the principles of training that we've looked at before.
List of Forbidden Exercises
Which exercises are widely considered as “forbidden”?
The deep squat is a highly suspect exercise, which has been hypothesised as an execution variant that places greater stress on the passive tissues involved in the movement, especially the knee.
The risk of performing deep squats is the risk of experience injuries, mainly of a chronic nature (due to overuse) to the muscle (tendons), ligament and joint tissues, which can develop:
- Chondromalacia of different types
- Knee osteoarthritis
All alternative proposals on this list should be evaluated by an exercise and sport science professional who will assess adaptability.
Restrictions in the range of motion, limiting it, can be helpful:
- Half squat
- Quarter squat
Changes in the equipment that allow better positioning of the load to modify body posture:
- Leg press
- Dumbbell Rack Squat
Behind the Neck Press/Pull
The behind the neck pull is one of the most demonised exercises in the gym due to the general poor mobility of users in the shoulder joint, which leads to the onset of discomfort very quickly.
The main risk is that when the shoulder is in a position of extension behind the frontal plane, the external load exceeds the internal capacity to produce force and it results in a traumatic injury (luxation or dislocation).
The simplest alternative exercises are based on placing the external load, with respect to the frontal plane, in a more favourable position, in front of the body.
Lateral raise >90º
The execution of a lateral raise is normally limited to 90° of abduction, as executions above this threshold are generally considered inadequate.
The risk most frequently attributed to this execution is subacromial space reduction, which occurs when the head of the humerus and the acromion of the clavicle approach each other, limiting the expansion of the muscles that run through this space and potentially causing inflammation of the passive tissues of the joint.
Graphic representation of tendonitis and impingement bursitis due to subacromial space reduction.
Normally, simply by limiting the range of motion of the shoulder joint below 90°.
Joint locking during execution
Joint locks are slightly different, as they can present risks depending on:
- The joint in question that locks;
- The movement in which it is performed;
- The individual degree of laxity;
- The external load;
- Fatigue that conditions motor control over the joint, etc.
There are many factors that can lead to an injury, always traumatic, by blocking the joints while performing an exercise.
The risk, as always, is exceeding the capacity of the joint tissues to exert force, meaning the external load overcomes the resistance and causes damage.
The key is to limit joint locking in exercises with high loads.
Spinal flexion during execution
The demonisation of spinal flexion (when performing an abdominal crunch, for example) is the result of MCGill and the publication of his book “Back Mechanic”.
His arguments were based on anatomical models of animal vertebral structures, isolated from the rest of the muscles that act as supportive material, subjected to multiple uncontrollable repetitions.
The proposed risks are damage to the intervertebral discs (poorly irrigated structures) containing the nucleus pulposus of the spinal cord, which can extrude and compress a nerve root radiating pain.
The most common alternative to these exercises is “anti-movement”
- Spinal extension: Such as an isometric plank
- Anti-rotation of the spine: Such as a pallof press.
There is no such things as a universally inadvisable exercise.
There are exercises that are less suitable for certain people due to their physiognomic characteristics, which refers to their capacity to handle the internal load to which the external load subjects their structure is limited, and therefore pain or incapacity appears quickly.
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- Everything you need to know about the Squat (technique, recommendations…) by visiting this link.
- Alternative Squat exercise: Bulgarian Squat. Learn how to do it correctly here.