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7 Exercises That Can Actually Be Harmful for Your Body

Plus, expert tips on how to do them without injuring yourself. 

Exercising is one of the key components to an overall healthy lifestyle. However, if you aren't careful, working out can do more harm than good. "Injuries arise from exercise in a variety of ways," explains Kevin Lees, DC, Director of Chiropractic Operations, from The Joint Chiropractic, the nation's largest provider of chiropractic care. Dr. Lees and Kendra Gamble, HIT Fitness Training, Huntingdon Valley, PA, NPTI Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritional Consultant reveal TK exercises that are actually harmful, and tips on how to do them without getting hurt. 

Romanian Deadlift

senior man doing deadlifts

The Romanian Deadlift, or RDL, can do major damage to your back. "If done improperly with a rounded back, this exercise can cause major stress on the lower lumbar area of your back and result in a possible lumbar disc injury," says Gamble. To do it safely, she suggests tightening your entire core "so that it helps brace your back, keep a neutral spine the entire time, and lift with your legs (like you're pushing them into the floor) instead of your back."

Kettlebell Swings

Man holding kettlebells at the gym

Kettlebell swings are one of the most common exercises. However, they are dangerous, says Dr. Lees. "This exercise is a leg and glute exercise that involves a lot of muscle groups, giving a full-body workout," he explains. "Exercises where the weight is not steadily controlled can often lead to injury." Make sure you are executing them with proper form "to avoid injury to the lower back, wrists, elbows, and shoulders."

Upright Rows

Woman putting ice pack on wrist

Upright rows can lead to "impingement or strain injuries," explains Dr. Lees, due to the angle of the wrists and elbows and also "impinge or pinch nerves and muscles within your shoulder socket (it's called your Glenohumeral joint," says Gamble. To do it correctly, "place hands shoulder width apart from the bar, pull the bar halfway to your chest, or stick with lateral raises at a 45-degree angle," she explains. 


older white couple jogging outside
Shutterstock/NDAB Creativity

Here's a surprise: Running can be bad for your body, claims Dr. Lees. "One of the most common exercises and one that almost everyone has access to, running can be very hard on the body if not wearing the correct shoes or running with good form," he says. Feet, ankle, knee, and lower back injuries are frequent. 

Barbell or Smith Machine Squats

young red haired girl doing squats with barbell on smith machine in front of mirror

Barbell or Smith Machine Squats: If done incorrectly, barbell or Smith machine squats can cause an excessive load on the lower spine, resulting in injury, says Gamble. "It can also cause knee injury if done incorrectly," she adds. Do it safely. Start with a light load, legs shoulder width apart, and tuck in your pelvis to decrease anterior tilt.

Leg Extensions


Using a leg extension machine may seem like a safer option than doing leg exercises on your own, but it isn't, says Dr. Lees. "This exercise is used to focus on quadricep strength. Although machine weights may seem like a safe alternative for leg workouts, this exercise can add a lot of stress on the knee, aggravating old injuries or creating new ones," he says. 

Overhead Press/Shoulder Press

Common exercises shoulder press

Overhead press or shoulder press exercises can put strain on the shoulder if done incorrectly and also result in rotator cuff injury and shoulder dislocation, says Gamble. "Avoid pressing from behind the neck," she advises. If seated, try not to press your upper back into the back of the seat to allow rotation of the scapula, "preferably, just stand so you can stabilize yourself with your back and core," she says. 

Tips on How to Avoid Injury: Work Out with Someone Experienced

Multicultural men lifting weights in gym helping

In general, to avoid injury, consider working with a professional or a workout buddy who has a lot of experience. "Having a set of eyes to make sure you don't lose posture or proper form is very important in preventing injuries," explains Dr. Lees. "Even experienced athletes can lose good form when they are tired or not concentrating." 

Warm Up Before a Workout

fat-burning workouts

Dr. Lees also suggests warming up before workouts. "Muscles become more elastic and responsive when they have good blood flow. Jumping into a workout before warming up your muscles can quickly lead to strains and tears," he says. 

 RELATED: 11 Easy Things You Can Do to Slow Down Aging

Allow Your Body to Rest

Woman sitting on gym floor after working out

Finally, don't overwork your body. "Working out creates small tears and damage to both muscles and joints. Overworking a muscle can actually weaken the muscle over time instead of strengthening," says Dr. Lees. "Giving a couple of days rest to repair the muscle group will show better results. The amount of rest needed increases as you age, so don't assume your body will respond the same as when you exercised in your 20s."

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more
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