There’s a saying that “the only bad exercise is the one you aren’t doing.” It’s mostly true, but there are a few exercises out there that truly won’t do your body any favors—either shortchanging you on results or increasing your risk of a workout-wrecking injury.
Here are four moves to drop from your workout routine ASAP, plus what to do instead for better, safer results.
Exercise #1: Machine Shoulder Press
“The shoulder machine at the gym is a waste of time,” says certified group fitness instructor Lisa Niren, instructor at CityRow in New York City. “The machine has a limited range of motion, so it will never make your shoulders as strong or functional as they need to be.”
That’s especially true when it comes to stabilizing muscles like the rotator cuffs. After all, the shoulder is your body’s most mobile (and injury-prone!) joint, so strengthening those stabilizers is important, she says. But by completely fixing the weights’ path, the shoulder press machine eliminates their full recruitment.
Do This Instead: Dumbbell Shoulder Press
“This exercise will ultimately build strength a lot faster,” Niren says. Bonus: You don’t need a gym. To take your shoulders through their full range of motion, sit on the edge of a sturdy bench, keep your back straight, and push the weights up and then together with each rep so that the ends of the dumbbells kiss at the top of the move.
Make sure you’re using enough resistance. The last few reps of every set should feel challenging without compromising your form. If you feel like you could easily do three or four more reps, you need to use heavier weights.
Exercise #2: Behind-the-Neck Lat Pulldown
“People love the behind-the-neck pulldowns because they hit the lats and upper back,” Niren says. “However, lat pulldowns performed this way are potentially dangerous and always unnecessary.”
This is because they put the shoulder in an unstable position that can cause wear and tear to the joint. What’s more, a lot of women don’t have the shoulder mobility to perform the exercise with correct form, putting the entire upper body at risk for injury.
Do This Instead: Traditional Lat Pulldown
With each rep, pull the bar down in front of your face until it almost touches your collarbone, Niren says. Throughout the exercise, maintain a slight lean backward and a long, neutral spine.
Exercise #3: Crunch
Mounting research shows that crunches can trigger (or worsen) lower back pain by compressing the discs of the lumbar spine. “The movement of a crunch is simply bending at the back, over and over again,” Niren explains. “Think of picking up something from the ground. You would never want to bend at your back to lift it up, but that’s what a crunch is—over and over.”
Crunches are pretty meh in terms of effectiveness, too. They really only train the rectus abdominis (a.k.a. your six-pack muscle). While the rectus abdominis does contribute to core function, your most vital core muscles are actually the deeper-lying ones that stabilize your spine and allow you to more effectively transfer forces between your lower and upper body. And if you’re more concerned about aesthetics, they’re also the ones that act like an internal corset, keeping everything pulled in tight and together.
Do This Instead: Plank
Strengthen your entire core with dynamic plank variations, including oblique hip dips, shoulder taps, plank up-downs, and planks with leg lifts, Niren recommends. Prioritize proper form over time or reps, always.
Exercise #4: Triceps Dip
“During a triceps dip, your shoulder joint extends and stretches back as your lower body moves toward the floor,” Niren says. “When this happens, the shoulder stretches beyond its usual range of motion, which increases stress on the front of the shoulder, decreases stability and strength, and increases risk of shoulder impingement.”
Do This Instead: Overhead Triceps Extension
When it comes to shoulder-safe triceps exercises, there are plenty of great options, Niren says. The dumbbell overhead triceps extension is awesome because you can do anywhere and there are plenty of variations, including the triceps kickback and the skull crusher. At the gym, you can use a cable instead of a dumbbell.
Classic exercises like pushups and shoulder presses work your triceps, too! For the best results, says Niren, integrate several triceps exercises into your workout routine to develop the muscle group from multiple angles.