Are you practicing safe sets? When done correctly, exercise has the power to positively transform the mind and body. But it only takes a single slipup in form, some false fitness advice, or machine misuse to cause serious, long-term injury.

Hauling and heaving heavy weights requires skill and precision. And too often we get our conditioning cues from watching others at the gym, or from following quick-fix social-media stars who received their education from YouTube University.

Stay safe and grow strong by eliminating the following dated, dangerous exercises from your workout. “No pain, no gain” is not a mantra that helps make and mold muscles.

Posterior lat pull-down. For exercise to be safe and effective, our form must be perfect. Which is why the behind-the-head lat pull-down should be removed from your routine immediately.

To perform this moronic move, you must stress, strain and crane your neck forward in an unnatural position to bring a wobbly, weighted bar behind your head and lower it dangerously close to your vertebrae. It should come as no surprise that many exercisers unintentionally nail their neck with each risky repetition. The behind-the-head lat pull-down also places unnecessary force on the fragile rotator cuff.

Replace this menacing movement with an anterior pull-down. Here’s how:

  • Adjust the seat of the machine so your feet are firmly planted on the floor.
  • Hold the bar with an even, wide grip and palms facing forward. Push your chest out, keep your neck relaxed and slightly tilt your torso back to engage your core muscles.
  • Take a deep breath and on the exhale use your shoulder blades and lats to pull the bar down toward your chest. Your elbows should be pointed at the ground. Do not arch your back during this exercise. 
Anterior lat pull-down.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Anterior lat pull-down.

Seated leg extension. This popular piece of equipment is designed to isolate the quadriceps muscle located in the front of the thigh. While the machine is adequate at working the quad, it places stress on the knee joint to do so.

Not only is this exercise damaging, it’s not functional. When is the last time you sat in a chair, straightened your legs and lifted a massive load? I’ll wager close to never.

When forming your fitness routine, it’s best to use exercises that will improve your body’s ability to function in everyday activities. Buff up your quads, glutes, hamstrings and core muscles by trying a walking weighted lunge instead:

  • Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Using light weights, keep a slight bend in your elbow as you bring your arms into an overhead position.
  • Keep your spine straight and neck neutral as you bring your right leg up toward your chest, then lower it into a lunge position. Your knees should be bent at 90-degree angle and your front knee should not extend past your toes. 
  • Push through your right heel to lift your body and bring your left knee up toward your torso. Now lower your left leg into a lunge. Repeat this walking sequence until you complete 10 repetitions on each leg. This exercise requires expert balance, so move slowly.
Walking overhead lunge.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Walking overhead lunge.

Crunches. The tummy is a trouble zone we all strive to shrink. And while cranking out hundreds of crunches seems to be the obvious answer to revealing a six-pack, this exercise is doing more harm than good.

There is a series of unsafe scenarios that can occur when people do crunches. One common concern is that most people pull from the neck and head rather than using their abdominal muscles to lift the body. This places tension on the cervical section of the spine. It’s also a one-dimensional exercise that does very little to boost overall strength and stability.

Substitute boring crunches with this powerful plank:

  • Start in a high plank position on your hands with your spine straight, shoulders aligned above wrists and gaze slightly forward.
  • Lift your right leg and pull your knee in toward your chest. Squeeze your abs as you hold here for two counts, then release and slowly swing your leg back and up. Hold for two counts. Keep your leg as straight as possible during this extension.
  • Return to the starting stance and repeat on your left side. Continue alternating legs for 10 repetitions on each side.
Plank crunch.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Plank crunch.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt, ACE-CPT, is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach with a focus on movement and mindfulness. To learn more, visit