The 5 Worst Exercise Athlete Should Avoid At All Cost

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By Nick Leyden

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Avoid These Exercises So You Dont Waste Your Time In The Gym.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed the changes that have occurred in training and exercises that athletes perform. These changes go from the pre-historic era of calisthenics and doing wall squats to the nowadays overly complex, and in all honesty goofy, yet crazy-looking exercises that trend to be famous on the gram. You know what I am talking about.

So, to spare you falling into these new-age training traps, I am going to highlight my top 5 worst exercises that as an athlete, let's just say you won't be getting any better by performing them.

Before we begin I think I need to explain how our body adapts to certain stimuli (get bigger, stronger, faster) as well as show the big picture and ultimately the role that your training has in the bigger picture.

So first and foremost, there is a principle that governs how your body responds to the different demands you put on it. Whether that demand is sitting on your a$$ all day or doing manual labor all day, this principle is called the SAID or Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. So if your goal is to get stronger you must place that demand continuously on your body using tried and true lifting strategies, such as a progressive overload which simply means to challenge yourself in the weight room doing heavier weights, more reps, less rest, etc..

If your goal is to get faster you need to train your body with all the parameters that will increase your speed. There are a lot of variables in these but you get the picture right.

Now, this next piece is big so listen up.

Important background information:

Our body is a very capable and smart machine. Especially when we are learning a new skill or motor pattern. A motor pattern can be anything from walking to swinging a bat, to side shuffling. When we practice and learn these motor patterns they become more ingrained and we can perform the action better and better until it's almost effortless. This is a concept that Malcolm Gladwell highlights in his book, Outliers. The most successful athletes have put in their 10,000 hours, so start today! This can apply to anything, like learning to shoot a free throw. The more you practice the better it will be.

Now what most trainers fail to recognize is that these motor programs we have, overlap and influence ones that are similar to them.

Let's take swinging a baseball bat. That motion requires quite a bit of muscle coordination and power. Starting from the legs, working up to the hips, all the way through the upper body, and finally into the arms.

So say I have a baseball player with ten years of experience and I took that baseball player to the golf course. They might not have the greatest swing, compared to all my golf players out there, but if I gave them ZERO instruction and just said, “hit the ball," they would undoubtedly be able to replicate the transfer of force that is required and the rotational power needed to hit the ball, compared to someone who has never swung a bat.

So knowing this is important as a trainer. I know that since similar movement patterns can effectively influence one another, it’s my job to use movements that are safe for our athlete, and most importantly, going to get the demand or stimulus that we want on our muscles so they can get bigger, stronger, or be able to produce more force. So those muscles can use that newly gained strength and apply it when the athlete goes to swing.

My Top 5 Exercises To Avoid:

1. Overhead Squat

This exercise falls into my Big Risk, Little Reward Category.

The Overhead squat can be a great exercise, however, this takes years of training not only strength but the mobility and flexibility to perform it correctly.

Pros: Great full-body exercise incorporating ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder stability

Cons: Requires tremendous muscle coordination and mobility. Puts ankle & knee joint in an unsafe position (low inside ankle bone and knee valgus), Compromises thoracic spine if shoulder mobility is limited.

Overall unless you are required to perform this movement in your sport (Olympic lifting/ Crossfit) I would avoid it as there are plenty of safer and more effective exercises at developing lower body strength and upper body strength and stability,

2. Single Leg Lateral Skater Viper Wood Chop Jumps

Welcome to the “Doing a whole lot of nothing” category. This type of training tends to happen when we read an article and try to take the best components of different types of training and combine them into the next “best exercise” that does everything all in one. These types of exercises usually lead to injuries over the long run and create bad movement patterns in our bodies. 

Pros: …...

Cons: Increased risk for injury, improper lifting mechanics, muscle imbalances, does not produce significant gains in strength, power, or muscle building.

Overall: If you want to work on your lateral power, rotational power, and landing mechanics, then select 3 different exercises that focus solely on that and get the biggest bang for your buck with those exercises.

3. Kneeling Physioball Overhead Press

This is the Crazy Stability/Balance Training group.

Now I do believe there is a time and place for stability training and even incorporating some dynamic aspects to it, such as balancing and picking something up off the floor as an example.

But again it's when these ideas get taken too far and we start loading these movements that the potential for injury increases. Not only are you not creating a sufficient stimulus in whatever exercise you are trying to perform on the stability platform, but you are also so focused on not dying that more than likely, the technique for the lift you are performing usually ends up suffering.

Instead, if you want/need to work on your stability start bodyweight and add movement form there.

99% of athletes won't benefit from heavily loaded stability training.

4. Angled High Knee W/ Ring Rope Single Arm Press

Overly Sports Specific Exercises

I love this category because it highlights the gap between what athletes do on the field and coaches or trainers who have never played the sport and who use concepts and theories that might sound cool, but don't do shit for you. Ahh, this one gives me a good laugh every time I see these.

Pros: Work muscle coordination pattern that does not relate to real-world in the game scenarios.

Cons: Get benched for trying to stiff-arm someone like this.

Now, there are great sport-specific movements out there don't get me wrong, but it's when we start reaching too far that this all becomes a waste of time.

If you are trying to increase your ability to deliver a deadly stiff arm on the field, you are better off developing your single arm pressing power in the various angles you would be applying a stiff by incorporating single-arm bench press, shot put med ball throws, and working on your rotational power, and shoulder stability.

Then taking your new-found strength, stability, and power and practicing it on the field.

5. Curtsy Lunge Bicep Curl

Last but not least are my friends from IG who all are doing the most to get a few likes and video views. Welcome to the “don't be a jackass” category. I’m just joking, but what I really call these are multi-movement limiting exercises.

Now if your goal is simply to move your body and burn a couple of extra calories then these might be appropriate.

However, if you have specific goals you are working towards as an athlete, then these won't do a lot of good to help get you there.

Pros: Burn 5-10% more calories in a workout.

Cons: limit the amount of strength, power, and speed you can develop. Teach your body complex movement patterns that you will only do inside of a gym setting.

Final thoughts....

You were probably looking for a list of the exact 5 worst exercises you can do in a gym, but our goal here is to teach the founding principles of strength, speed, and sports performance training so you are educated and know what will and won't work for you.

As you can see I highlighted a few exercises in my 5 categories, there are a lot of exercises that could be swapped out for any of the ones chosen.

Be smart, Be Safe, and Train Hard.

-Nick Leyden


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