Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on February 22, 2022

Workout Not Working?

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Who has time to waste on ineffective, risky exercises? Not you. So ditch these seven moves that won't deliver the results you want -- and may even cause injury.

No. 1: Lat Pull-down Behind the Head

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The problem: Only people with very mobile shoulder joints can keep their spines straight enough to do this exercise properly. And if the bar hits the back of the neck, it could injure cervical vertebrae.

A Safer Lat Pull-down

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On the pull–down machine, lean back a few degrees, use a wider–than–shoulder grip, and bring the bar down in front of your body to the breastbone, pulling shoulder blades down and together. Contract your abdominals to stabilize the body, and avoid using momentum to swing the bar up and down. The lat pull–down works both lower and upper back muscles.

No. 2: Military Press Behind the Head

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This shoulder move, in which you lift a barbell up and down behind the head, can cause the same problems as the lat pull–down behind the head.

A Safer Military Press

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A safer shoulder alternative: When doing the military press, keep the bar in front of your head. Stand with the weight no lower than the collarbone and keep your upper body upright. The exercise can also be done seated. Always sit straight against a back support, and keep the natural curve in your spine, with upper back and glutes pressed to the chair.

No. 3: Upright Row

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The problem: Pulling weights, a barbell, or a weighted cabled bar up under your chin can compress the nerves in the shoulder area.

Safer Alternative to the Upright Row

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Instead of doing an upright row, work your shoulders with a front or lateral shoulder raise, lifting weights out to the front or side of the body. Keep a slight bend in your arms.

No. 4: Leg Press with Cramped Knees

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From a reclining position, you push the plate up and bring it down in this common exercise to work the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. The greater the motion, the more joints are worked through full range, which is good. However, if there is pain at any point during the motion, do not go any further.

Leg Press: Safer Moves

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If you want to do a lying leg press, keep your butt from rotating off the back of the machine. Push from the knees as far as you can, but if you experience pain, do not stretch as far. The greater the motion, the more the joints are worked.

No. 5: Squats on the Smith Machine

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The problem: The bar on the machine doesn't give, which can force the body into risky positions. Plus, people tend to put their feet farther in front of their bodies when doing squats on the machine, which makes matters worse.

Squats: A Safer Alternative

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It's not necessary to use weights when doing a squat, but if you keep good form, adding weight will intensify the move. Standing straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly lower your body, back straight. Move the hips back as if you are going to sit in a chair. Try to maintain your weight directly over your heels. Slowly return to a standing position.

No. 6: Bad Form on Cardio Machines

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The problem: Hunching over or using a death-grip on the handrail cheats your body and can throw off your alignment, jarring your spine, shoulders, and elbows.

Better Technique on Cardio Machines

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Don't set the incline or resistance so high that it causes you to hang on to the machine too tightly. Use a natural gait with a light grip. For a more challenging workout, hold on lightly with one hand and move the other arm, switching arms periodically. Walking on a treadmill without holding on also helps strengthen your core. And save the reading for after your workout so you can focus on good form.

No. 7: Exercises for Spot Reduction

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People who do strengthening and toning exercises in an effort to trim fat from a certain area -- thighs, hips, stomach, or arms -- have the wrong idea. Although these exercises can help firm muscles, if the targeted area still carries an extra layer of fat, it won't look much different. You can't isolate fat loss to one part of the body.

Best Ways to Reshape Your Body

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Cardiovascular exercise will torch calories, but resistance training is a big part of the equation if you want to burn fat. Boosting your muscle mass increases your metabolism, so you burn more calories all the time, even when you're not working out.

Can Bad Shoes Trip Up Your Workout?

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Even if you're doing everything else right, your efforts can be undermined by improper footwear. Working out with the wrong shoes increases pounding on the joints, and can lead to injuries like plantar fasciitis or tendonitis.

Shoe Solution

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The key, experts say, is to choose a shoe that is specific to your activity and that suits your particular foot. They recommend shopping at stores specializing in athletic shoes, where you can seek advice from a knowledgeable salesperson. And don't forget to replace your shoes when they show signs of wear.

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(1)     Image Source / Getty Images
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(7)     Brayden Knell / WebMD
(8)     Brian Pamphilon / iStockphoto
(9)     Brayden Knell / WebMD
(10)  Rolf Bodmer / iStockphoto
(11)  Brayden Knell / WebMD
(12)  George Doyle / Stockbyte / Getty Images
(13)  Brayden Knell / WebMD
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(15)  Brayden Knell / WebMD
(16)  Peter Muller / Photonica / Getty Images
(17)  Michele Constantini / PhotoAlto / Getty Images
(18)  George Doyle / Stockbyte / Getty Images

REFERENCES:

American College of Sports Medicine 
Jodai Saremi, DPM, personal trainer; fitness instructor; editorial staff member, Aerobic and Fitness Association of America's American Fitness magazine, San Diego, Calif.
Joseph M. Warpeha, MA, exercise physiologist; fitness consultant; instructor of kinesiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Scott Danberg, MS, director of spa and fitness, Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, Aventura, Fla.