Are there any ‘bad’ exercises?

Published: 12 Jul 2022

Are there any ‘bad’ exercises?

As a Physiotherapist with previous experience as a Personal Trainer and Exercise Physiologist, and regular gym goer, it is fair to say that there is great emphasis upon exercise within my treatments.

All too frequently in clinic, I am either asked questions along the lines of:

“Is shoulder pressing bad for your shoulders?”

“Are squats bad for your knees?”

“Are deadlifts bad for your back?”

When someone says to me:
“I can’t do that exercise, it’s bad for me”
My response is:
“ Would you like to perform that exercise without it causing you grief?”

Or, quite the contrary, where I am told:

“I can’t do that exercise, it’s bad for me”

My response to statements like that above is usually along the lines of:

“ Would you like to perform that exercise without it causing you grief?”

It can be very easy to classify certain exercises based on how they make you feel. I totally understand how frustrating exercising with pain can be. It can be quite an easy solution to just stop that particular exercise to avoid pain. However there is a good chance that pain will present itself later down the track with a different exercise, and soon enough, with particular movements in every day life.

The longer we delay addressing the underlying concern, the longer it may take to resolve.  If you find that a certain exercise you perform at a particular time causes you grief, when once upon a time it didn’t, don’t be quick to judge as a ‘bad exercise’. Sometimes trying an exercise for the first time might feel awkward or uncomfortable.   Again, doesn’t mean that particular exercise is bad.

As a Physiotherapist with a great interest in all things sporting and gym based, this is quite a common conversation I will have on the daily basis with my patients. Now, very rarely is there a very simple, black and white answer as to why, however a lot of the time; could be due to any of the below factors:

  • Your technique could be a little off under that particular load.
  • Certain other stabilising muscles around the primary joints involved aren’t tolerating the load you are putting them under.
  • Lack of movement or mobility in surrounding joints.

With this said, it is fair to say, that there is no such thing as a bad exercise, however can definitely agree on there being exercises that you are not quite ready for. Certain movements or load in which you currently lack the capacity for tolerating. Our bodies are amazing and the tissue which makes up our muscles and joints can adapt and grow. They can become more mobile and stronger when guided in the right direction.

In the clinic, we break down all movements involved with the particular exercise and run through thorough assessments to determine ‘the why’.

In some cases, we need to work on particular rehab based exercises, which are prescribed to help you perform movements in a more efficient manner. In some other cases, we need to slow down, take a small step back, and then build on this moving forward.

A common scenario we see in the clinic for example is a pinching pain in the shoulder while either bench pressing or shoulder pressing. While we often address underlying concerns which may include rotator cuff stability and thoracic extension mobility (amongst others), with particular rehab, we also regress the overall intensity of the exercise we are currently working; as opposed to ruling it “bad” and avoiding.

You can take a step back and regress the movement, so that you can come back stronger than previously. This can be achieved by:

  • Reducing / limiting the range of the movement within pain tolerance.
  • Reducing the weight you are lifting to a more tolerable load for now.
  • Regress from a free weight movement to a machine; requiring less of the surrounding stabilisers; until things calm down so you can then re – introduce later on.

If you feel any discomfort with an exercise, I would encourage you get assessed first. Break down the movement with your physiotherapist. A thorough assessment can help you learn why a particular movement or exercise is causing you pain, and our treatment plan will be aimed at helping you increase your capacity to not only tolerating the exercise but perform it at your best.

If you would like to know more about your gym program or certain exercises which cause you grief, please feel free to contact Isaac, Senior Physiotherapist at The Healthy Body Company Jordan Springs on (02) 4722 6994.