The Top 10 Worst Training Exercises

As a coach I see a lot of crazy things going on in the gym. These ten, though, have got to be the ten worst movements. I’ll explain why they are bad ideas and the alternatives you could do instead.

1. Rebound Box Jumps

Reason: Box jumps are a tool to build explosive performance. Done as rebound jumps there is no potential to build full athletic capacity or powerful, explosive movements as it was designed to do by speed and agility trainers.

Risk: Blown Achilles tendon.

1. Rebound Box Jumps

Reason: Box jumps are a tool to build explosive performance. Done as rebound jumps there is no potential to build full athletic capacity or powerful, explosive movements as it was designed to do by speed and agility trainers.

Risk: Blown Achilles tendon.

Alternative: Use the arms! Remember the arms move the legs. Too many speed and conditioning coaches forget the biggest element to running and speed – the arms. Use them as you jump, perform plyometric drills, and run – always. As for the box jump, use the arms, land with soft feet on top of the box, open the hips fully, hop off or step off. Repeat.

2. Jumping Jack Press

Risk: Blown ACL and damage to knees.

Reason: Not sure where to begin. These are a complete waste of time, inefficient, dangerous to not only the lower body but to the shoulders as well, and usually used as “filler” in cardio classes. There is absolutely nothing positive to be gained here except some cardiovascular potential (and that is giving it far more credit than it deserves).

Alternative: Take a “water break “and walk out the door. No, run out of the door and do not go back.

3. Partial or Half Squats

Risk: Quad-dominant movement only, neglecting the posterior chain for which squats were designed.

Problem: These are just an easy way to get by with half-reps for time. Nothing beneficial to be gained here but sore knees, along with a weak core and posterior chain.

Alternative: Full squats – below parallel, knees out, feet narrow, chest up, tight core.

4. Foot or Knee-Assisted Pull-Ups or Half-Range Pull-Ups

Risk: The client doesn’t do the work and is cheated. This takes all isolated muscles that are supposed to be used in the pull-up out of the movement and puts the low back in serious jeopardy. It also does not teach or train for a real pull-up.

Reason: Pull-ups need to be learned based on body weight exercises. Even using a rubber band (with straight legs, one foot in a band) is a more proper tool.

Alternative: Pull-ups assisted by lat, low back, or oblique support are the best as athletes build up the right muscle strength to complete a proper pull-up.

5. Sumo Deadlift High Pull

Risk: Severe shoulder impingement, rotator damage, and unnecessary wrist torque.

Reason: Elbows should never go above the shoulders. Far too many people have a core too weak to support this movement and this puts the low back at risk also. As a result, the shoulders do all of the work and in an unnatural and damaging motion.

Alternative: Shoulder press, lateral or front raises, dumbbell or barbell rows. Kettlebell high pulls are also good, but pull outward on the handles making sure the bell “floats” horizontally at clavicle level. On the way down, let the kettlebell drift back between the legs slightly, aiming for the ankles and not the toes – this helps load the hamstrings and hips better.

6. Improper Use of Wall Ball Toss:

Risk: Low back and knee injury caused when the athlete is too far from the wall and catches the weight forward with a weak core.

Reason: Improper technique causes the upper body to collapse, especially in someone with a weaker low back and core. Instead of placing the weight back onto the glutes and hamstrings, the athlete winds up swinging and throwing a ball – and that’s about it. Oh, and he or she goes home with a sore back. No benefit and only risk of damage to the spine and knees.

Alternative: Proper thrusters or proper wall balls – done as one complete movement, about 4” from the wall, weight on the heels, active glutes, and tight core. The ball is caught at the chest and shot from the chest out of a thrust from the legs. Do not just “throw it up there” – ever.

7. “American” Kettlebell Swings

Risk: Athletes hurting themselves if they lose control due to fatigue or a slippery handle while the kettlebell is overhead. It is very hard to pull your hands free if the bell starts to go behind your head. It is far too common to wrench the elbow or shoulder, and the kettlebell can very easily fall on your heels.

Reason: Although not a bad exercise, it is just done improperly by many people. Most people focus on the goal more than the process (get it overhead versus hip extension) so they use their arms and shoulders too much, prematurely come up on their toes, and arch their low back too much.

Alternative: Swinging to eleven o’clock is safer and faster for conditioning because you can stop and swing the kettlebell back down better. Only CrossFit Games competitors should practice the American Swing and only because that is the standard.

To make the overhead position safer, don’t put your hands together. Leave a little gap, and make sure the outer part of your palm (pinky side) has some pressure on the horns of the kettlebell. If your elbows bend slightly out to sides, that’s okay. Just don’t let them bend front-to-back. At the top, focus on flexing the glutes, abs, and lats to protect your low back and shoulders.

8. Weight-Vest Pull-Up With a Band

Risk: Stupidity. How in the world are coaches letting clients who have their own problematic bodyweight to deal with add weight?

Reason: Learning and completing a normal body weight pull-up is hard enough. Do that first. And be able to do lots of them before adding weight.

Alternative: Do pull-ups, every day with full range of motion. Build them up from there.

9. Reverse-Grip Half-Presses or Half-Presses in General:

Risk: Looking like a fool as an athlete and a coach. It’s just dumb. Don’t do it.

Reason: Preventing shoulder injuries.

Alternative: Strict press, push press, or jerk with full range of motion from the rack or out of a clean. Reset the bar between reps, engage the core, activate the glutes and low back, and drive from the legs.

It is about the legs, believe it or not. It is not max half-reps with the arms bouncing up and down away from the body with a collapsed core and leaning back on a distressed low back, jumping around to just get it up.

10. Kipping Barbell Curl

Risk: Embarrassment and serious injury. Check out your local gym sometime or a local cardio class and you’ll see. There is nothing good to come out of this, not in the first rep or the hundredth. Stop!

Reason: If you have to kip a barbell around you are desperate and weak.

Alternative: Curl the barbell or dumbbells. Squeeze the glutes, engage the core, curl with the arms nice and tight, be cool and collected.

You might also like The Top 10 Best Training Exercises.


1. “Blue Collar Fitness,” last modified August 14, 2010,