Top 10 Contraindicated Exercises


One of the many benefits of research is that we learn to fine tune exercises, so that they are not only effective, but also safe. Unfortunately, many exercise instructors do not update their knowledge; they continue to teach outdated movements that are known as contraindicated exercises.


Similarly, many avid exercisers do not take the time to update their knowledge, either. A contraindicated exercise is defined

as “known to be risky.” It is deemed risky, because it weakens vertebral discs, ligaments, and tendons that may be damaged at a later time or injured at the time of performance. The most common area of the body that is abused is the spine.

There are many exercises, especially for the abdominal and lower back muscles, that damage discs by increasing compression force on the spine at the time of the movement.

Imagine that each of your fists is a vertebra and that you put a sponge in between the fists and push your fists toward each other. The pressure that you exert on the disc (the sponge) is compression force which, when repeated, can lead to a cascade of events that results in intense pain.

The following is my perception of the top ten contraindicated exercises and safe, effective modifications:

10. Donkey: On your hands and knees. Kick one leg out behind you while you throw your head up-both in a ballistic (sudden or bouncing) fashion.

Result: A lot of compression force on the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) vertebrae.

Modification: Keep head stationary facing the floor, reach right arm forward and left leg back at the same time, then switch sides.

Strengthens: Lower back.

9. Bent over row or flyes without support: Standing, bent over about 45 degrees, holding dumbbells or barbell and performing a rowing or flying motion with the arms.

Result: A lot of compression force on the lumbar vertebrae.

Modification: If there are no lower back issues and good core strength, then a modified supported version is a good way to work up to a unsupported bent over row or fly. For modified: use a bench for support. To exercise your right arm, put your left hand and left knee on a bench. Your back should be flat and your hand should be at the end of the bench with your wrist as straight as possible. If there are concerns for low back issues or a weak core, then perform arm circles without weight and butterfly stretches.

Strengthens: Mid- and upper-back.

8. Windmills and cherry pickers: Standing, feet apart, touch left foot with right hand and then touch right foot with left hand. Or, touch the ground between your feet several times, reaching back farther each time, before coming up.

Result: A lot of compression force on the lumbar spine.

Modification: Stay standing, gently twist to each side, knees slightly bent.

Strengthens: External and internal obliques (at sides of abdomen).

7. Upright row to neck: Standing, using dumbbells or barbell, elbows out, hands at the front of your thighs, pull hands up to chin.

Result: The bones in the shoulders rub against each other.

Modification: Do a Dumbbell Side Raise (for general fitness population) or a High Pull (for training an athlete who has good shoulder mobility).

Strengthens: Shoulders.

6. Deep knee bends: Standing and then squatting as low as you can go.

Result: Overstretching of knee ligaments.

Modification: Stop where your knees are at a right angle, 90 degrees, and your knees are over your ankles.

Strengthens: Thighs and rear.

Read part 2 of this article for the other 5! Can you guess what they are?

About the Author

Jeanne “Bean“ Murdock is the owner BeanFit, a health and fitness consulting company. She is the host/producer of Celiac Radio and the author of “Ask Bean“, an online column, and “Successful Dating at Last! A Workbook for Understanding Each Other“ and “The Every Excuse in the Book Book: How to Benefit from Exercising, by Overcoming Your Excuses”. Contact Jeanne for more information at 408-203-7643.



These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.