Weight Lifting, Weight Training, Bench Press & Bodybuilding
February 5, 2023
Common Sense and Dangerous Exercises
by Nancy Strasser

There is wide consensus that some weight-lifting exercises are ‘dangerous’ ... that is: likely to risk injury. The behind-the-neck-press is one of the most commonly agreed-upon ‘unsafe’ exercises; but some respected authorities would also include stiff-legged deadlifts, bent-over rows, Olympic-style lifts, leg presses, squats, and a host of others. Advocates of isolation-type machines may argue that any free weight exercise is dangerous; while advocates of free weights may believe just the opposite. So, after reading all the expert advice, and eliminating all the potentially dangerous exercises, the cautious lifter may find few choices left, besides dumbbell flies on a Swiss Ball. Obviously, safety precaution can be taken to the extreme. And when it reaches the point of diminishing returns (when it takes longer to set up the specially-modified exercise equipment than to execute the lift), it’s time to review the priorities.

Safety is important, of course. Many of the cautions against ‘dangerous’ exercises come from experienced lifters, who have learned their lessons the hard way ... and the cautious lifter does well to heed their warnings. But consider that many safety recommendations are very conservative (attempting to drive risks to an absolute minimum), and are aimed at general populations (attempting to cover all ages, all body types, all strength levels). Hence, an exercise may be deemed ‘unsafe’ just because it is unsuited to tall lifters or to those with back problems. This tendency toward generalization and conservatism, is a fact of life in an overly-cautious society that requires warning labels on everything from plastic bags to apple juice, and that recommends obtaining a doctor’s clearance before doing any exercise.

There are no warning labels on 45-lb weight plates (yet) ... but these are, in fact, the major contributor to many injuries: too much weight for the lifter’s strength or technique. What categorizes a particular lift as ‘unsafe’ is not necessarily the exercise itself, but its execution. It is ‘unsafe’ only because it permits (or encourages) excessive poundage in poor style ... and doesn’t hurt quite enough to make the lifter quit or correct the problem. It permits ego and enthusiasm to win out over proper exercise form.

The weightlifter must use common sense as well as caution, in selecting exercises. If he likes low reps with monster poundages, he must concentrate on impeccable form (to avoid unintended stress on weak-link muscles). If he wants to apply Olympic lifts to power-lifting poundages, he must work up to those poundages gradually. On the other hand, if he is prone to injury (or toward reckless enthusiasm), he may be best-served by the ‘safest’ exercises.

The common-sense lifter will know himself ... know his lifting style ... and select his exercises accordingly. If he wanted to be 100% safe, he would have chosen a sport like shuffleboard.


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