The Worst Exercises For Your Joints And What To Do Instead


Worst Exercises For Your Joints

Working out is about being healthy. That means staying injury free. But, not all exercises are created equally. Some may prompt joint injuries. We explain which ones to avoid and what to switch to.

Joint pain is pretty darn common and it can be the result of many things. One thing in particular that can cause joint pain and wearing down of the joints is doing certain exercises that are very tough on the joints or make them move in unnatural ways. If you have any issues with pain in your joints, you may want to reevaluate the different types of exercises you’ve been doing because they could be the reason behind the pain.

Joint health is just as important as muscle and bone health because they all work together to get us to where we want to be. So be sure you are taking care of everything as a whole and doing the right kind of workouts because once your joints start to deteriorate and wear down, life starts to suck a lot.


All About Your Joints

In case you didn’t know, a joint is a means of connecting two or more bones. They can be rigid such as in the skull, or free moving, like those found in your knees, hips, and elbows.

Ligaments are little short bands of fibrous connective tissue. This tissue connects one bone to another and forms inside the joint. When these ligaments get stretched out due to injury, this also affects the joints.

There is also another connective tissue at the ends of certain bones called cartilage. This keeps your bones from rubbing together and protects them from damage.

There are four types of movable joints in the body:

Ball and Socket – This type of joint consists of a ball at the end of a limb (such as the leg). It fits into a socket found on your torso. Three main types of ball and socket joints in the body are the hip, shoulder, and ankle. These are free moving joints that allow you to move your limbs in many directions.

Hinge Joints – These joints are found in your elbows, knees, and knuckles. They allow only a back and forth movement along one axis.

Pivot Joints – These are found in parts like the neck and wrist. They allow your head to rotate in place without moving up or down.

Gliding Joints – These are found in areas of the body such as the spine. They are made up of two flat surfaces that glide or move against each other. Gliding joints allow for rotation and lateral movements.

As you can see, joints are pretty complex and a very important component that allows us to do even the simplest of things, such as typing, walking, and many other daily activities. That’s why taking care of your joints is kind of a big deal.


Some Joint-Saving Exercise Swaps

Some exercises are better for your joints than others.

Which ones are the worst?

Which ones should you switch to?

Read on to find out.

What Are Some Leg Moves I Should Avoid-

Drop This: Seated Leg Extension 

This is a pretty simple exercise and looks innocent enough. Basically, you load however much weight you want, have a seat and go to town with it.

Sounds pretty safe, right?

Not quite! Why?

Well, there is more than meets the eye with this one.

This Is Why It Sucks For Your Joints

Picture a seesaw with one long arm and one short arm.

Got that in your head?

Great. In that case, picture a 185-pound man on the short end of it, and another 185-pound man on the long end of it. One of the men (the one on the short end) has to put forth an excessive amount of pressure in order to lift the long end guy up off the ground, right?

And, as this is happening, there’s also tremendous pressure on the axis.

So if you can imagine the axis of the seesaw representing the knee joint, and the man on the short arm of the seesaw representing the weight that’s placed on the ankles, then you can understand how this places a huge amount of pressure on the knee and know that the body isn’t designed to lift weight in such a way.

That’s why you should ditch this exercise. You will save your knees. Thank me later.

This Is What To Do Instead

The seated leg extension is meant to isolate your quads. Don’t get me wrong: It does its job and it is a very effective way of working those muscles.

But, why would you want to risk your joints?

Don’t. Instead, do something much better for your body.

Do This: Barbell Squat 

Squats are a tried and true method of building up your quads, and, though they might not be an isolation exercise, they’re still extremely effective without the risks. The best thing about them is that they work more than one muscle group at a time and, when using the barbell, you are always giving yourself the option to advance by adding more weight as time goes by.

Position the barbell behind your neck and rest it on your traps. Your feet should be hip-width apart. Bend at your knees, push your hips back and lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push off with your heels and come back up to standing, then repeat.


Drop This: Triceps Dips 

Triceps dips are a pretty popular exercise. They’re convenient to do because all you need is a bench or chair and your own bodyweight. They seem pretty basic and definitely get your triceps burning after just a few reps, but there is a good reason you should not be doing them.

This Is Why It Sucks For Your Joints

During a triceps dip, your AC joint becomes extremely vulnerable. The AC joint also called the acromioclavicular joint, is found at the top of your shoulder and it’s where your shoulder blade and collarbone meet up.

When you are at the top of a triceps dip and your elbows are locked out, this can cause enough pressure on the AC joint to damage it and even prompt it to separate, especially if it’s already weakened. It doesn’t get any better at the bottom of a triceps dip either.


In this position, your shoulder ligament and anterior deltoid are put under a great amount of pressure and this can result in a tear.

This Is What To Do Instead

Since triceps dips are just no good for your shoulders, save your joints and try something else that is just as effective in targeting your triceps.

Do This: Traditional Push-ups 

Push-ups are great and they’re actually more convenient than dips, because you do not need a single piece of equipment to perform them! They greatly target the triceps and also engage other muscles like the core, so you get a lot of extra bonuses by doing them.

Lie face down on a mat with your legs extended straight behind you and your hands directly under your shoulders with your elbows bent. Engage your core and keep your body in line from the legs to the hips and also the back as you push off the floor with your hands. Exhale as you are coming to the top of your push-up, then bend at your elbows to lower yourself back towards the floor till your chest is just one to two inches from the ground and repeat.

Bent Over Row

Drop This: The Upright Row 

This is a pretty common exercise that’s performed by many gym-goers. Of course, that does not make it good for your joints. This exercise is meant to work your shoulders and traps, and it does it effectively, but not without consequence.

This Is Why It Sucks For Your Joints

This exercise is one of the most harmful to your shoulders.


The reason is because of the position your arms have to be in to perform the move. The position is known as internal rotation, which isn’t bad.

The bad part about the move is when your shoulders are internally rotated. Then you lift them up and add resistance. This causes impingement, which basically means a pinching of the small tendon inside the joint between the bones. It may not hurt as you are performing the exercise, but, in the long term, the tendon will eventually be damaged and worn down until it finally snaps.

This Is What To Do Instead

Luckily, the upright row isn’t the only way to get your shoulders and traps in shape. Don’t fret! I have another idea that won’t destroy the joints.

Do This: Seated Barbell Military Press 

This is an excellent way to hit your shoulders and traps with no chance of hurting your joints (as long as you do it right).

Sit on the bench with a bar behind your head and either have a spotter give you the bar (better on the rotator cuff this way) or pick it up yourself carefully with your palms facing forward and grip about shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar up over your head by locking your arms. Hold at about shoulder level and slightly in front of your head. This is your starting position. Lower the bar to where it is level with your collarbone and hold for just a second. Slowly push the bar back up to the starting position as you exhale. Repeat for a number of reps.

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Drop This: Behind The Head Lat Pulldown 

This exercise is performed using the cable machine and is meant to work your back. It does a good job of it, but there is a slight problem with what it can do to your shoulders in the meantime.

This Is Why It Sucks For Your Joints

This modified version of the lat pulldown forces your shoulders into external rotation. We’ve gone over why internal rotation is no good while under pressure and raised. This is kind of the same deal.

People who are lacking in this type of joint flexibility shouldn’t perform this exercise. Not only does it cause impingement with the tendon, it can also prompt a natural reaction of bending your neck forward to compensate for the lack of flexibility in the shoulder joints. This also puts unnecessary strain on your neck.

This Is What To Do Instead

Of course, there are other ways to work your lats without messing up your joints. For example, pull-ups are much better.

Do This: Pull-Ups 

By performing pull-ups, you are still targeting those lovely lats, but without the chance of jacking up your shoulder joints and causing strain on your neck.

Grab the bar with your palms facing forward and a little wider than shoulder-width apart.

Engage your core. Keep your body in line, chest out and pull yourself upward until the bar is at chest level. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and then repeat.

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You never want to perform an exercise that can take a toll on your joints or cause injury just because that exercise is popular or effective. Trust me, there are plenty of effective exercises that will allow you to work the same muscles in a safer way.

Messing up your joints because of poor choices can really set you back in your goals or bring you to a complete stop, and that is not what you want. Take care of your joints, workout safely and pay attention to the signs your body gives you.

If a certain exercise is causing you pain (not in the good burning way), then get checked out and make sure there’s no injury. Ignoring it can most definitely worsen the situation over time. Along with proper nutrition, hydration and quality sleep, performing safe and effective exercises is key to lifelong health.

Be safe and go lift!

By Heather Neff, CPT



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