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5 Surprising Exercises You Should Avoid if You Want Gains

Updated: Jan 22, 2022

When it comes to weight training in the gym, there are hundreds of exercises you could choose to perform, each of them providing unique benefits and having their own time and place in a training program.

However there are a handful of exercises that we would recommend you stay away from, if you're looking to maximize your results, that is.

You see, while there is a purpose for most exercises that you choose to perform in the gym, these few are like going to be poor choices for their own various reasons.

Whether it's due to the resistance profile of the exercise, or just an inherently poor design, these are the 5 exercises that you should be looking to avoid in the gym.

Fit and athletic woman doing sit ups in a gym to build her abdominal muscles

Avoid These Exercises...

Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks

The tricep kickback has always been widely used as a popular tricep isolation movement. Traditionally, it’s done with a very light dumbbell, one arm at a time.

While it is a popular exercise choice for many, research shows that the dumbbell tricep kick is actually quite a poorly designed exercise, when you look at the resistance profile of the movement and where the peak resistance falls, compared to your strongest positions in the movement.

The tricep reaches peak contraction when your arm is straightened behind you. That’s when the muscle is at its shortest. The muscle’s ability to produce force is also severely weakened when it is at its shortest.

However, if you do the tricep kickback with a dumbbell, the weight will reach peak resistance (feel the heaviest) when your arm is straight, and your tricep is at its weakest position.

This means that you will never really be able to overload the dumbbell tricep kickback to a proper degree. You cannot produce force when you need it the most, and that‘s a huge limiting factor in your ability to apply an overload onto your muscles. You simply can’t overcome the physics of this exercise.

So even though you might’ve done dumbbell kickbacks in the past, and felt some muscle soreness afterwards, simply looking at the science behind this exercise will have you realize that it’s not the most optimal choice.

Instead, you could look to perform other tricep exercises such as the close grip bench press, cable pushdowns, rope pushdowns, overhead dumbbell extensions and more. If you still want to perform kickbacks, you definitely can.

But do them with a cable instead of a dumbbell. You’ll naturally get much more out of your hard work and see more results.

Sit Ups

Boxers doing sit ups in boxing ring to work abdominal muscles

While being an extremely popular exercise choice, the sit up has actually been proven in studies to exert a lot of strain onto the spine, and cause damage over time. Flexion of the spine from a lying position is a very unnatural movement for the human body.

Such repetitive flexion of the spine will result in wear and tear over time, and can actually worsen your posture by encouraging the rounded kyphotic position of your spine for long periods of time.

You could also put yourself at higher risk of an injury by pushing your curved spine against the ground, especially fi you're doing sit ups on a hard surface such as a basketball court or something like that.

So while the sit ups are a great way to work the abdominal muscles, you do so at the expense of your spinal health. There are much better, safer ways that you can work the abs and build up your core body without risking too much injury.

Try these exercises instead:

  • Plank

  • Leg Raises

  • Ab Wheel or Barbell Roll

  • Mountain Climbers

‘Combo’ Exercises

Next up on this list, we have any combo exercise that you might see people performing in the gym. By combo exercise, we mean movements like the dumbbell lunge to bicep curl, or the squat to lateral raise.

Now, while these exercises may seem to carry more novelty than the standard exercises you perform in the gym, this certainly does not mean that they are a better choice.

If you think about it, the combo exercise requires you to use the same weight for every exercise within the combo.

And there are very few exercises that you’ll be able to do in a combo like this that require similar weight to produce a challenge.

That means, when you’re doing a lunge to bicep curl combo, your biceps might be getting a blast from the curls, but your legs are essentially moving the same weight, just on top of your bodyweight. Your legs would not find the exercise challenging at all.

Even if you were to do 3 sets of 20 reps and start to feel a burn in your legs, your biceps would have been completely torched by that time. Either way, you wouldn’t be able to work both movements to a properly challenging degree, without compromising on the other.

We'll let’s use another example. The dumbbell bench press into the skullcrusher. Whatever weight you pick to use for your combo, one of the movements will have to be compromised in order for you to challenge the other.

Your dumbbell bench press is going to be a much stronger and more powerful exercise than the skullcrusher will be. If you pick the weight that’s appropriate for your bench press, you’d be lucky to get one proper rep on the skullcrusher.

If you pick the weight that suits your skullcrusher, your chest and shoulders would barely receive a workout at all. You’d simply not be lifting heavy enough to build any muscle or strength through the bench press.

So unless you have a very specific reason to be doing these combo exercises. We’d highly recommend that you just stay away from them, and stick to the regular exercises that actually provide your muscles with a challenge.

The workouts might start to take longer, but they’ll be much more effective at building strength and muscle, and you’ll be getting much more out of your hard work in the gym.

Kipping Pull Ups

You see CrossFit athletes doing them all the time. Maybe you've tried them yourself to see what all the hype was about.

And while you might've been able to do more reps than usual, there's no other good reason why you would choose to do kipping pull ups over regular pull ups.

In fact, the only time we'd really recommend that you do kipping pull ups is if you're a CrossFit athlete, competing in a kipping pull up competition. Nowhere else would we recommend that you do this exercise.


Because it simply takes away from your back, and engages the muscles far less throughout the movement.

You're generating momentum by swinging, and cutting the work done by your upper body by a lot.

The kipping pull up is simply not as effective at targeting the target muscles of a pull up. Take this study conducted by Christopher Dinunzio, which found that "the biceps brachii had lower activation in the KPU", and that athletes "may elect to perform an SPU for higher upper body muscle activation; or the KPU for more full-body activation with the potential to perform more repetitions through reduced upper body fatigue."

This suggests that the kipping pull up is simply not the best option if you're looking to build muscle with your upper body. It you want to build more full body power for athletic purposes, then sure, the kipping pull up could be a decent exercise choice. But even then. there are far better movements you could pick.

CrossFitters do the kipping pull up in order to minimize time under tension for the target muscles, and to bang out more reps in their AMRAP and EMOM workouts.

The reason that they do this is because the main goal of those types of workouts aren't to build muscle.

The main goal leans more towards getting the heart rate up and improving overall fitness. This suits the kipping pull up, as it engages more total body musculature (in different places), and would therefore be the better option for these workouts.

So unless you have a very specific reason to do so, just stick to the normal pull up. It's going to work the target muscles to a higher degree and cause more hypertrophy in the place you actually want to grow using a pull up.

Very muscular and lean man doing pull ups with very defined back and arm muscles

Smith Machine Squats

Finally on this list, we have the smith machine squat. Now the smith machine itself is not a bad machine.

In a way, it actually allows for more hypertrophy than a regular barbell could. And this is because the machine takes away the stabilization element of the exercises, essentially allowing you to lift more weight, and place more of that load onto your target muscles.

Muscular hypertrophy is driven primarily by mechanical tension, which is basically the weight that you're lifting.

And the main way to build more muscle, is to get stronger. You'll see the biggest guys and girls in the gym typically also being the strongest. This is because there is a direct correlation between muscle strength and muscle size.

If you take a set weight (60kg (135lb) on the bench press for example) and perform it for an 8-rep max, and you up the weight that you can do for that same number of reps to 100kg (225lb), your muscles would have grown.

However, let's say in that same time period, you didn't get stronger at all, your muscles will likely not have grown at all either. To build muscle, you have to get stronger.

On the smith machine, you're given a better chance to do this by being able to lift more weight. Your muscles do not know the difference between the load on a barbell or the load of a smith machine bar. They just know that they have to move the weight upwards.

However, that being said, there are certain exercises you may want to avoid on the smith machine.

One of the major ones is the smith machine squat. The fixed bar path forces you into a very unnatural movement pattern, and it becomes quite easy for you to accidentally hurt yourself, and not be able to train for a while.

This unnatural movement, done under heavy loads can lead to injuries such as disc herniations. You might find that your knees bend slightly more or less than usual, and that can have an impact on the amount that you lean forward as well during the squat.

So try not to perform the smith machine squat if you don't have to. You'll be forced into a very unnatural range of motion, and place more stress in the wrong places.


All in all, you should mostly look to avoid these exercises if you’re looking to build muscle and see gains in the mirror. Whether it’s due to the poor resistance profile of the exercise, or the risk factor involved, these exercises are suboptimal choice for one reason or another.

It’s ultimately up to you what you perform. We can’t make that decision for you. But we do highly recommend staying away from the exercises listed in here, unless you have a very specific reason not to.

We hope you’ve learnt something from this post, and have enjoyed reading through it!

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