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The Changing Tides of Exercise Technique

Have you ever stopped doing a common exercise—perhaps one you’ve performed for years—because you read an article or heard from a fitness instructor, personal trainer or another gym member that it was no longer considered safe?

If you’ve been working out for more than a few years, you may remember the shift from people doing lat pull-downs behind the neck to pulling the bar in front of the body. Why did this technique change? And how come some exercises fall out of favour altogether?

Why Some Exercises Change
The way we perform certain exercises sometimes gets modified because there is more research available than ever before about the benefits and drawbacks of various movements, and how these movements relate to human biomechanics.

Exercise physiologists and fitness experts today are better able to scrutinize an exercise’s safety record than in the past. Take the example of the behind-the-neck pull-down exercise for the latissimus dorsi (back) muscles.

Research tells us that this movement places unnecessary stress on the shoulders. However, the same exercise performed to the front of the body is safer on the joints—and even more effective. That’s why fitness professionals now advise their clients to modify the traditional behind-the-neck lat pull-down.

Is There Such a Thing as a Good or Bad Exercise?
Most people are probably better off avoiding risky moves like the one described above; however, some fitness experts urge people to be careful about labeling all exercises as either always good for you or always bad for you. In some circumstances, selecting the “right” exercise may not be so black and white.

For example, exercises that are considered inappropriate for most people may actually be beneficial and necessary for athletes who are training for a specialized sport, such as power lifting or gymnastics.

Another example: yoga postures. Some of these moves might be viewed as potentially harmful if you performed them in an uncontrolled, ballistic way or with heavy weights. But yoga poses are appropriate and beneficial because they are performed at a slow and controlled pace and do not rely on added resistance like hand-weights.

How to Know What Works for You
If you hear that an exercise has been deemed unsafe, should you write it off forever? Well, yes…and no. It’s all relative. Choosing the right exercise for a given situation often depends on a person’s goals, fitness level, skills and the training environment. If the risks outweigh the benefits, then it’s probably wise to avoid that exercise. If, however, you’re not sure, consult a qualified fitness professional like a personal trainer who can help you decide what’s best for you based on the above variables.

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