Dangerous Weight Training Exercises

Man using weight machine at gym
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It's not difficult to imagine that you can get injured lifting weights. Heavy resistance is inevitable, especially if you try to move it! Yet, compared to other activities and sports, injury rates are comparatively low. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that football, soccer and winter sports cause 10 to 20 times more injuries per 100 hours of participation than weight training and weightlifting.

Avoiding Injury

You can avoid injury by using a cautious and knowledgeable approach to a weight training exercise. Your technique, or how you perform the exercise, is crucial to minimizing injury. So are judgments about the type of exercise and the load you attempt to lift, push or press — especially in relation to your existing fitness, strength, bone and muscle health, and injury status.

Even so, some exercises are bound to be more inherently hazardous than others because of the very nature of stability factors and joint and muscle dynamics—and what's dangerous for you may not be dangerous for someone with more experience, training or body characteristics. For example, tall people with long femurs may find squats and deadlifts more challenging than those with more proportioned upper and lower bodies.

Be aware of positions, exercise types and loads that make you feel you are extending joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons too far beyond your natural range. Alternative exercises that work the same muscles often exist. Challenge yourself, but with common sense.

Each exercise has guidelines for correct form or technical execution. Make sure you comply with the general guidelines for good form. You can see how to do many basic exercises in the exercise gallery.

Overuse and Structural Injuries

Overuse injuries, often to tendons, are common in sportspeople and heavy exercisers, even though a brief curtailment of the exercise often improves the injury.

More serious injuries occur when a structure breaks or is worn away over time. Torn or strained muscles and ligaments, tendons pulled from bones and worn out and broken cartilage that fails to protect bones from rubbing together generally present more serious problems for which medical treatment is usually required.

In one study of professional weightlifters, the investigators said, "injuries typical of elite weightlifters are primarily overuse injuries, not traumatic injuries compromising joint integrity."

The Big Three Injury Sites

In weightlifting, the most injured areas are the lower back, shoulders, and knees. The lower back tops the list, however, and this is consistent across many sports. It no doubt signifies a human anatomical weakness.

Here is a list of weight training exercises often noted as potentially hazardous. While most exercises can be dangerous—weights are heavy—this list includes exercises that may be more likely to cause injury even if the appropriate technique for this exercise is followed. The reason is usually that the exercise movement places some part of your joint in a compromised position in which injury is more likely to occur. At the same time, it does not imply that you cannot perform such exercises without injury, all things considered.

Points of Good Form

  1. Keep the back straight when bending at the hips for exercises such as squats, deadlifts, good mornings, bent rows and cable rows. The main point is that even if your back is at an angle to the ground and leaning forward, it is straight and not curved at the spine.
  2. Don’t explosively lock the joints. This recommendation is often overdone. Powerlifting bench pressers are required to lock out the elbows in a competition. No harm will be done by straightening the elbow or knee joints as long as you don’t smash them hard under load.
  3. Don’t allow the knees to bow excessively inward or outward, or the elbows to fall to the rear or front when executing a lift or push. You want maximum support and to prevent the joint from being compromised under pressure.
  4. Keep the head still as much as possible and the neck under control when weight training. Be very sure you know what you’re doing if you lower a weight behind the head onto the cervical spine area.
  5. Be careful with exercises that place the shoulder joint beyond a range of motion or under a load that you do not feel comfortable with. The shoulder has the most complex range of motion of any joint. You don’t want to feel pain in the shoulder joint on extension, flexion, abduction or rotation. In push exercises, such as bench presses and shoulder presses, keep the elbows and upper arms from moving much lower than parallel to the floor as you lower the weight. This is good security for beginners.
  1. Use a buddy or "spotter" assistant when lifting heavy free weights. When in doubt, lift lighter weights.
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