No matter how badly you want to rock that sleeveless dress, there are some arm exercises you should simply never do. Here, Dr. Michele Olson, professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala., reveals the three worst arm (and shoulder) exercises of all time—and how to fix them.
1. Upright Row
Why it’s so bad: This popular move, in which you hold a barbell or pair of dumbbells in front of your chest and “row” the weight(s) up the front of your body to your chin, can do a serious number on one of the key areas it’s supposed to be strengthening: your shoulders. “This position, especially when the thumbs are close together, can cause the bones in your shoulder to rub against the soft cartilage in the joint, leading to a wear-and-tear injury,” says Olson
Do this instead: Sculpt those shoulders safely with the side row: With arms are by your sides and a dumbbell in each hand at hip-height, row the weights up the sides of your body by pulling your hands toward your armpits.
Related: The Worst Ab Exercises of All Time
2. Thumbs-Down Lateral Raise
Why it’s so bad: This move, done with thumbs down and palms facing backward as you raise and lower dumbbells out to the sides, used to be a mainstay rehab exercise—but not anymore, Olson says. Here’s why it wore out its welcome: “It can actually strain your stabilizing rotator cuff muscles, plus it causes tightness in the neck,” she says.
Do this instead: Get the shoulder-building benefit of this move without the risking your neck (literally) by turning your thumbs up and palms forward.
3. Butt-in-the-Air Push-Up
Why it’s so bad: Whether you’re on your knees or your toes, doing a push-up like so many people do, with the butt reaching for the ceiling, centers your body weight on your elbow and shoulder joints instead of what you’re trying to target— your chest and triceps muscles. Even worse, “it can squish the shock-absorbing discs in your neck and low back, and push your upper-arm bone straight into your collar bone, which can damage the cartilage,” says Olson.
Do this instead: Aim to form a straight line from head to heels (or knees, if they’re dropped). To help you do this, imagine holding a full martini glass on your lower back—if your butt hikes up, the glass will fall forward toward your shoulder blades. Clean up time!
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