Knowing Thy Body: Avoiding Injury ≠ Avoiding Exercises

Nobody wants to get injured, inside or outside of training. It hurts. It dampens progress. And it prevents us from participating in the activities we enjoy.

To avoid this costly accident, some supposed experts swear against performing certain movements—you know, the dangerous ones. Which are those? Turns out, none, really. Avoiding injury shares no parallel to avoiding particular exercises: one is essential to your success and the other entirely unnecessary.

You see, it is foolish to blame exercises alone for our injuries. If we do not learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. Instead we must assess the real reasons for failure. Often, injury is in fact our own fault and, even more frequently the case, entirely preventable.


Some exercises are going to help you achieve specific gains faster, but which exercise is only ever one part of a larger equation. The quality of your programming and diet, as well as your application of these plans, all contribute to both your risk of injury and trajectory of progress. In the end, no formal exercise is apt to cause injury on its own; at least one other factor is likely at play. Therefore, demonization of any given exercise is likely found to be exaggerated upon closer inspection.

“I don’t think there are any inherently bad exercises,” affirms Jeff Nippard, a science-based bodybuilder and fitness programmer with a large online following. “Just better or worse choices depending on the goal.”

For example, some have decried the notorious Leg Extension Machine will wreck your knees and is therefore better off avoided. Perhaps when performed wrong—heavy, jerky, reps—this may be a legitimate risk. However, many others have long used this exercise correctly to build strength in muscles around the knee, aiding recovery from joint injuries and preventing reoccurring events. And others still have leveraged the movement’s potent isolation effect to sculpt aesthetic quadriceps muscles across generations of builders.

So is the exercise to be avoided, or simply its misuse?

Nippard’s view reflects that of Bret Contreras, who several years ago established that the only “movement” worth avoiding is the one to “convince readers to avoid certain exercises altogether.” Contreras, a highly credentialed fitness expert known as “The Glute Guy,” points out that exercises are tools, and a good craftsman is not one to blame his tools.

“Exercises performed poorly are dangerous, while exercises performed well are beneficial,” he explains. Of course, not all exercise are equally apt to cause injury. However, many movements with higher risk also offer higher potential for strength and size improvements. We cannot forget the ancient adage: “no pain, no gain.”

Exercises are tools, and a good craftsman is not one to blame his tools.

“There exists a risk-reward continuum and some exercises are safer than others,” notes Contreras. “It’s up to you to determine where you draw the line.”

FOUR Tips for Avoiding Injury

  1. Do not avoid certain exercises based on someone else’s experience. You cannot know for certain what factors contributed to their injury, and avoiding exercises can have its own implications on your progress and safety level. Determine your personal risk profile and apply it accordingly.
  2. Understand the underlying forces of strength, which is the ultimate safeguard from injury. “If you display optimal levels of joint mobility, stability, and motor control, you’ll distribute forces much better and be able to tolerate more volume, intensity, and frequency,” observed Contreras. Being weak puts you at a greater risk of injury overall than does proper and sensible physical training.
  3. Do not overload an exercise you cannot perform correctly. “Correct any dysfunction and become qualified with bodyweight before loading up a movement pattern,” Contreras says. It is important to recognize that a movement performed incorrectly is also therefore done unsafely, which exposes you to higher injury potential.
  4. Know your body. While we humans all enjoy the same overall biomechanics, each individual body boasts its own specific traits, and we ought be its best judge. “Learn how your body works and master its mechanics,” Contreras suggests. This mastery provides the foundation for determining when an exercise should be “avoided” or not.

Train hard and stay safe, my friends.