4 Worst Upper Body Exercises

1.  Back Extensions



Why: Traditional back extensions are often done using the lumbar spine to bring the torso up instead of the glutes. The lumbar spine can only take so much loading before it’s work capacity is hit and tissue failure begins, and going into flexion and then into hyperextension will most likely target the lumbar spine instead of the glutes.


Try this: “Butt Extensions”


Why: This exercise uses the butt instead of the lumbar erectors. I believe most back injuries and tightness come from a weak posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings) and can be prevented by strengthening of the glutes. Also, from a motor learning perspective, if we can train the body to extend the hips using the glutes instead of the low back, we will have less likelihood of overloading the low back tissues causing injury.

2.  Upright Rows


Why: There are 3 types of shoulder girdles. Each one is based on the amount of subacromial space, which is the space that your rotator cuff comes through to attach onto the deltoid from the scapula. When this subacromial space decreases in size, it causes impingement of the rotator cuff on the bone. Impingement leads to pain and in most causes eventual tears in the muscle. For anyone with type 2 or 3, internally rotating the shoulder will cause decrease in the subacromial space and thus cause impingement. Same thing if you shrugged your shoulders up towards your ears. The upright row does both internal rotation AND shoulder shrugging, causing unsafe levels of impingement.


Try this: “Single Arm Kettlebell Lateral Raises”


Why: The uneven weight of the kettlebell will increase the activation of the scapular stabilizers, causing the deltoid to work in unison with the rotator cuff and serratus anterior. Further, there is no internal rotation OR shrugging motion that causes impingement but still a high level of deltoid activation to target those muscles.

3. Bench Dips

Why: From the above explanation, we know internal rotation of the shoulder is not good for the joint. What creates more internal rotation than just rotating your shoulders forward? Extending your arms behind you.


Try this: “Gymnast Dips”


Why: What I like about these dips is your still activating your triceps in a compound manner, and the torso and legs at an angle decreases the amount of internal rotation. Also, your core is activated to a higher degree because you are working against gravity. More core activation = more core stability. And more core stability = proper dynamic mechanics of the shoulder girdle.

4. Smith Machine Bench Press

Why: For the same reason I’m not a huge fan of most machines, I’m not a huge fan of the smith machine. I believe set ranges of motion are in fact the devil. Well, maybe I won’t go that far, but putting your body in set ranges of motion are pretty bad when it comes to activating the right muscles for the given exercise as well as causing unnecessary joint stress. Why I hate the smith machine bench press is because to have a strong bench press, you HAVE TO USE YOUR LATS. It’s nearly impossible to pull your shoulders down away from your ears at every phase of this set range of motion. On the contrary, the smith machine will cause you to shrug your shoulders upwards, which is not only horrible for a strong bench but also for your shoulder health. Lastly, I’m a firm believer that regardless of your goals of strength, fat loss, muscle mass gain, you need a high level of muscle activation. Taking the task of stabilizing the bar out of the equation like the smith machine does, you are decreasing the activity of the working muscles and stabilizers.



Try this: “Barbell Bench Press”


Why: You can use your lats, stabilize your shoulders better, and use more muscle activation. Drive your shoulders in your back pocket and use the bench to hold the shoulder blades there.