Bodyweight exercises are often said to be safer than many free weight and machine strength training exercises. And while this is a sweeping generalization, in a lot of cases, it’s true. It’s much harder to hurt yourself doing push-ups or bodyweight squats than it is bench presses or heavy back squats. That said, your form and previous history will also affect your risk, and even luck can play a part because sometimes happen even if you do everything right.
However, there are a few bodyweight exercises that are riskier than others and that are more likely to result in wounds. In addition, there are better, safer exercises that you can do instead. After all, if there is a safer but equally effective alternative to an exercise that could result in wound, it makes sense to use it, right? After all, you won’t be able to train, and that means any progress you’ve been made could end up being lost. Talk about a waste of time! When it comes to training long, hard, and often, safety is important.
1. Chair and Bench Dips
Chair and bench dips work your triceps, which is the muscle on the back of your upper arm. They also work your deltoids or shoulder muscles, and pectoralis major or chest as well.
However, they also force your shoulders into a very extended position, putting a whole lot of stress on your already fragile acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which is the joint between your scapular and clavicle bones. Unlike regular parallel dips, which this exercise is often used to replace, chair or bench dips often cause your h-ips to swing forward and away from your hands. This increases shoulder extension at the bottom of each rep.
Work the same muscles with less AC stress by replacing chair and bench dips with the following exercises.
2. Close Grip Pushup
This push-up variation increases triceps activation while putting much less stress on your shoulders.
Squat down and place your hands on the floor, about 12-inches apart. Walk your feet back until your legs and body are straight. Pull your shoulders down and back to stabilize your
shoulders. Tuck your arms in close to your body.
Bend your arms and lower your chest down to within an inch of the floor. Do not let your h-ips sag.
Push yourself back up and repeat.
Bend your legs and rest on your knees if full push-ups are too hard.
3. Two chair dips
Instead of having one chair or bench behind you, use two chairs so you won’t have to extend your shoulders so much.
Place two chairs about shoulder-width apart. Stand between them and place your hands on the seats. Extend your legs out in front of you, feet on the floor.
Bend your arms and descend until your elbows are bent to around 90-degrees. Keep your torso upright, h-ips directly under your shoulders.
Push yourself back up and repeat.
Do this exercise between two strong chair backs for a more demanding workout.
4. Sissy Squats
Sissy squats are a tough quad exercise from the golden era of bodybuilding. They involve leaning back and rising up on to your toes to overload the thighs, and especially vastus medialis. Sore knees are something all lifters want to avoid, so you should look for less risky alternatives.
Use the following exercises to build your quads without damaging your knees, using nothing more than just your bodyweight.
5. Short step lunges
Lunges work all of your major leg muscles, but taking a shorter than usual step increases quadriceps activation.
- Stand with your feet together, hands by your sides.
- Take a small step forward, bend your legs, and lower your rear knee down to within an inch of
- the floor. Do not let your front knee extend forward of your toes.
- Push off your front leg and stand up, returning to your original starting position.
- Repeat by leading with the opposite leg. Alternate sides for the duration of your set.
6. Rearfoot elevated squats.
- Also known as Bulgarian s-plit squat, this exercise will build and strengthen your quads plus improve your balance and mobility.
- Stand with your back to a knee-high chair or step. Bend one leg and place your foot on the bench behind you. Hop forward and into a s-plit stance.
- Bend your legs and lower your rear knee down to within an inch of the floor.
- Most of the weight should be on your front leg.
- Stand back up and repeat. Rest a moment and then do the same number of reps on the other leg.
Burpees are an effective but very demanding exercise. Unfortunately, for some people, they’re just too hard to do safely, especially if you are tired or lack core strength. If you are fit and strong, there is no need to drop burpees from your program but, if they hurt you (and not in a good way), you should choose an alternative.
Problems with burpees include:
Collapsing into a deep squat and h-urting your knees
Dropping your h-ips during the push-up and h-urting your lower back
Rounding your lower back as you jump your feet back up to your hands
Landing heavily after the squat jump
These burpee alternatives are easier on your joints but will still deliver an effective workout. Use them in place of burpees, or while building your fitness and strength so you can do burpees properly.
8. St-ripped down burpees
This exercise omits the push-up and mid-air leap, making them much less demanding than full burpees.
- Stand with your feet together, hands by your sides.
- Squat down under control and place your hands on the floor, just outside your feet.
- Jump or step your feet back and out into the push-up position.
- Jump or step your feet back up to your hands.
- Stand up straight and then repeat.
- Mountain climbers
- This bodyweight cardio conditioning exercise is much less stressful than burpees but works many of the same muscles.
- Adopt the push-up position with your arms and legs straight.
- Brace your abs, bend one leg, and pull your knee up and into your chest.
- Drive that leg back and pull your other leg into your chest.
- Keep pumping your legs for the duration of your set.
The faster you go, the harder this exercise becomes.
9. Crunches and Sit-ups
Crunches and sit-ups are popular ab exercises, but they can cause back problems too. The repetitive spinal flexion can put a lot of stress on your lumbar spine, and especially the intervertebral disks. Also, if you put your hands behind your neck and pull with your arms, you can hurt your neck too. There are definitely better ways to work your abs than sit-ups and crunches, even if you are training at home.
A lot of people write planks off as being too easy. That’s because they are doing them wrong. Performed correctly, 15-30 seconds of planking should be all you need.
Lie on your front with your arms bent and forearms extended in front of you. Clasp your hands together if you wish.
Lift your h-ips off the floor and straighten your legs. Tuck your chin in and extend your neck. Brace your abs as hard as you can without holding your breath.
Try to pull your elbows in toward your feet and your feet in toward your elbows while keeping your body perfectly straight. Generate maximal muscular tension.
Stop when you are no longer able to contract your muscles to the max.
- This challenging exercise will leave your abs begging for mercy. It’s a great alternative to doing hundreds of spine-wrecking sit-ups or crunches.
- Place two push-up stands on the floor, about h-ip-width apart. Alternatively, use a couple of bricks or even some thick books.
- Sit between them and place your hands on top, fingers pointing forward. Extended your legs out in front of you. Your body should be in an L-shape.
- Extend your arms and lift your legs off the floor. Keep your abs braced! Hold your position but not your breath for as long as possible.
- Make this exercise easier by bending your legs and pulling your knees in toward your chest. If you have long arms and good flexibility, you may also be able to do this exercise without placing your hands on blocks.
This is how people reacted to this post:
Neil Matthies – Push-up question: When I was a kid, my Taekwondo instructor taught me to do knuckle push-ups. They were supposed to increase the range of the push-up, toughen my knuckles and correct my punch alignment to avoid wound. The idea was to keep the proximal phalanges of the index and middle finger in contact with the floor during the pushup.
Out of habit, I have been doing these for over 35 years. Is this a bad idea?
Gary Thomson – Another exercise my orthopedist advises against is the leg curl, when you sit on the machine and lift weights upward with your legs extending out in front of you and your toes end up pointing upward. According to my orthopedist, it puts too much pressure on the patellas of your knees as it makes the patella a fulcrum. Sure it works the quads but at great expense to your knees.
Lisa Stormo – Wow. gotta be honest that when this i thought this would be much more… macho bro. But this was absolutely great. Absolutely fantastic. Production value, explanation, everything. Subbing.
TheAndrewc5120 – As far as i’m concerned, kip ups in and of themselves are fine. it’s when you equivocate them with normal pull ups that problems arise. a kip up is a full body pull up or as i like to say, the pull up you do in a life or situation. kip ups are your greatest effective strength pull up, but not as effective for building muscle.
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