Unlike most machines, the human body improves with regular use — thus exercise can make your cardiovascular system. More efficient and your muscles stronger and more limber. But not all exercises performed in classes or in videotaped workouts are good for you. Some are just bad; others are hazardous because they are so often performed incorrectly. And even good exercise can be risky if you overdo them, especially if you’re out of shape, have muscle or joint problems, or simply haven’t warmed up. That shouldn’t scare you off exercise. But it should tell you that you can’t just walk into a fitness class or turn on an exercise tape, turn off your mind, and follow orders.

To help you take an active role in selecting exercises and deciding how to do them, here’s a list of some of the most commonly done high risk exercises, along with safer alternatives. The general categories of problems are: over flexing a joint (such as the knee or elbow), overarching the back or neck, sudden twisting or flexing, bouncing while stretching, excessive jumping or hopping, rapid swinging of arms or legs, and poor body alignment.


Straight leg sit ups arch the lower back and place excessive stress on it. Also, there’s no need to slip up fully, since the abdominal muscles work only during the first part of the movement. After that the hip flexor muscles take over, and the shift to these muscles can pull the hip out of alignment and further arch the back.

Alternating bent leg set ups. By pumping your legs and holding one straight out, you put an asymmetric pull on the pelvis, which can strain the lower back. Also in your effort to keep both legs off the floor, you may arch your back.

Bent leg sit ups, also called crunches, are the safest, most effective way to strengthen abdominal muscles. Keep your knees bent and come up only 30° to 45°. Always keep your lower back pressed into the ground to prevent arching. To prevent neck strain, Cross your arms over your chest or cross them behind your head so that each hand rests on the opposite shoulder,

Knee rolls strengthen your oblique abdominal muscles more safely. Lie on your back with your knees up toward your chest and arms out flat at shoulder level. Slowly lower your knees to the right side, trying to keep your lower back on the floor; hold for a few seconds. Slowly return to starting position and lower knees to the left. Hold, and then repeat.

Article extracted from this publication >> April 22, 1988