The HealthOut 'Forbidden Exercises'

Some exercises aren't good for you - maybe we shouldn't do them?

Have you ever watched someone working out and thought to yourself, “That exercise looks harmful”?  This is one of the reasons I started HealthOut, I was experiencing this every day.  For years my friends kept telling me, “You should start your own gym and help people do it right”, but I worried that fitness was too competitive and that people might not want something more thoughtful and professional.  Years later, I am much more optimistic about the future of fitness, and HealthOut is born!

“Don’t Workout - HealthOut” is my cheeky way of encouraging people to think about their physical activity, and consider whether it actually aligns with their health goals.  While people might joke that they aren’t interested in health, I don’t this is the case, I think almost every person wants to be healthy.   We don’t want to get sick or injured, we want to feel and look our best, and we want to fully experience every opportunity that life brings us.  The decisions we make regarding physical activity can have a massive impact on how we experience life, and yet I would argue that we are often choosing physical activities that are harmful to our bodies.  High intensity bootcamps and Crossfit for example, tout injury rates no worse than rugby or other sports, but I don’t think that’s good enough.  Some of the risks we take with physical activities are mindful – for instance we take risks with sports and outdoor activities that enrich our lives in other ways other than through physical health.  When skiing or playing football, most people understand and accept the risks of these endeavors and weigh them against the benefits they are going to get from them.  However, I would argue that organized fitness is a different animal – whereas sports are taken up primarily because they are fun, educational and social, fitness is often taken up as a way to promote health and replace something in our lives that we aren’t getting enough of.  Thus, for many people, fitness is taken up as medicine or therapy that is good for them, but there is often a limited consideration of side effects, potential benefits, and whether certain types or activities are better or worse for them.  Why not?  Physical activity has the potential to positively affect almost every person who engages it, when performed properly, and yet many people are simply happy if they leave a puddle on the floor and get a couple of high fives at the end of it all. 

So, “Don’t Workout – HealthOut” is HealthOut’s plea for people to ask for more from the fitness community.   Only 1/5 of our population ‘works out’ and I don’t blame them – if I was primarily interested in health, I might not workout either!  But the fact still remains that most of us are not physically active enough to maintain our best state of health, and ironically, this includes the population that works out.  We need to be more physically active.  Market research cites that people are “intimidated” and “don’t feel that fitness is for them”, and I think part of that is because fitness isn’t focusing enough on what really matters – their health.  I hope that HealthOut is one of the first of many new, ethical fitness and lifestyle businesses that are able to increase the popularity of ‘working out’ for health purposes (AKA, ‘Healthing Out’) and to generally promote health related physical activity for everyone.

Returning to the topic of this article, are there some exercises that simply aren't good for you?  I have made some bold claims – that the fitness industry is not taking your health seriously, and that they are taking risks with your health that have not been thoughtfully weighed.  As a health professional, I am always reminding myself to keep the health of my patient as a top priority over all other interests when advising them.  One way that health professionals do this, is by helping their patients see all of the possible benefits and harms of a therapy so that they can combine that information with their own values and decide what is best for them.  In my experience, this informed decision-making process barely happens in fitness – which makes sense when you see how trainers will often prescribe barbell deadlifts to every single one of their clients, regardless of their specific needs, health history, or values.  And customers are so used to it, that they just search for fitness professionals that give all of their clients the types of exercise they think they need.   Perfect, no need for a fitness profession right?  I disagree, and I am going to step out on a limb over the next few months and ‘call out’ some typical practices in fitness that perhaps wouldn’t happen if more trainers were,

1-    putting the health of there client’s first, and

2-    considering (and disclosing) the potential upsides and downsides of their exercise prescriptions.

So here comes the Forbidden Exercise List!  These are exercises that HealthOut does not ever do.  Please keep in mind that I am not saying people shouldn’t do these exercises, in fact I may sometimes do some of these activities personally.  What I am saying is that if a patient were looking to me for fitness guidance and their primary goal was to maximize HEALTH benefits, and minimize harms, I would probably not recommend these activities.  If you really love these activities and they promote your quality of life in some way, then by all means keep doing them, but in most cases I have found that there are lower risk alternatives that provide the same enjoyment. 

The HealthOut 'Forbidden Exercises' (Version 1.0)

  • Bench Press
  • Barbell Deadlifts
  • Most Olympic Barbell Lifts
  • All Heavy Overhead Weightlifting
  • Kettlebell Swings
  • Kipping Pull Ups
  • Tire Flips
  • Punching and Kicking (Especially in the Head!)
  • And More…

If you take part in any of the above activities in a supervised manner, ask yourself if anyone has discussed the possibility of injury with you while taking part in these activities (waivers don’t count!).  Perhaps you don’t consider this part of a fitness trainer’s job, but why not?  How are they to design workouts that are good for you, if they aren’t engaging in that same thought process?  Why is there no risk: benefit discussion?

I imagine many people will want an explanation for the exercises on this list, but unfortunately, you will have to stay tuned for these discussions in later emails and social posts.  I will do my best to use evidence to support these suggestions, but please keep in mind that I think fitness should not be like a court of law – exercises should not be innocent until proven guilty, and I think any reasonable doubt should be good enough when there are so many other exercise choices out there that we can choose from in order to promote health.  The only body parts I am hurting by making the above claims are bruised egos, whereas the individuals touting the above exercises cannot say the same. 

I hope this article has gotten you thinking more about what it means be physically active for better health.  I understand that health is not the only reason to be physically active, and in no way do I mean to belittle anyone else’s values around fitness.  I only want to remind everyone how universally awesome it can be to experience a complete state of health and physical well being, and to question whether our day to day decisions are in line with that. 

Until next month,

- Dr. Ryan Oughtred, ND