With your busy life, finding time to hit the gym can feel like a minor victory. But when it comes to lifting, you might be 4 reps away from ruin. "Many popular moves are also the most dangerous," says Nick Tumminello, director of Performance University in Fort Lauderdale. "Others are just ineffective." Odds are that your workouts are riddled with both. Here are four moves to purge now and four replacements to put you back on track. (Search: Expert advice to avoid weight lifting injury).
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1. UNSAFE: Close-Grip Barbell Upright Row
"Using a narrow grip as you row can create an impingement stress, raising the odds of rotator cuff muscles and tendons becoming trapped in the shoulder joint," says Tumminello. This condition, known as weightlifter's shoulder, is an express ticket to the disabled list.
Video: Get fit at home with this quick and easy living room workout.
SAFE: Wide-Grip Upright Row
Grab a barbell (or a pair of dumbbells) and hold it in front of your thighs using a shoulder-width, overhand grip. Keeping your forearms pointed down, bend your elbows and pull the weight to your chest, raising your upper arms until they're parallel to the floor. Then slowly lower the weight back down. To maximize your gym time, try using a smart routine like The Full-Body Dumbbell Blast-you'll never have to wait for a machine again!)
2. UNSAFE: Bench Dip
It might seem like an easy swap for a bar dip (especially if you're not strong enough to bang out a full set of the latter), but positioning your arms behind you creates an extreme extension in the shoulders, says Tumminello. Adding weight just compounds the danger.
SAFE: Close-Hands Pushup
Assume a standard pushup position (your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head). Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes, and keep your elbows tucked in against your sides as you lower yourself until your chest is about an inch from the floor. Pause at the bottom, and then push yourself back up. (For more variations on this classic exercise, try these 14 Pushup Improvements.)
3. UNSAFE: Seated Rotation Machine
Think about twisting a water bottle; if you rotate only the top, the middle buckles and weakens. The same goes for your body. "Your hips and shoulders are designed to rotate as a unit," says Tumminello. "If you rotate just one and not the other, your spine can pay the price."
SAFE: Cable Chop
Attach a rope to a high-pulley cable, grab it with both hands, and stand with your left side toward the machine and your feet shoulder-width apart. Without bending your elbows, pull the rope diagonally across your torso toward your right foot. Return to the starting position. Do an equal number of reps on both sides.
4. UNSAFE: Seated Chest Press Machine
Your body isn't perfectly symmetrical, so any machine that forces both halves along identical trajectories is setting the stage for injury. Sure, you can lift more by bracing against the backrest. But an exercise that allows your arms to move independently is better.
SAFE: Dumbbell Bench Press
Lie on a bench holding a pair of dumbbells straight above your chest so that they're nearly touching; your palms should face forward. Without changing the angle of your hands, lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest. Pause, and then press them back up to the starting position as quickly as you can. Find more exercises to incorporate into your fitness routines at The Men's Health Workout Center.