The Four Worst Exercises for People Over 40

Jun 22, 2022

Last year I did an Instagram series about bad exercises that was pretty controversial.

I'm sure this piece will be just as controversial.

Lets start with a disclaimer. There are definitely bad exercises. Some are bad because you can get hurt, some are bad because they don't have much purpose (or there may be a better choice), some are just useless (think burpees).

Anytime anyone says “there are no bad exercises” they are looking for engagement.

Another point of controversy. All of these, with the exception of the back squat, are exercises that we do with our younger, athlete clients but, that we don't do with adults.

Exercise 1- Back Squat

Why we don't like it for adults- The main reason I don't like back squats for adults is that I don't like them for anyone. I could write a whole article on just this topic but, not today

Back squats are just a bad risk/ benefit choice. About 10% of any population I have worked with were what I would call “natural squatters”. Natural squatters are people who did it perfect the first time with very little coaching. They generally possess good hip and ankle mobility and tend to be very segmentally proportional. Another problem with back squats is that the ego gets involved. Yes, I know as coach you are supposed to be able to control ego but, good luck with that. Let me know how it goes.

What to do instead- for basic beginner adults, think Goblet Squats. A goblet squat is a miraculous exercise. Combine goblet position with a heel lift and the number of good squats probably rises from 10% to 80% in any given sample.


Exercise 2- Straight Bar Deadlifts

Why I don't Like It- same issues as above. Ego issues and mobility issues combine to give clients back issues.

What We Do Instead- Kettlebell Sumo Deadlifts

Kettlebell Sumo Deadlifts are more “squatty” than regular deadlifts and are a great place to start for beginners.

Please note: people that can't touch their toes will be poor squatters and deadlifters. If clients lack mobility, stay unilateral.


Also, we will tend to goblet squat and kettlebell deadlift until we hit about 40% of bodyweight. After that, we will be primarily unilateral. Lets face it. In the real world bilateral strength is not a huge deal. Yes, we need to pick up kids, laundry etc. but kids and laundry rarely weigh more than 80-100 lbs.

Exercise 3- Barbell Bench Press

Why I don't Like It- most adults have some signs of rotator cuff deterioration. I like to think of barbell bench press as literally an abrasive exercise. The rotator cuff is dragged under the acromion over and over in the same path. As a veteran of shoulder surgery I remember altering my grip year by year to find a pain free bar path.

What We Do Instead- dumbbell bench press gets most folks more comfortable pretty quickly. With dumbbells it is easier to self -select a pain free bar path. With a barbell the straight bar makes altering the path more difficult. In addition with stronger males large dumbbells actually decrease range of motion a bit.

Exercise 4- Chinups and Pullups

Why I don't Like Them- last year I wrote an article called The Airport Screening test, talking about how funny/ sad it was to watch people try to get into position in the airport X-ray. Most adults cannot raise their arms over their head. This makes chin-ups and pullups a bad idea. In addition, most people are not strong enough to do a chinup or a pullup and will use upper trap, levator etc. We see lots of neck pain with adults clients who insist on doing chin-ups.

What We Do Instead- I love suspension trainer ( Rings, TRX) rows. These are a great challenging bodyweight exercise that work from 90 degrees of shoulder flexion, a position all adults easily can get into.

Just a reminder, bench press and chin ups are in our athlete programs as are Trap Bar Deadlifts.

We don't do back squats or traditional deadlifts with any athletes or adults.

If you train clients over 40, remember that they are aging and that joint friendly / low orthopedic cost choices are what training is all about.