Nonsensical Exercise Recommendations Part I

Posted: January 11, 2015 by TRU in Fitness, Random, Rehab
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Few things can stall your progress in the gym like ineffective training practices. In reality, deciding what to do in the gym and how to do it shouldn’t be that complicated, but it doesn’t help when most everyone you talk to and read have a different take on what’s best.  In fact, many of these opinions are anything but helpful, and yet they somehow continue to get passed around like business cards at a networking convention. So read on to stay ahead of the curve and be one less victim of the countless fitness myths and nonsensical exercise recommendations that just won’t die.

Today’s Nonsense:

-The knees should never pass toes during a squat

-Heavy lifting is dangerous!

  1. The Knees Should Never Pass the Toes when Squatting!


While it is true that allowing your knees to travel forward during a squat increases anterior shear on the knee (and stress the patella), what is less commonly talked about is that it also reduces compression forces at the knee (tibiofemoral joint). So in the case of someone with patellofemoral pain avoiding excessive forward movement of the knee may be an appropriate recommendation, but what about the person with meniscal irritation? Furthermore, where exactly is the threshold where a squat suddenly becomes injurious to the knees and how is it that the toe is magically able to define this boundary?

To illustrate my point, imagine two lifters who are the same height with different shoe sizes, can each lifter’s toe be an appropriate guideline when they are not the same distance in front of the lifter? Or what about a tall lifter with long shins (tibias); his knees may need to venture past his toes to keep his center of mass within his base of support, otherwise he would lose balance and fall backwards. So does this mean that he is not built to squat and should avoid squatting as a result? I think not.


Now this is taking things a bit too far, but this looks very different from an inch or two past the toes

My point in giving the examples above is not to show the exceptions to the rule, but to show that this one-size fits all recommendation doesn’t make much sense. In addition to the above, this recommendation also fails to account for unique considerations and goals of the lifter e.g. a lifter with an otherwise great squat pattern looking to emphasize his knee extensors. And most importantly of all, where is the evidence to back this recommendation in the first place? I’m afraid such evidence does not exist.

New Recommendation:  Stop squatting in fear

Until I see some conclusive evidence showing otherwise, there is little reason to believe letting your knees pass your toes is especially injurious to the knees…so long as the rest of your training parameters (intensity, frequency, volume) are all sensible. For most lifters with decent squat technique the knees aren’t going to be going very far beyond the toes anyway, since doing so is less efficient. And keep in mind that most anyone who squats day after day in the exact same manner with high volume will probably start to develop irritated knees at some point, though it isn’t the squat that’s the problem, but doing something with higher frequency/volume than the body can adapt to. If you always squat with your knees well beyond your toes, not allowing this to happen will probably feel better simply because you’re stressing the knee joint differently, not necessarily because you are squatting more correctly.

Now get back to the gym and stop squatting in fear.

  1. Lifting Heavy Weights is Dangerous!


A shoulder wrecker or a chest muscle builder…it depends.

Before we can even begin to accept this recommendation we must first define what “heavy weights” are. Sure we can try and venture a guess, but what’s heavy to one person can be light to someone else. To state the obvious, “heavy” is relative. So what does heavy mean for you? And what exactly makes heavy lifting a “danger” we are all wise to avoid? I’m glad you asked.

Meet Lifter A

Lifter A approaches a 300lb barbell; with a lot of effort he is able to deadlift it 3 times. During the lift his low back flexed more than it should have, putting some of his lumbar discs in suboptimal positions, though no pain was felt. Lifter A sporadically performs this 300lb deadlift an average of 1.5 times each month over the next year; not paying a great deal of attention to his technique and adding extra sets on the days he does lift to try and make up for his inconsistent workouts. Before the end of the year, he experiences a sharp pain in his low back during a deadlift and is told by his PT to stop deadlifting…since heavy lifting is what injured his back. Lifter A has been down this road before, and although he didn’t want to believe it, this confirms that heavy lifting is dangerous. 

Meet Lifter B

Lifter B approaches a 300lb barbell; with a lot of effort he is able to deadlift it 3 times. During the lift his low back flexed more than it should have, putting some of his lumbar discs in suboptimal positions, though no pain was felt. Lifter B continues deadlifting 2x/week over the next year, focusing on technique and listening to his body throughout; some days he lifts heavy and other days he goes lighter and faster. By the end of the year, he deadlifts a 300lb barbell with relative ease and is able to maintain a neutral spine throughout. Overall he feels much stronger than 1 year ago and his low back has remained pain free. Furthermore, he looks much stronger than he did one year ago. This confirms that heavy lifting is not only NOT dangerous, it’s terrific for building strength and enhancing the physique.

New Recommendation: Unwise lifting is dangerous!


In the proper hands, heavy weights can be dangerous…dangerously effective.

Scenarios similar to the one above are part of the reason why heavy lifting gets mislabeled and branded as being dangerous. In reality, the real danger that resulted in injury was unwise lifting and poor programing (increasing volume to compensate for inconsistent training and lack of attention to technique.) Clearly even great lifters can get hurt when they’re really pushing the limits of their strength, but even great lifters get overzealous from time to time. So while heavier weights may carry more risk of injury vs light weights (higher joint forces), foolish and haphazard lifting practices carry an even greater risk. This is especially true when the heavy weights are simply too heavy and cannot be lifted without cheating/poor technique. Thus, “heavy weights” become the scapegoat for injury, when in reality they were simply the tools used to expose poor training practices that ultimately resulted in injury. If you aren’t born strong and want to become strong, you have to train smart. Heavy weights are not the best tools for the absent minded lifter.


It’s ok Mike, we’ll let you curl this one in the squat rack

So are light weights really safer? That depends. For many, light weights just do a better job hiding these crappy training practices…not to mention a better job hiding the results you’re probably after! For those who love hitting the weights hard day after day lighter weights may be an advantage since you will tend to recover a bit faster. A downfall of many trainees is that they not only lift too heavy for their level of strength, but they lift too heavy too often, failing to mix up their rep ranges…but again, this is a programming issue rather than an issue with the heavy weights themselves. So let’s conclude with an equation that essentially summarizes everything I just said.

Heavy weights + Foolishness = Dangerous

Heavy weights + Intelligence = Dangerously effective



Feel free to post a comment on any nonsense you would like to see discussed in part II.

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