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Tuesday, June 6, 2023


Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Introduction to Questionable Exercise Selection:

By Brent Brookbush MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

We should be open to new ideas and have an inclusive view of exercise. However, critical (objective) evaluation of all movements and modalities is necessary to ensure safe, efficient, and effective practice. The first critical evaluation made for all movements should be risk versus reward – “an exercise must be beneficial for the client’s goal without posing a significant risk of injury.” This article evaluates exercises that seem to pose such a significant risk of injury that it is hard to justify their use in any program.

The analysis of movements in this article is based on the assumption that the exercise is an ends to a means, and not the goal itself. This is an important distinction. In many cases individuals will perform movements that are not optimal for the health and safety of the human movement system (HMS), but the movement itself is the goal. For example, a ballet dancer performing in point shoes. If this is the case, the individual should continue use of that movement at their own discretion. These article assume that the exercise discussed is being used to enhance the performance of a sport and not the movement itself, and if that exercise poses a risk of injury it may be replaced with a different exercise.

Last, I humbly ask that you read the analysis below with objectivity. I know some of this information may challenge your current understanding, beliefs, or passions, but this is not my intent. My only intent is to add to the body of work in exercise science by providing an analysis of questionable exercise from the perspective of human movement science (kinesiology). I have not seen an attempt at this in other sources, and I simply wish to fill a void. I offer this attempt at objectivity, but no one is free from bias. I hope this information is additive rather destructive.

As I started to analyze various movement patterns I did notice certain trend. These trends may help us simplify the critical evaluation process and refine our exercise selection.

  1. Most questionable exercises require more than optimal flexibility from a joint or joint system and the soft tissues that support it.

Throughout the analysis you will see reference to the optimal ranges of motion (ROM) for a specific joint, in degrees1. Once movement occurs that exceeds those ROM’s (and the extensibility of the soft tissues around that joint) the HMS is forced to adopt a compensatory movement pattern. Additional movement is provided by a joint, or joints that are less resistive. This concept is known as “Relative Flexibility”2. Unfortunately the adoption of compensatory movement patterns results in synergistic dominance and disrupts normal arthrokinematics3. This results in increased stress on soft tissues and joint surfaces resulting in the initiation of the cumulative injury cycle4. This may result in chronic injury, and/or a situation which “sets the stage” for acute injury.

  1. 2. The exercise reinforces movement dysfunction or compensation by strengthening short/hypertonic structures.

Movement dysfunction is actually quite predictable. The gross compensation patterns adopted by the body are very similar between individuals. The NASM refers to this phenomenon as “Serial Distortion Patterns4”; an appropriate term if you think of these distortion patterns as the “serial-killers” of optimal mechanics. Because distortion patterns are predictable, the behavior of certain muscles are as well. You may have noticed muscles categorized into “tonic and phasic” in various kinesiology textbooks. Tonic refers to muscles that have a propensity toward tightness and over-activity, and phasic refers to muscles with a propensity toward lengthening and under-activity. Generally speaking, it would be most beneficial to release and stretch tonic (overactive ) muscles, and strengthen phasic (underactive) muscles. Several exercises in these article do little more than strengthen already overactive structures; exacerbating dysfunction.

  1. 3. Certain positions lend themselves to little muscular support and an increased reliance on passive structures.

Passive structures (ligaments and fascia) do not share the same ability to produce, dynamically stabilize, and reduce force as active tissues (muscle tissue). When passive tissues are forced to accept a disproportionate load they can only adapt through extensibility and deformation. The deformation of connective tissue may result in relatively permanent changes in tissue length and extensibility (plastic deformation and joint instability) or rupture (strains). Further, the recuperative ability of passive tissue is relatively limited. When possible, we should reduce the strain on passive tissues and increase the efficiency of the neuromuscular system.


  1. Cynthia C. Norkin and D. Joyce White, Measurement of Joint Motion: A Guide to Goniometry, © 2003 by F.A. Davis Company
  2. 2. Shilrley A. Sahrmann, Diagnoses and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, © 2002 by Mosby, Inc
  3. 3. Donald A. Neumann, Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation, © 2009 by Mosby, Inc.
  4. 4. Michael A. Clark, Scott C. Lucett, NASM Essentials of Performance Enhancement Training, © 2010 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins

© Brent Brookbush 2011

Questions, comments, and criticisms are welcomed and encouraged –