Let's get the second part of the question on the table and cleared up first. What defines a dangerous lift? Any lift can be dangerous if it puts you at substantial risk for injury. It is always important to have someone teach you the correct form for your exercises the first time around. Exercises become dangerous when someone tries to do substantially more than their body can handle; simple as that. Note that this is different than progressive overload, where you progressively build your body up to perform tasks, and occasionally push yourself past what your maximal threshold would be. The difference is that progressive overloading is done in a measured, methodical, and justified manner. Don't go trying to be a hero on your first day in the gym! Let someone who is qualified and knowledgeable teach you about knee mechanics, lumbo-pelvic hip movement, back alignment, shoulder movement in relation to the scapula, and progression cycles of your exercises.
Progression cycles for exercises are designed to ensure that you continue to see results from your work, and that you stay interested in your routine. We tend not to talk about "regression cycles" with people because quite honestly, they don't exist. Starting out, you should only perform a lift in a way that allows you to execute proper form; ALWAYS lift with a "Quality before Quantity" mentality if you want to avoid injury. If people call you Quasimodo when you are doing bent rows, take weight down to the point where you can keep your back straight! If this still isn't happening, work on developing lower back strength and increasing hamstring flexibility. While you're at it, have someone show you how to properly activate your back muscles to maintain scapular retraction! Only once you master the basic foundations of movement should you progress back up into your lifts and activities.
The ways in which we as fitness professionals modify an exercise tend to fall within specific guidelines:
- Change the weight
- Change the speed of the exercise
- Change the stability of the environment
- Change the exposure to the work
Each of these parameters can be increased, or decreased. For example, someone that is performing the aforementioned deadlift might be getting comfortable with their normal routine. They could 1) increase the weight, 2) increase the speed to develop explosive power, 3) perform the lift in an Airex Pad, or 4) add sets to their workout routine.
There are other ways to change this exercise as well, which could be classified within more than one of the categories. As example would be the speed of the deadlift - take your normal squat, and perform each repetition twice as slow. Not only are you effecting the speed of the exercise, but you are also increasing the exposure to the lift, in what would be called Time under Tension, or TUT.
The reason I go into such detail about how exercises are progressed is to show that there are many ways to change an activity. Now, here's the deal; when progressing any exercise, it is not recommended to change more than one variable at a time. The person who has just started learning how to do proper pushups shouldn't strap on a weight vest, throw their hands onto a Bosu ball and start trying to do plyometric pushups - talk about dangerous lifts!!
So after all that, what's the take-home message? I would say it is this: what makes an exercise dangerous is when it is performed in a way that you cannot handle. If the strongest athlete in your gym is doing upright rows with 135lbs, he probably built up to it over time. If he is doing them comfortably, then they don't pose much danger to him. If you have never done an upright row and then decide to be this guy's stunt double, that same lift would now qualify as a dangerous lift. The reason? YOU cannot handle it. It's not the weight's fault for being heavy - lift smart!
Whew! After all of that, I promise to dish out the second part real quick. I've heard several so-called "trainers" in my life try and tell me how unsafe the deadlift is, and that nobody needs to put their clients under so much stress. I first off argue that the deadlift is arguably one of the best lifts, period. The amount of muscular activation, neurological recruitment, and cardiac demand required for the lift make it a great fat burner, excellent muscle builder, and supreme athletic enhancer. What it is NOT is a lift that any rookie should just jump into without instruction. Please don't be this person:
What are your thoughts on deadlifts, are they dangerous? What is the most dangerous exercise you have seen someone do? Write a comment on this post and let me know!