Diet & fitness

Fitness fails: Workouts you need to stop doing in 2014

Dec. 27, 2013 at 9:10 AM ET

Fitness fads come and go. And sometimes, they inexplicably come galloping back again (we’re talking to you, Prancercise). Some exercise trends could use a little nudge toward the door, though, like family members who stay too long after the holidays. Herewith, a handful of hot fitness fads that have overstayed their welcome for one reason or another. Maybe they’ve caused too many injuries. Maybe they’re just too silly to deal with anymore. Whatever the reason, we’d love to say goodbye to these wacky fitness fads in 2014.

You know what happens next, right?

Pole dancing. Yes, it takes skill, balance and coordination to spin around a pole upside down. And sure, it’s probably a heck of a workout. But aside from the fact that you’re expected to perform this “sport” in your underwear, pole dancing is risky (in some cases, devastatingly so). Pole dance forums regularly allude to bumps, bruises, cracked ribs and broken toes, says Dr. Ryan Stanton, a Lexington, Ky., emergency room doctors. That’s just the start, says Stanton, who's also seen back, ankle and wrist injuries. “The majority of injuries are associated with falls,” he says. “And there’s also a risk of skin infections like strep and staph if the pole hasn’t been adequately sterilized.” Eww.

Yoga mash-ups. “Yoga’s not good enough on its own any more,” says Stanton, a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians or ACEP. “Now you have to turn up the temperature or do it on a paddleboard.” Or do it naked while suspended from the ceiling in a white “anti-gravity” bundle. Aside from being just plain silly, some of these yoga mash-ups can be risky. Stanton says he’s treated people who’ve passed out in hot yoga classes and warns that the practice can be dangerous for people with heart disease. Stand-up paddleboard or SUP yoga also carries a risk — of ending up in a video like this.  


Gas mask training is like "being strangled while you exercise." This is a fitness goal?

Gas mask training. It’s not just for firefighters and members of the military anymore. Now, regular old gym rats are getting their Darth Vader on by donning specialized — or Army-Navy surplus — gas masks in order to train for high altitude runs/climbs or restrict their oxygen intake for a much tougher workout. While proponents rave about the results (they also readily admit to “seeing stars”), Stanton compares the practice to “being strangled while you’re exercising.” Are you sure you want to run on a treadmill with that thing on, people?

Look out behind you!

Backwardsrunning. Also known as reverse running, retro running or “gninnur” (Yes, that’s “running” spelled backwards), backwards running may have gotten its start as a rehab exercise for athletes with pulled hamstrings. Today, though, it’s a trend, with races, a world champion and even an attempt to make it an Olympic sport. “That one’s really crazy,” says Jason Karp, an exercise physiologist from San Diego. “Humans are not meant to walk backward. It’s not how we’re designed. My major concern is that you’d trip and fall.” Not to mention strain your neck from looking behind you every three seconds.   

Stiletto workouts. Fans of this “fitness” fad say working out in sky-high heels can strengthen your core, improve your balance and give you toned, taut legs. But Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, call this fitness craze  dubbed the “the world’s worst workout” by Prevention Magazine — unnatural. “When you wear high heels, you’re shortening your Achilles tendon, throwing off your center of gravity and putting stress on your lower back. And then there’s what happens in your feet.” ER doc Stanton is more blunt: “Anything in stilettos is an ankle injury waiting to happen,” he says.

Competitors swim through mud underneath electrified wires during the Tough Mudder at Mt. Snow in West Dover, Vermont July 15, 2012. The Tough Mudder i...
JESSICA RINALDI / Reuters
Competitors swim through mud underneath electrified wires during a Tough Mudder race. Live wires and water -- good combo.

MOB races. “Mud, obstacle and beer” endurance challenges like the Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash have inspired many a couch potato to get off their duff — at least for the weekend. But it doesn't come without a cost. A study by the ACEP found that a single competition last June resulted in 38 ER visits for everything from chest pain to dislocated shoulders to head and face injuries to electrical burns to paralysis. Even worse, there have been a handful of deaths. “This is a really high risk activity,” says Stanton. “People train for marathons but Tough Mudders attract people who have no intention of training — they just want to get out and run in the mud. It’s risky enough for the person in good shape, much less someone who hasn’t run 3 miles in the last year.”

Face plant! Exercise ball falls

Stability ball stands. Balance or stability balls have been a fixture at gyms for years. But lately, more and more people aren’t just using them for crunches or stretching, but for hot dog moves like standing atop a ball while doing bicep curls or shoulder presses. Can you say recipe for disaster? “I’ve seen contusions to the sacrum and lower back,” says Stanton. “I’ve seen people hit weight machines, hit benches, hit other people.” Stanton calls the tendency to push the fitness envelope “testosterone syndrome” or the “jock effect.” “People get to a gym and try to do more than they’re capable of,” he says. “But gravity always wins the day.”

TOP