The good news: No more sit-ups. Instead, do the bicycle crunch (left).
If you hate sit-ups, you're in luck. They're one of the top five exercises women should completely avoid, says personal trainer Kristal Richardson.
The other ones to avoid are the ones you're doing wrong, says Richardson, a Bloomington, Ill., native and "professional figure competitor"—a division of bodybuilding that emphasizes tone, symmetry and lean muscle. So while women can tackle the same workouts as men, their joints are generally looser than a man's and "poor form and too much weight can lead to stiff joints or even damage."
Here are five exercises that Richardson says women should avoid.
In the photos, Kristi Nelmark of Chicago's Equinox Fitness Club, demonstrates better alternatives.
Don't do sit-ups: Richardson says that if you lock your hands behind your head, it can cause a torque in the spine, which ultimately leads to neck pain. Remember sit-ups are different from "crunches." When you do a sit-up, you bring your torso up 90 degrees, so that your back is off the floor. A crunch has a limited range of motion; you raise your torso about 45 degrees and your lower back will still be on the floor.
Instead, try bicycle crunches, which are considered one of the most effective abdominal workouts. Lie on your back, place your hands next to your ears and start a pedaling motion with your legs, lifting the left shoulder to the right knee and vice versa. Try three sets of 10.
Don't do weighted squats: Regular squats are great, but using a weight bar on your back can build serious bulk in the rear end and upper thighs, places women are most likely looking to trim down, said Richardson, who found that weighted squats increased her muscle—and made her waist bigger. "It did not look cute," she said. They also strain the knees and lower back.
Instead, try lunges, which "don't place nearly as much stress on the lower back and distribute the workout throughout the entire leg," said Richardson. To do a lunge, take a long, even stride forward with one leg. Be sure to keep your knee at a 90-degree angle with your foot for support. If you have bad knees, try doing a reverse lunge by stepping backward. Try holding a lunge for a minute on each side.
Don't do the behind-the-neck shoulder presses: This exercise strains the shoulders, both on the way down and on the way up. The little muscles on the top of your shoulders work too hard and become inflamed, causing 'weight lifter's shoulder,'" Richardson said. It also puts a lot of stress on the shoulder joints, which can lead to permanent damage.
Instead, try a seated shoulder press. "Hold a pair of dumbbells overhead with your arms straight and palms facing each other," Richardson said. "Then, bend your right elbow and lower your right arm, moving your elbow out to the side until your upper arm is parallel with the floor." Press back up and repeat with your right arm for three sets of 12 reps with each arm. Don't bring your arms down too low or you'll be putting unnecessary stress on the shoulders.
Don't do straight leg push-ups: Push-ups are often the culprit of neck, lower back, elbow and shoulder pain. They require a lot of strength; holding your entire body parallel to the floor is no small feat and it's easy to overdo it.
Instead, try push-ups on your knees. Focus on where you place your hands to make sure you're working the chest, rather than letting your knees support you. You can also try the dumbbell bench press instead for toning the chest and shoulders. Lie flat on your back and, with arms straight up and dumbbells in hand, slowly lower the arms to just past a 90-degree angle or until you feel a slight stretch in your chest. Repeat three sets of 10 reps.
Don't do standing dead lifts: Since women are typically more flexible than men and can bend down farther, it puts even greater stress on their legs and lower back. It also results in bulky back, leg and rear end muscles.
Instead, try leg kick-backs. Facing a wall, stabilize yourself with your arms and kick your right leg back as far as you can. Repeat 10 times and follow the same routine with your left leg. You should feel a burn in the back of your legs. Try two sets.