Tuesday, May 19, 2009

7 Exercises You DON'T Want To Do

In the past, I’ve shared my top exercises for rapid fat loss and muscle gain, featuring a host of multi-joint, compound movements for your upper body (e.g. push-ups, pull-ups, rows, dips, etc.), lower body (squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc.), and core (plank holds and rotational core exercises). These “many muscle” exercises provide the biggest bang for your buck during your workouts to generate maximum results in minimal time. Even better are total body exercises like a curl to squat to press or a squat thrust variation that takes the meaning of a whole body workout to a whole new level.

But, I think we’ll switch it up a bit today and focus on the exercises you DON'T want to add to your training routine...well at least NOT on a regular basis. The following list features movements that I never use (except for the leg press as there are some exceptions)- movements that deliver less than optimal results and flat our hurt people - movements that have far greater risk than reward:

The 7 Exercises You DON'T Want To Do

1.) Abs Machine

Crunches and sit-ups only promote excessive flexion of the lumbar spine and tend to cause neck and back pain. What’s worse than crunches or sit-ups? Doing a similar movement with added weight in a machine that only trains your body in an unnatural front to back motion in a seated position!

Yes, abs machines, like crunches and sit-ups, do make your feel your abdominal muscles, but there are far better ways to accomplish this without the high risk of short and long-term injury to your spine.

Remember, the true function of your core is stabilization, both static and dynamic - to be able to maintain a neutral, straight-line position from your hips to your shoulders in all 3 planes of movement (front to back, side to side, and rotational) no matter what the external stimulus may be.

21st Century Training Upgrade: For rock hard, athletic abs focus on plank stabilization exercises like front, side, and back planks and ground based rotational core work like chops variations and upper body twists.

2.) Back Machine

Well, if I don't advocate the abs machine, how do you think I’m going to feel about the back machine? I mean this is an exercise you DON'T want to do for so a number of reasons.

First of all, people already use too much “back” on most movements because of tight hips and inactive/weak glutes. Thus, I prefer to focus more on hip extension movements that strengthen your butt rather than continually overloading the spinal erectors. Plus, adding in corrective stretching for the hip flexor complex, the hip rotators, and the hamstring complex that opens up your hips and alleviates excessive spinal flexion and compressions is literally exactly what the doctor ordered.

Second of all, just like the abs machine, this exercise trains your body in one plane of movement in a fixed path and as a results doesn’t work your key stabilizer muscles that should be worked at the same time.

Lastly, the way that most people perform this movement in such an out of control manner for speed just makes matters worse.

21st Century Training Upgrade:
For a strong, stable back focus on deadlift, good morning, and hip extensions variations while simultaneously focusing on the corrective stretching and self-massage of the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip (LPH) complex. A prone cobra, or airplane as it is sometimes called, is also a great exercise to improve spinal erector endurance while simultaneously improving scapular strength and stability.

3.) Leg Extension Machine

A colleague of mine, BJ Gaddour, had a run in with this exercise. When he first started lifting weights as a stubborn 8th grader who did whatever it took to keep pushing his training loads up, he abused this exercise like few others.

He remembers maxing out the rack at 200 lbs and doing spastic sets of 20+ reps where the whole universal machine that the leg extension apparatus was attached to would shake like an episode of soul train.

Fast forward to his senior year in college as an over-trained football player who had 4 knee surgeries under his belt by the age of 22. Not too much fun, trust him on this. Exercises like this prematurely ended his football career he believes and limited his potential to be a great, healthy player, instead of a good, but injured player.

Here’s the bottom line with this exercise - it will potentially wreak havoc on your knees! The excessive compressions on your patella will without a doubt result in the brake down of articular cartilage which will in turn result in a bunch of arthroscopic knee surgeries to remove loose bodies and eventually full blown crippling arthritis. Avoid this machine as best you can!

21st Century Training Upgrade: For strong, stable knees, focus on both knee-dominant (lunge, step-up, and single-leg squat variations) AND hip-dominant single-leg exercises (single-leg hip extension, deadlift, and good morning variations) to prevent strength imbalances between limbs AND to prevent strength imbalances between your front and back thighs and your inner and outer thighs.

4.) Fly Machine

If abused and not performed properly, this exercise can led to tears of the pec muscles and destroy your rotator cuff, so your best bet is to avoid this all together unless you are working with someone that knows what to look for and DOESN'T prescribe this exercise frequently.

Again, the use of a machine versus doing a dumbbell fly alternative eliminates the use of the key stabilizer muscles surrounding your shoulders. Furthermore, the common male desire to use maximum weight to build a chest he can be proud of typically results in overuse injuries like shoulder impingement or biceps tendonitis.

21st Century Training Upgrade: For strong, stable shoulders focus on performing an equal amount of pushing and pulling exercises. In fact, more pulling exercises initially may be a good idea if you find yourself heavily internally rotated and hunchbacked from years of focusing on your beach muscles (chest, abs, and biceps) while neglecting your rear shoulders and upper/mid muscles or through years of a lack of activity and much sitting. The best pushing exercise you can do is any push-up variation as it not only safely trains the entire front side of your body but also engages your upper back musculature in a way that the bench press does not. Furthermore, every year people die from bench pressing, but there has never been a reported death from performing a push-up!

5.) Elliptical Machine

Here's the thing - if you are really, really overweight and haven’t exercised in over a decade, then I think an elliptical has some use. But, other than that, I think it’s relatively useless. But to be honest I rarely put a client on an elliptical and would MUCH rather start them walking on a treadmill.

Yes, it is a low-impact alternative to running on a treadmill (don't start with running as it's an advanced exercise that most peoples bodies are NOT ready for), but there is very little range of motion during the movement and does not burn nearly as many calories as the machine claims it does.

Furthermore, the elliptical is not a good machine to do intervals on because it promotes excessive hyperextension of the knee. This can easily result in injury at high levels of speed and resistance.

Think about it - what’s the first machine people who are new to cardio exercise jump on? The elliptical! Why? Because it’s much easier!

If you've convinced yourself that the elliptical is a good option because you have bad knees. Try this: perform a ton of corrective stretching and self-massage on your front/inner/outer hips and thighs to improve my tissue health, and work on hip and ankle mobility to take pressure off of your knees so that you can get back to running pain-free or doing whatever it is you enjoy doing pain-free.

At the end of the day, if you can read a magazine while on an elliptical or on any piece of equipment for that matter, how much benefit do you really think you will get from this in regards to changing the way you look and feel?

21st Century Training Upgrade: For optimal results during your cardio training, you must focus on intervals. They are more effective AND efficient for your time and burn more body fat for hours and hours AFTER you finish than aerobics and also result in greater improvements in overall conditioning than long, slow cardio. If you are overweight/de-conditioned and/or have joint issues, the best place to start an interval training program is on a upright, stationary bike.

If you need to rock your cardio equipment-free and/or at home or on the road, use body weight based exercises like jumping jacks, stationary running, split jumps, etc.

Click the link below to see a bunch of cool body weight based cardio workouts you can do anywhere using the Continuous 30’s soundtrack:

Body Weight Cardio Workouts

6.) Abductor/Adductor Combo

Women all over the world seem convinced that this exercise can some how help them rid themselves of the thunder thigh/cellulite situation.

Have you ever asked: “What exercises can I do to get rid of this flab inside my leg?”

Come on now, you know that spot reduction is a myth by now, right? [Note: there is statistical significance to it but in the real world it doesn't amount to much]. Seriously, no amount of direct inner or other hip-thigh work will burn that ugly fat covering that toned musculature everyone wants to see so let it go.

So the first thing you need to do is clean up all of the junk carbs in your diet and start consuming lean proteins, healthy fats, and fruits and veggies while plugging water like a fish.

Then you need to get off this machine and get real with a total body workout!

21st Century Training Upgrade: The best exercises for your inner and outer-hip thigh will come from band-resisted hip walk variations, side plank variations, and any and all single-leg exercises, especially lateral lunges. A good lateral lunge is the Valslide Lateral Lunge that simultaneously stretches and strengthens your hip musculature.

For more Valslide exercises, check out:

Valslide Exercises

For more great resistance band exercises, check out:

Band Exercises

7.) Leg Press Machine

It never ceases to amaze me how we all look for the easy way out when it comes to working out. It’s clear why people prefer to leg press - they get to lay or sit on their behinds depending on the exact type of leg press machine being used. [Note: there are a few exceptions to this rule so its not that this exercise is completely bad however it can be dangerous is not done properly as some people will go to low and thus round their lower backs exposing their discs to a herniation or bulge.]

If you want both nice legs and a flat midsection then you need to squat! And yes, you can’t squat lying down, sorry!

But squats are tough because they require a whole body effort, an effort most people aren’t willing to put in explaining why they get sub par results form their workouts.

The leg press could very well be a major contributing cause for the rapidly increasing number of bulging and/or herniated discs among exercise enthusiasts (as mentioned above). People always use way too much weight and use poor form resulting in brutally compressive forces on the spine.

Seriously, if you are opting to leg press over squatting, then you don’t know squat, pun intended ;)

21st Century Training Upgrade: The best (and safest) exercises for your lower body are a healthy combination of double-leg and single-leg exercises using free weights and body weight based exercises. Be sure to perform an equal amount of knee-dominant lower body exercises (e.g. squats and lunges) and hip-dominant lower body exercises (e.g. deadlifts and single-leg hip extensions) to make your knees, hips, and back bulletproof. In fact, most people are very knee-dominant and could benefit to start by performing a greater number of hip-dominant movements to balance out their lower body musculature.

You’ll notice one common trend among all of these exercises listed above: they all involve MACHINES!

Get off those machines and focus on functional movements using free weights, bands, stability balls, etc. Not only will you ramp up your fat-burning and muscle-building pursuits, but more importantly you won’t end up hunchbacked in a wheel chair by the time you turn 50 ;)

Resurrect your body back to life!


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PS - What other exercises do you see people doing in the gym that make you cringe? What other exercises do you absolutely not like? What exercises have gotten you (or people you know) hurt in the past? Please share your personal experiences by posting a comment to this blog post, thanks!
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Olga Hermans said...

This was an eye opener for me! I have been going to the gym, but really didn't feel good about it. I thought it was my "laziness", but now I think I have been protected. Praise the Lord!

Sandy said...

Wow, I'm glad i kept all your email and decided to re read them. My new trainer in Montreal is making me use ALL of those and i was wandering how come i'm gaining weight and not staying lean anymore? I have a few workout from Tyron and they did wanders on me so I'm going back... He is the best!

Tyron R. Piteau said...

Thanks for the kind words Sandy. I hope all is well back home in Montreal. I look forward to seeing you again next time you are in Vancouver.