My name is Travis Barnes and I own two personal training centers in upstate New York. We specialize in group personal training delivered with a functional fitness philosophy. My life was not always this way.
I started off in 1996 working at the Gold’s Gym when everyone was being trained like a bodybuilder. If you came in the gym in those days you were going to do chest on Mondays most likely followed by back on Tuesdays, Shoulders and Arms on Wednesdays and well you get the idea.
The body was not being trained in a functional manner and we were trying to isolate all our body parts. I am grateful that today we are no longer training everyone like a bodybuilder. We have realized that bodybuilding is a sport and that each client should be assessed and trained in a way that not only helps them accomplish their fitness goals but also improves their life. Still that does not mean that we are not still making mistakes.
Many fitness enthusiast are still unclear on what exercises are best for them and many are still making mistakes. There is a principle in life called The 80/20 Rule. Simply put we get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. In exercise lingo it means that 80% of your results come from 20 % of the exercises and the rest frankly can be a waste of time or just a distraction from what really works. Here are the top 10 exercises that waste your time and what to do instead.
- The Crunch: In truth we crunch just one time of day which is when we sit up out of bed and the rest of the time our core is being used to stabilize the spine so it makes no sense that we should train our abdomen in a way that we never use it. Research done by the world’s leading spinal specialist Stuart McGill has actually proven the crunch to be harmful to the spine inevitably leading to injury if done often enough and this is why the plank should be done instead. The plank does not ask the spine to flex in a repetitive harmful manner but rather teaches the core to brace and stabilize as it is required to do for functional purposes throughout life. The plank also activates more muscle in the core.
- The Lying Leg Curl: Why are we laying down face first to work our hamstrings? First of all to lay down to exercise is like laying down to work meaning not much work will get done. Because we are lying down our core is turned off and we are activating the least amount of muscle. Think about it when in life are you ever laying down curling your legs to your butt for any functional purpose. A much better exercise to work the posterior would be the single leg deadlift. This exercise activates the entire posterior chain while also activating the core with the challenge of instability. Best of all, this exercise gives us the strength we need for bending and the balance that we need for single leg activity.
- Seated Leg Extensions: This exercise may serve some limited purpose when it comes to rehab but why are we doing it as part of the routine. The test for every exercise should be “Does this mimic any movement pattern that I use in real life?” If the answer is no then we must ask ourselves how this is going to make us more fit for real life. Think about it when was the last time that you sat down and moved weight with your legs by extending at the knee for any purpose besides that silly machine in the gym. As I said earlier you may only need to do this if you are rehabilitating from a surgery and you are not ready to climb stairs but if that is not the case then step ups are much more challenging and much more functional.
- Seated Shoulder Press: By design the goal of this exercise would be to get you more fit at lifting things over your head yet the problem is most people are not usually asked to lift things over their head from the seated position. Imagine if you will that your grandfather has been working out on the seated press and now is going to board a plane to Florida and because he has been working out he is confident that he can put his own carry on in the overhead compartment but when he does he strains his back. Why did he strain his back? Grandpa strained his back because he is used to working out with a back rest. The shoulder press was not the problem. The back rest was the problem. Instead of the seated press we should be doing an Overhead press on our own two feet because it is on our feet that we put our carry on into the overhead compartment and it is on our feet where we live life most of the time.
- Seated Trunk Twist: OMG. Do you know the machine that I am talking about where you sit down, hook your arms behind something and twist against weight. A standing woodchop with a med ball would be a much better choice than this machine. Why? You guessed it because you are standing up. Better yet if you are someone looking to improve your golf game then I recommend the side toss ball slams against the wall that will not only build power and strength but also increase the distance of your drive next time you golf.
- The Glute Machine Kickback: This is the machine where you lay forward onto it and press backwards with your foot against a plate to activate your glutes. The only time I have seen this in real life is when a donkey kicks backward. If you want to train your glutes then the number one glute trainer is the lunge. The lunge activates more muscle, challenges our balance and prepares us for the single leg activity that we encounter in life when we kneel down to pick something up.
- The Leg Press: This is a great way to herniate a disc but not a great way to train your legs. First of all because you are lying down you already have to load your bodyweight onto the machine just to get what you would get out of a standing bodyweight squat but that’s not the problem. The problem is because of the position that you have put yourself in you now have put all the weight on your lower back which will now be flexing under that load. Why do all that when you could just squat instead and if you want to squat with more than your bodyweight then Goblet Squat. Think about how many times you sit down and stand up throughout the day and that is how many times you squat so you should stay good at it. When we squat we train our core and our entire lower body and we don’t put the stress on our lower back the way the Leg Press machine does.
- Hip Abductor/Adductor: If it looks ridiculous then it is. This is the machine where we sit down and open and close our legs. This machine is bad for our back and it tightens our IT band which also is not a good thing. To strengthen and tone the inside and outside or our thighs try the single leg TRX squat. When we have to balance on one leg it is the inner and outer thigh muscles that are used for balance and so this would serve the same purpose without causing harm
- Seated Chest Press: This machine of course has a problem because you are sitting down but also allows the stronger side of your body to compensate for the other side developing imbalances. This exercise should be replaced with the push up. The push up forces you to develop equal strength or you would collapse to one side. Also the push up has a plank quality to it and stimulates further core development.
- The Standing Calf Machine: This machine loads all the weight on your shoulders forcing all the weight on your back before ever reaching your calves. If you want to develop your calves you should try sprinting. If sprinting is not for you try bodyweight calf raises and if those are too easy then try them on a single leg.
Remember when we exercise we should have a goal and most of us have a goal to be fit for life and whatever life throws at us. It is important then that we don’t do exercises that harm us or don’t prepare us for life.