And what trainers say you should do instead.
I was in elementary school when I first started working out regularly. It wasn’t the same structured form of exercise I do today, but I did move my body on a daily basis.
I started playing basketball at about five or six years old, and I joined my school’s recreation basketball league in first grade. I got a lot of exercise through practices, games, and of course, playing outside with my sisters all the time.
When you are a young child, you never think about the reasons for performing certain exercises. You simply run, jump, play, and have fun. However, as we grow older, get busier, and become more sedentary, we develop structured workout routines with specific goals in mind.
We hope that we spend our time in the gym wisely and get the most that we can from each workout. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Before I started college and got a highly specific weight lifting program from my cross-country coach, I was pretty clueless about which exercises were the most effective to perform, and which were (more or less) a waste of time.
Through working with a coach who was knowledgeable about lifting, I quickly learned that some of the exercises I had been doing for years weren’t the best ones in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. So, in order to avoid making the same mistakes I did, here are three exercises trainers say you shouldn’t do, and what to do instead.
1. This Ab Worker
I think most of us have tried one of those fancy ab machines before. In fact, the summer before I went to college, I used the one at my gym almost every time I lifted weights. While it may seem like the perfect tool to target and strengthen your core, that’s actually not the case.
“The machines can make it awkward to activate your ab muscles correctly.”
Luckily, there are much more effective ab exercises out there that target and work your entire core. Fox recommends trying planks instead, because they efficiently work your ab muscles, and they are typically safe for those who suffer from neck pain, and might not be able to do sit-ups.
2. The Following Squat
I have always heard about the wonderful benefits of performing squat exercises. Even before I went off to college, squats were an integral part of my weight lifting routine.
I looked forward to doing them, because they were an exercise I could actually feel working my body while I did each rep. When I squatted down, I knew I was working my legs and glutes for muscle gain, strength, and power. This was especially important for me because I was a long distance runner, and more powerful legs meant faster race times and a more efficient stride.
Unfortunately, I started out using the Smith machine, which I thought would help me ease into doing back squats with the barbell. I was very new to the weight room, and the machine looked like it provided support for this very exercise. I was initially intimidated by back squatting the regular bar, so I assumed it would help me gain strength and give me the confidence to work up the the traditional bar for back squatting. I was severely mistaken. If you currently use the Smith machine to squat with, you might want to reconsider.
Lou Schuler, certified strength and conditioning specialist, states:
“Squatting on a Smith machine might look like a safe alternative to the squat rack. In reality, it’s anything but. When you lower into a squat using a Smith machine, your back stays straight and almost perfectly perpendicular to the ground, which compresses and stresses the vertebrae.”
In addition to that, the machine puts a lot of extra pressure on your knees, glutes, and hamstrings.
Instead, Schuler recommends you learn to squat with a barbell, or perform bodyweight or weighted squats using dumbbells. That way, you will train your entire lower body and avoid placing extra unnecessary stress on your joints.
3. This Pull-Down Exercise
Whenever I went to the gym with my mom in my late-teens, I always saw her do pull-downs as part of her strength routine. The pull-downs appeared to be incredibly effective.
However, looks can be deceiving. While the lat pull-down can be a very beneficial exercise, there is one crucial mistake that many people make — they pull the bar down behind their head. This is dangerous because it puts immense stress on your shoulder joints, which could lead to a shoulder injury.
Luckily, my mom always did the exercise correctly. She pulled the bar down in front of her, which is the way the lift is traditionally supposed to be done to avoid injury.
In fact, certified strength and conditioning specialist Holly Perkins recommends that you do wide-grip lat pull-downs. Make sure to bring the bar down toward your collarbone for optimal benefits. In using a wide grip, you will have a better grip on the bar, more control, and be able to ensure that you pull down with proper form. Even with the wide grip, you still want to make sure the bar comes down in front of you rather than behind you for optimal benefits and a lower risk of injury.
You will never get the results that you seek if you don’t perform effective exercises designed to help you reach your goals.
I learned the hard way that doing the fancy ab machine at the gym wasn’t going to magically give me abs of steel. When I switched to planking, I quickly noticed how the exercise engaged my entire core as well as my arms.
The main takeaway is that it is less important how much time you spend at the gym, and more important that you make the most of the time that you have. Perform exercises that effectively target and work specific muscle groups, and you will ultimately achieve the results that you seek, and prevent getting injured in the process.