Many people have difficulties understanding how certain exercises can be useless. After all, many personal trainers and other health professionals always say that any movement is better than none at all.
“But there is very much so such a thing as a worthless exercises and people should never do,” Bill Ross, NASM Certified Master Trainer, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and founder of Bill Ross Fit, says. Certain movements, some of which are quite popular and you see people at the gym do them all the time, actually cause pain and injuries.
Pain, discomfort and improper form are good indications that an exercise might be “worthless” for someone, according to Joshua Holland, certified personal trainer and London 2012 Accredited Olympic Trainer. “Of course, there are many ways to ensure these things don't happen. It's always a good idea to check your form and stop an exercise if it is painful.”
Holland says that the most common mistakes people make are rushing through an exercise, doing far too many reps, not completing full range of motion, and not focusing on form or the muscles that are being worked on. All of these can make perfectly good drills useless, he adds.
Ross says he sees this every single day. “People just don’t want to listen,” he adds. “I try to give advice; they know me, but they saw something an YouTube and think it’s right.”
The result is sports injuries, which are not only physically unpleasant, but they also cause laziness and can lead to depression, according to several studies. And most fitness ailments can often be easily avoided if you know what not to do.
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“Crunches can be great if performed correctly, but many people have a weak core and tend to have pain in the neck and back when doing crunches,” Holland says. “Try a different variety of planks instead.”
Crunches focus only one group of muscles and don’t build the core they way planks do, Ross adds. Doing crunches on the floor puts too much pressure on your neck and lower back anyway. Know how to do a plank correctly.
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“I tend to prefer functional training and perform exercises that allow me to perform full body compound movements,” Holland says. “So, I am inclined to stay away from machines that limit full body movements. Of course, there are exceptions when/if I want to isolate certain muscle groups and lift a bit heavier.”
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“Squats are some of the best exercises ever,” Ross says, “but not when you add a 45 pds. Bar with weights on it.” This puts excess pressure on the shoulders and can easily lead to injuries, he adds. The knees are also hurt because the body is trying the balance all of the weight above it. “Nine out of 10 people don’t have the flexibility for it.”
“I don’t believe in the Smith machine,” Ross says. “It doesn’t allow a person to move in a natural way,” he adds. This restriction of movement is a recipe for injuries. Stick to traditional squats and you’ll be better off. It requires balance and strength, but the Smith machine messes with both and isolates a few muscles only.
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Leg extensions are another exercise Ross is not a fan off. It not only looks unfriendly – it is. It increases the chance of knee problems because it increases the force across the knee cap. The machine pulls your shins back as you lower the weight. Imbalances between the quads and hamstrings develop, which can lead to numerous knee troubles. The quads are supposed to work with other muscles, not in isolation.
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Any machine where you have to adjust the weight is not recommended, Ross says, because people don’t get the benefits of full range of motion. Studies have shown that the load on the muscle in the longer range of motion is actually greater even though people are lifting less weight. “On a chest press machine, you just push but don’t control anything,” Ross adds. “On a functional machine, with cables, you control the weight and the direction of motion.”
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“This exercise is very damaging on the shoulders,” Ross says. “It’s very technical and most people don’t do it properly.” So you’re better off avoiding it altogether. The hands are in the wrong position while holding the bar, as opposed to when holding dumbbells. “The exercise also put the shoulders in an awkward position. You are holding a bar while in an internally rotated shoulder position. This is putting too much pressure too close to the joints. Forming a straight line with the shoulders and hands is very stressful for the muscles. That can lead to bursitis.
“This machine is a joke,” Ross says. “It’s completely useless.” Among the many problems with this machine is that you never engage your core. You also risk straining the small muscles that are being activated, which can lead to lower back pain and hip injuries. There are much better ways to tone your legs.
The more functional exercises you can do, the better off you’ll be, according to Ross. Machines that have you sitting down, which is the position you’ve been in all day, don’t help people move better. You’re applying the same pressure on your body when the idea of exercising is to move around and as much as you can.
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“Never do them,” Ross says. “All you’re doing is stressing the neck in a way that it shouldn’t,” he adds. The neck should not be out of neutral spine position. By pulling the bar behind your head, you’re moving the neck forward. “It shouldn’t be moving at all,” he adds.
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Ross and Holland don’t like the elliptical because people are not moving in a natural way. The treadmill is the go-to cardio machine. “The bike is a distant second,” Ross adds. He also recommends the Helix Lateral Trainer for a good cardio workout because it gives you the ability to work your inner and outer muscles at the same time.
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“The disks of the spine don’t like to be twisted,” Barnett says. “It can be dangerous for the back.” Twists combine spinal flexion and rotation, and are unsafe for the lower back. The popular Russian twists and twisted sit-ups are a no-no too. An almost sure way to hurt your back is to lift with a twisted spine because it also bends to the side. Muscle strain and herniated disc are common injuries.