5 Surprisingly Terrible Exercises (& What to Do Instead), part 2
Yesterday, we discussed five exercises that have minimal place in any exercise regimen. Some exercises are ineffective, others are unsafe, even more are a bit of both. I’ll always be first to champion anyone doing something to better themselves physically, but it’s with the caveat it not be detrimental to their well being, or a downright waste of time. Most individuals don’t know any better, sticking with movements they learned in high school gym, or were shown by their “friend whose really ripped and gets all the girls” – time to clear out the cobwebs and get down on some fresh new moves, people!
1) Standing Side Bend
Why it’s a bad idea: Most people do this with spot reduction of the obliques (or, more affectionately, “Love Handles”) in their mind. In case you missed the memo, there is no such thing as SPOT REDUCTION – so let’s lay that to rest off the bat. It should be noted also, weighted ab movements tend to add inches to the waist line! Lastly, the risk of injury during loaded flexion is just too damn high to justify this movement!
What to do instead: Farmer’s Walk
Why?: Weighted carries have far more of an effect across all areas of functional training and athleticism than side bends ever achieve! In order to truly train the core, we need to resist movement, not actively create it.
How?: You can grab one dumbbell/kettlebell or two for this exercise. Regardless, keep your chest up and your abs and glutes tight. Pick a weight that makes it challenging to stay totally upright, and walk! Take small, quick steps, as bigger strides will cause the weight to swing. You can increase the intensity of the exercise by increasing the distance, using a heavier weight, or if you’re more advanced – changing how you carry the weight (IE in a “racked” position, or overhead).
Why its a bad idea: Sit-ups have long been a staple of individuals looking to build strong, shredded abdominals. Trouble is, while the movement is actually pretty decent for the upper abs, it does very little to increase any form of athleticism. Also, think back to practical carryover – on any typical day, do you ever just curl yourself up off the floor repeatedly? Once again, our core is made up of stabilizing muscles, which resist movement, not actively create it!
What to do instead: Plank!
Why?: Remember how the muscles of the core are there to stabilize, not actively move? The plank is the starting point from which all other core stabilization exercises build! Stabilizing the muscles of the core helps strengthen all of the midsection and lower back, reducing the risk of injury.
How?: Planking is arguably the simplest-executed core exercise in existence, but still many people, fail to perform it properly. Start by keeping your forearms parallel (don’t clasp your hands), while propping yourself up on your toes. Elbows should be at 90 degrees, shoulders directly above them. Keep your body as straight as possible, while sucking your belly button in towards your spine and squeezing your stomach and glutes.
*As an aside, many people progress the plank by increasing time – what are you going to do when you build that plank to longer than a minute? Two minutes? Three? Until your plank takes up the full duration of your entire training session? No! Experiment by adding movement (hip touches, or plank -> push-up position), or changing balance/stability (raising an arm or leg off the ground, or performing on a Swiss ball). The longest that you should hold a plank is 45 seconds.
3) Russian Twists
Why it’s a bad idea: Loaded spinal flexion and rotation spell disaster for nearly any individual! Also, compression of the discs make herniation a real possibility while doing Russian Twists! Remember, stabilize and integrate!
What to do instead: Paloff Press
Why?: The Paloff press is a fantastic starting point when it comes to “anti-rotation” exercises. An external force is acting on you, to move in one direction, and you need to resist that! For athletes, it has carryover into being hit and not falling over. For the everyday person, not being knocked over easily, as well as building a core that stabilizes the spine properly, are a must!
How?: The gentleman above is using a resistance band to perform the Paloff press. Another way to perform the movement is with the cable station at your gym, using a D-ring attachment. Whatever you’re using, grab it with the hand furthest from your anchor point, and cup the other hand over that one. Stand far enough away from the anchor to create constant tension (IE if you’re using the cable station, far enough away that the weight stack doesn’t touch). While maintaining a braced position (neutral spine, tight core, hips back, knees slightly bent), press away from your chest, out to arms length. At this point, you can either a) hold this position for a set amount of time, or b) return to your chest and repeat, for a number of reps. 2-3 sets of 12-20 is a great range to shoot for.
4) Hip Abduction/Adduction Machine
Why it’s a bad idea: While neither of these machines will necessarily cause direct detriment to your training program, and they can be incorporated in special cases for independently strengthening imbalanced muscles – they are a pure waste of time. Most people like to use these machines with the idea that they’re going to help strengthen their butts, while also blasting their inner thighs – however, we’ve already laid to rest the spot reduction myth.
What to do instead: Lateral band walks
Why?: The muscles adduction/abduction machines attempt to exercise, are small, stabilizing muscles. Much like the core, these muscles are best strengthened through integrated stabilization exercises. Even still, the muscles of the adductor/abductor complexes are very small, and attempting to target them without good reason can result in more muscular imbalances, which are a problem!
How?: Some resistance tubing will come with apparatus to attach it to the ankles or lower legs, others you can tie together. Believe it or not, the best results for glute activation via EMG were achieved with the band at the forefront of the foot, with the toes pointed out. Placing the band at the ankles, or even the slightly above your knees is an option, but won’t be as effective. Be sure that there’s constant tension in the band as you assume an athletic position (hips back, knees slightly bent) and take a large step to the side. Bring your feet together while keeping tension in the band. 2-3 sets of 10-20 steps in each direction and your glutes will be on fire!
5) Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio
Why is it a bad idea?: Ahhh, steady state cardio. Practically everyone’s first thought when deciding “Maybe it’s time I lose some weight” is to go on a walk or a run. You’ll start with something you can comfortably do, break a sweat, and hopefully go further and burn more the next time, right? Well, flat out, there are better ways to spend your time. Unless you’re intending on pursuing distance running as an athletic discipline, you can get a much better effect in a shorter period of time. Also, LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) actually causes individuals to hold onto body fat while wasting muscle!
What to do instead: High-Intensity Interval Training/Metabolic Conditioning
Why?: Efficiency, and a better result. With LISS cardio, you’ll shed some pounds because you’re more than likely managing a calorie deficit – but once you reach a lower body fat percentage, you’re going to start losing muscle. With high intensity interval training, you’re keeping the duration short and the intensity high, while resting briefly between movements. You won’t burn as many calories in a 15-minute weight circuit, as you would doing a 30-minute run, but your body will continue to burn calories while recovering! This results in more calorie burn overall, while maintaining lean body mass and making you into a total badass!
How?: One of the great things about high intensity interval training is that you can pretty much incorporate any number of modalities (bodyweight, kettlebell, stationary bike, etc etc). For example, you can perform a workout where:
For ten minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of:
10 Kettlebell Swings
10 Plank Jacks
10 KettleBell Push Press
.25mi sprint on a stationary bike
A quick workout like that, with little rest, will leave you panting and sweating, with a better end result and less anguish than running for a half hour! It’s easily measurable and progress-able, as well – IE if you complete two rounds this week, and get almost three the following week, you’ve improved!