Trim the Fluff from Your Workout: Least Effective Exercises

Image Credit: Healthable.org
No one wants to waste time, especially not during your workout. The motivation to get to the gym can be hard enough to muster up, so when you’re there, you want to make the most of your time. The moves listed below are the five you should cut from your workout immediately and what you should do instead.

5 Abdominal machines

Don’t let the pursuit of six-pack abs lead you astray. Some of the worst and least effective ab exercises are gym machines that claim to target your core muscles. The truth is, they can force your spine out of correct alignment, putting you at greater risk for injury. They also don’t challenge your muscles with enough weight in the right position for you to see any results. Alternative: Pretty much anything besides these machines will strengthen your abs better and more efficiently. Crunches are so commonplace because they work. But to keep from getting bored, try different variations like bicycle crunches, reverse crunches, side crunches, or leg climber crunches.

4 Side bends

No doubt you’ve seen women at the gym with a super-lightweight in each hand, bending from side to side. This move is supposed to target your muffin top area, but there’s no good way to spot-reduce trouble zones. Alternative: The only surefire way to get rid of extra back and hip fat (the muffin top) is to reduce your overall body fat. The best way to do that is doing plenty of cardio and strength training exercises to tighten and tone. It’s okay to focus on core exercises to emphasize your midsection, just don’t expect any overnight miracles. It takes time.

3 Leg press

The danger of doing this move on the wrong type of machine is knee injury if they bend past 90°. In that position, your knees aren’t as strong and thus more susceptible to stress injuries. Alternative: Find a machine that allows you to stop the range of motion when your knees reach 90°. These machines often have plates that are higher and angled more towards the ground. Or skip the machines all together and go for body-weight squats instead. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart then bend at the knees and hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Stand up without locking your knees and repeat.

2 Lat pulldown behind the neck

Very few people have the shoulder flexibility and strength to perform lat pulldowns with the bar behind their neck. The result is a higher risk of injury to your shoulders, neck, and rotator cuff. While lat pull downs are the most common culprit, any exercises that forces your neck into an awkward forward position is dangerous, including the Smith machine. Alternative: The safer alternative to having the bar behind your neck is pulling the bar down in front of you. When you’re seated at the machine, grab the bar with both hands extended directly above your shoulders. Pull it straight down towards your chest, keeping your elbows out to the side and your back and neck in alignment.

1 Spot-toning exercises

Many people think that you can magically reduce fat in a certain area with spot-toning exercises, but that’s not the case. There’s no scientific evidence to support that endless crunches will give you flat abs or that leg lifts will tone your thighs. Alternative: The only way to lower body fat percentage is consistent cardio balanced with strength-training exercises. Everyone is genetically predisposed to gain or lose weight in certain areas, so don’t expect that you’ll automatically lose fat from your most obnoxious trouble zones. But if you stick with your workout plan, you’ll eventually lose weight all over.

You want a workout that’s going to give you the best results in the least amount of time, and that means cutting out any exercises that don’t work as hard as you do. A lot of times this means avoiding new, gimmicky workouts and exercises that promise results more quickly than anything else. There’s no substitute for hard work and being smart about how you use your time in the gym.

Rachel is a USC graduate who loves running, yoga, and writing about those two things. She’s worked for publications including Men’s Health, People.com, and Organic Spa Magazine, and recently helped produce several fitness apps with personal trainers and fitness instructors.

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