I’ve been a personal trainer and wellness coach for well over five years. There are always new trends and studies to read up on and learn in the field. It is important to keep up with them, learn what works, and what doesn’t. I am always keeping up with the latest studies and making it a priority to continue my education. I like to keep an open mind when it comes to working out because, lets face it, things can get monotonous after a while. I like to find ways to spice things up but most importantly, I always preach form over funtion. I believe in quality of the exercises, not quantity. There are some fitness trends that will come and go, and other staples that anyone who works out, whether you are a novice or an expert, should live by.
Now, none of us are perfect. But in my opinion, the wise person asks questions or at least does a little bit of their homework prior to the first time they pick up a weight or step foot in the gym. Unfortunately, many people don’t bother to do this. I have been in the health and fitness field long enough to know when I see people doing exercises incorrectly. Sometimes, I throw out by neck just looking at these people! However, there is a difference between poor form, and
“WHAT THE HELL IS HE DOING?”
What concerns me most is when I witness people doing exercises they shouldn't be doing in the gym- EVER. Not because their form is incorrect, but because the exercise in general should not be done due to safety issues and how the body mechanics work. The general population is often misled and not informed on what exercises work what muscle groups and why we should steer clear of these things going forward. Let's be clear, the following exercises are not effective and safe and should be avoided at all costs.
1. Behind the neck Lat-pulldowns
Due to lack of flexibility most people have in their shoulders, this exercise is dangerous because the risk of shoulder impingement syndrome increases. It can also lead to other cervical spine injuries as well.
The Alternative: do the same exercise- only pull the bar down to the top of your clavicle in the front. Keep your wrist aligned with the elbows as you pull down to ensure your hitting your lats!
2. Full sit-ups
Put quite frank, there are many other abdominal exercises that can be done without putting so much strain on the spine. The spine is not meant to go into constant flexion and extension-which is exactly what full sit ups are! The truth of the matter is core stabilization exercises are proven to be much more effective and safer.
The Alternative: planks, side planks, ab-wheel, cable chops, windmills, farmers walks, need I say more? The sit-ups are old school and ineffective. Do yourself a favor and quit while you’re ahead. Your spine will thank you later.
3. Stiff legged dead lifts
OK, I know you guys are asking, “What is she talking about?,” hear me out. In today's modern society, most people tend to sit for the majority of the day. People lack strength and flexibility throughout their entire posterior chain, which causes people to hinge from their lumbar spine as opposed to the correct point- their hips. Doing stiff legged DL's for most people is asking for trouble. UNLESS supervised by a strength coach or trainer, getting the form 100% is difficult to do on your own. IT CAN BE DONE- however, it takes a keen eye of an expert to really teach you how it is done.) Here’s my point on these, If your a rookie, a weekend warrior, or someone who is not extremely confident in knowing how to hinge correctly at the hips and fire your glutes correctly, stay away from them. Until you are supervised and taught under a well-versed coach, do yourself a favor and bend those knees when you go to dead lift!
*Let me be clear, when done correctly, the dead lift is a vital exercise to strengthening your posterior chain and solid lower body movement which ANYONE and EVERYONE should be working into their strength and conditioning routine.
The Alternative: RDL’s, DL’s, BB glute bridges.
4. Leg extensions
So the leg extension will get a good pump in your quads- no doubt about it. However, the cons outnumber the pros when it comes to using this machine. Here's why: There is a significant increase in the most commonly used range of motion causing joint stress to the knee. There is hardly any hamstring activity, no adductor or abductor contributions, constant ACL tension at the knee, and insufficient contribution of the surrounding muscles and joints. Will you get injured by doing the leg extension once In a while? Probably not. But why do the leg extension when you can be getting a lot more bang for your buck by squatting thus recruiting more viable muscles and ensuring proper movement patterns which you will be able to mimic in real life. It's called functional training for a reason people!
The Alternative: Squats, split squats, step ups, lunges.
5. Squats on a smith machine
A fixed bar your body needs to conform to. Sounds like trouble, right? Well that's because it is. When doing a squat in a smith machine, you need to align the bar on your shoulders in such a position that it does not cause you discomfort and that allows you to keep your spine straight. Your spine should remain straight (leaning forward slightly is natural and O.K). From there you have to hinge from your hips and sit back on your heels, bending at your knees. This is a range of motion in multiple specific planes. If the fixed Barbell doesn't move, your body has to. When you are attempting to squat and your hip flexors or lower back are tight, since the bar on the smith machine isn’t budging, guess what will!? That's right- something in your body that is not really supposed to. The body does a very good job at finding ways to do what we ask it to do- even if it must compensate in the wrong way to do so. The squat is an in depth, intricate movement that is working the body in multiple planes. Squatting on a smith machine can lead to injury of either the lower back or the knees.
The Alternative- squatting in a squat rack, with kettlebell(s) or dumbbell(s) or hex bar.
6. The seated torso rotation machine.
What can be worst then a full sit up? Any machine at the gym asking you to get into a hunched over position, round your back, oh, and add weight to it all. Again, anything that is flexing the spine can cause some serious back problems. This machine puts your body at a full disadvantage- rounding your upper spine, asking it to rotate and then loading it? I hope you have your chiropractors number on speed dial because you'll be needing it! The role of the abdominals (core muscles) is to stabilize the pelvic-lumbar region and control acceleration/deceleration of the spine…NOT to rotate your hips while sitting down! Many people believe in something called “spot specific’ training which is the desire to lose fat in targeted areas of the body. You cannot lose fat around your stomach just by doing crunches, situps or any ab-machine. In order to lose fat, you must train big muscle groups when strength training, eat clean and do cardio (preferably HIIT) working out a total of 5-6 days of week.
The Alternative: Side planks, Farmers walk (suitcase carry), cable chops, windmills.
7. The seated abdominal crunch
This exercise has the same idea as the torso rotation machine-why squeeze your body into a position into a machine, ask it to do constant flexion and extension and then add weight to that? I often wonder when I see people do this if the herniation’s are happening right then and there.
The Alternative: Planks, Cable chops, farmers walks, Ab-wheel, body-saw, hanging knee/leg raises.