You push and pull, heave and hoist, sweat and stretch -- all this work and your body doesn't change. An exercise should give you more than just bragging rights. Many popular exercises are hard to execute with proper form or provide limited results. Make the most out of your workout time by going for quality moves and skipping the overrated ones.
The plank pose is a staple in yoga, Pilates and boot camp classes to build up your core. Although it can target your transverse abdominus, the deep muscle that keeps your internal organs in place and enhances your posture, many people lack the proper strength and understanding to do the move correctly, explains Colorado-based, personal trainer Lori Korbus, certified by the American College of Sports Medicine. “Most people (compensate) by pushing back into the legs and take the emphasis off the core and put it into the low back,” she says. When the American Council on Exercise studied 13 common abdominal exercises for their effectiveness, the plank -- also called the hover -- came in 10th in terms of training the rectus abdominus, the six-pack muscles, and fourth in terms of training the obliques, the muscles at the sides of your trunk. And, you only get those results if you do the move correctly.
Korbus has her clients start in a prone position on a mat and then asks them to push up onto the elbows. From there, clients are instructed to keep the knees and toes down, but keep the abdominals engaged. When they are strong enough, then they can roll their toes under and lift the knees slightly off the floor, holding hip flexion. "People are amazed at the difference," she says.
You know those guys who do almost nothing on the gym floor but brag about how much they can bench as if it were the ultimate measure of fitness. While the bench press can be one measure of strength, it is a single-plane movement on a supported bench. The exercise is designed to work the pectoral muscles of the chest, the triceps and the fronts of the shoulders. But, Rachel Karstens, a master trainer at 24 Hour Fitness in Colorado Springs, observes that people often demonstrate poor form and use their legs instead. They tackle too much weight, and their back and hips lift off the bench risking injury
The chest press also doesn’t train agility, endurance or explosive power -- crucial components of a well-trained athlete, says Karstens. You can include a bench press as part of your workout plan but don't give it so much cachet that it is the only move you ever do.
Kipping pullups are a CrossFit phenomenon. Instead of the standard pullup in which you pull yourself up from a dead-hang position, during kipping pullups you swing your body back and angle your body with the bar as you pull up. This essentially makes the move easier and takes some of the work out of your biceps, latissiumus dorsi and core. Gina DeMarco, a certified strength coach and co-owner of MotionX Studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado, also points out that kipping pullups are harsher on the rotator cuff of the shoulder. Kipping pullups neglect the eccentric -- or muscle-building phase -- of the classic pullup.
If you want a six-pack, skip the crunches and situps. DeMarco notes that stability is what is needed for a six-pack. Those who do crunches almost exclusively can develop weak backs, she says. If you want to target the rectus abdominus, the bicycle maneuver and the captain’s chair are each three times more effective than the basic crunch, the American Council on Exercise reports. All the crunches in the world will also not bring you a six-pack if you eat a poor diet. A lean meal plan and cardio help reduce the fat on your frame, making those ab muscles show.
Dumbbell Tricep Kickbacks
Dumbbell triceps extensions, also known as kickbacks, fail to train your triceps through the entire range of motion. When compared to a cable kickback or even a triceps machine, they lack effectiveness, says Jerod Langness, a master trainer at Ascend Fitness, also in Colorado Springs. If you want to target the muscles at the back of the upper arm, you must oppose gravity in as close to full range of motion as possible to get the full benefit, he explains. In the case of triceps kickbacks, the range of motion is less than 50 percent. Go for overhead triceps extensions or bench dips for more effective triceps training.
Back Extension Machine
People complain of lower back pain, but the reason is not a weak low back. Often, back pain stems from overuse. Instead of using the back extension machine religiously, you need to target your abdominals and glutes to support the low back. “The lower back muscles are used more as a synergistic muscle group in support of the spine along with your core musculature (transverse abdominals, pelvic floor muscles, internal and external obliques, and your diaphragm),” Langness notes. When you target the low back as the primary mover, as with the back extension machine, you can cause more problems. Functional moves that train the low back as a helper muscle group and focus on the butt and abs, such as squats, are more effective
If you enjoy training for endurance events such as marathons and long-distance triathlons, steady-state cardio has a specific place in your workout routine. For people looking to lose fat and become lean and toned, steady-state cardio is overrated and counterproductive. Pounding your body with hours on the treadmill only causes you to lose muscle and slow your metabolism, trainer Rachel Cosgrove explains in her book “The Female Body Breakthrough.” Your body adapts to steady paces quickly so you burn fewer calories during your workout and it becomes efficient at storing fat to support you during long cardio bouts, she notes. Cosgrove recommends interval training -- short bouts of high-intensity exercise, such as one-minute sprints or burpees, combined with heavy strength training to lose fat and become toned.
References & Resources
- American Council on Exercise: Putting the Crunch on Ineffective Ab Exercises
- The Female Body Breakthrough; Rachel Cosgrove