7 Exercises Trainers Say You Can Skip —and Why | appencode.com

7 Exercises Trainers Say You Can Skip —and Why

There are some things — season finales, first dates, fake eyelashes — that can be easily separated into categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Exercises, however, cannot. 

“There is a time and place for almost every exercise,” according to strength and conditioning specialist Alena Luciani, M.S., C.S.C.S., founder of Training2xl. Unfortunately, there are a handful of strength exercises and cardio machines that are (over) used, even when there are safer, more effective alternatives. 

Ahead, seven exercises many gym-goers do that fitness experts recommend skipping  — plus the alternatives they recommend swapping into your workout routine instead.

Smith Machine Squats

The Smith Machine is a favorite amongst people who are new to strength training. At first glance, the machine may look just like a regular squat rig. But the barbell is actually attached to a fixed, sliding track (similar to the leg press). Whether you’re using the machine for shoulder press, bench press, squats, or deadlifts, this track forces the barbell to move up and down in a set vertical plane, explains Luciani. 

There are so many factors — such as ankle and hip mobility, glute and quad strength, and femur length — that dictate an individual’s squat position as well as bar path during the squat, says Luciani. Unfortunately, because the barbell is on a track, the Smith Machine squat doesn’t allow for any form variations, which means that everyone is squatting the same. As far as squats are concerned, this can actually put you at risk for form flubs, which increases the risk of injury down the line. 

“When you squat, you are supposed to move the weight with your particular body,” says Luciani. However, because the weight has to move along a set track during Smith Machine Squats, the reverse happens: You move your body around the weight, she explains.

Try This Instead: Free Weight Squats

To be clear: You shouldn’t take squats out of your routine completely. Weighted squats are a great way to strengthen a functional squat pattern, as well as develop lower body and core strength, Luciani says. 

She recommends replacing Smith Machine Squats with squat variations that allow you to move with (not against) your body, like the dumbbell squat, goblet squatbarbell front squat, or barbell back squat. 

“The landline goblet squat is another good option for new lifters who need to master the upright squat position,” she adds.

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Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are a seated exercise that isolates your quads. “The leg extension is a good option for people who are rehabbing a knee injury,” says Luciani. That’s because the machine allows you to strengthen the quad and some of the other stabilizing muscles around the knee without putting your full body weight on the joint, as most other squat and lunge variations do. 

However, most of the people who are using the leg extension machine aren’t rehabbing an injury but just trying to ramp up quad strength. “There are better, more functional exercises you can do to strengthen the anterior portions of your leg extensions,” she says.

Try This Instead: Squats and Lunges

Split squats, Bulgarian split squats, weighted lunges, squats, and single-leg step-downs are all exercises that will strengthen your quads, in addition to the other muscles that surround your knees and hips, says Luciani. 

If for aesthetic, sport (bodybuilding), or pre-hab purposes you are specifically interested in prioritizing quad strength gains — rather than entire front-leg gains — she especially recommends single-leg step downs. 

To try a single-leg step-down, start standing on top of a plyometric box with one foot firming planted and the other dangling off the edge. Next, you’re going to think about bringing the heel of the non-standing leg towards the ground by bending the knee of your planted leg and slowly sitting your butt back. “Think about contracting your quad, hamstring, and core to lower the heel towards the ground with control,” she says. Once the hovering heel lightly taps the ground below, explode back to standing and squeeze the glutes at the top.

Conventional Barbell Deadlift

When performed with sound form, the conventional barbell deadlift is a great way to master the hinge movement pattern, improve posterior chain strength, and help you maintain independence as you age. 

Unfortunately, many people aren’t deadlifting correctly, says Luciani. Most commonly, individuals make the mistake of trying to pull the bar before actively engaging their midline or lats, which puts their lower back in a sub-optimal position for receiving weight, she says. (If your lower back is more sore than your hamstrings in the days after deadlift, this could be you!).

Try This Instead: Trap-Bar Deadlift

Having a strong posterior chain is essential for maximizing overall power, as well as reducing the risk of lower-back problems down the line. So, rather than throwing the baby (conventional barbell deadlift) out with the bathwater (deadlifts as a whole), Luciani recommends opting for a trap-bar deadlift. 

The trap-bar deadlift — also known as a hex bar deadlift — involves picking up and putting down a hexagon-shaped barbell. “You grip the hex bar at the side of your body, rather than in front of your body, ” explains Luciani. Because the weight itself is positioned at your sides rather than ahead of you, your body won’t need to fight the forward gravitational pull throughout the movement, she explains, which can help reduce stress on the lower back. 

If you don’t have access to a trap-bar, do the Romanian deadlift instead, which has each rep start and end at your hips (rather than at the floor), suggests certified strength and conditioning coach Jake Harcoff, C.S.C.S. head coach and owner of AIM Athletic

Romanian deadlifts maximize muscle tension through the entire range of motion,” he says. Plus, you can customize the exercise so you only lower down as far as your current mobility allows without putting your spine in a sub-optimal position.

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Wanting to build a strong core is a novel and worthy cause. Core strength, after all, protects your spine, improves balance, helps your arms and legs access their intrinsic power and strength, as well as supports pelvic health. 

However, most people mistakenly think that they are working their entire core (multiple muscles) when they are actually just working their abs (the topmost muscle). 

Your core is made up of a number of muscles such as the transverse abdominis, the erector spinae, oblique muscles, and the rectus abdominis, says Luciani. In order to have a core that is actually strong — rather than one that just looks strong — you need to work all four of these main midline muscles. 

Crunches work just the rectus abdominis, which is known colloquially as the six-pack muscle. While doing crunches-on-crunches can create midline lines, it won’t actually strengthen the portion of the core that supports your overall stability, strength, and (spine) safety.

Try This Instead: Rotational Movements

Any rotational and anti-rotational exercises are going to call on the deeper muscles in your midsection, says Luciani. Certainly, better than crunches alone. 

That’s why she recommends incorporating exercises like the landmine twist, Pallof press, and bird dogs into your ab circuits, end-of-workout burners, and core-focused split days. “For these, you have to turn on your deeper core muscles to keep from being pulled over and to the side,” she says. When choosing a weight or resistance band, make sure you pick an option that you can do for the same number of reps on each side.

The Elliptical Machine

No doubt, the elliptical can be a decent option for people looking for a lower-impact way to get their sweat on, says Harcoff. “It is relatively easy on the body for longer cardio bouts” he says. 

However, the elliptical is not the best option for someone looking to improve either cardiovascular capacity or overall strength. “They can be clunky to use and awkward to move quickly,” says Luciani. 

Actually, moving them too quickly or using them too often can lead to nagging hip injuries. “Most ellipticals do not allow you to move your legs in their natural gait,” she explains. Instead, ellipticals with fixed foot pedals force your hip and knee into unnatural, over-extended positions that could negatively impact your natural walking gait, says Harcoff.

“The elliptical is also unlikely to provide enough weight-bearing stimulus to trigger bone mineral density increase or trigger strength gains,” he notes.

Try This Instead: Walking or Jogging

“Better than the elliptical is any form of heel-to-toe express,” says Luciani. Meaning, walking, running, jogging, or sprinting. “Relying on just your own two feet in any capacity is going to result in greater strength and cardio gains than riding on the elliptical,” she says. 

If you are brand-spanking new to running, she suggests getting on a beginner-friendly running plan that helps you build volume and mileage in a way that is safe for your joints and muscles. You might even consider hiring a run coach to make sure you’re running with sound form

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Yes, running can be a sound way to improve cardiovascular capacity for some people. However, there are other folks for whom running is going to do more harm than good, according to Harcoff. “Running can be hard on the body, especially when dosed incorrectly,” he says. 

Plus, it’s not accessible for individuals who have certain pre-existing knee, ankle, and hip injuries that necessitate that they stay away from high-impact exercise like running.

Try This Instead: Rowing

If you hate running or cannot heel-to-toe due to pre-existing exercises, “swimming and rowing are a great way to maximize cardiovascular output and burn calories while minimizing stress and impact on your joints,” says Harcoff. 

If you don’t have access to a  pool or don’t know how to swim, no big — just row! “The rowing machine is a low-impact cardio machine,” she says. Best, in addition to improving your heart strength, it can also improve lower and upper body strength.”

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Olympic Lifts

Olympic lifts like the clean and snatch make a regular appearance in CrossFit and other HIIT fitness classes. These compound exercises fire up all the muscles in your body and help increase functional strength. 

The problem, according to Harcoff, is that many people who are doing them need more coaching than they are getting! “Olympic lifting involves an extremely high learning curve and carries a significant risk-to-reward ratio,” he says. 

If you have access to Olympic weightlifting coaching, he says cleaning and snatching can be great routine add-ins. However, without proper guidance, they can be dangerous.

Try This Instead: Powerlifting

If a coach is not financially, geographically, or logistically accessible, Harcoff suggests opting for more accessible resistant training methods such as powerlifting or traditional strength training.

“These functional fitness exercises provide safer and effective alternatives to Olympic lifting, while still improving athletic performance, strength, and coordination,” he says.

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