Want to put in countless hours at the gym and see little to no results? If you answered no (and I’m guessing that you did!), then you probably want to know which workouts train the most muscle groups and burn the most calories in the least amount of time, right? Given that most of us don’t have three hours a day to devote to the gym, I’d say most of us would say yes. But it’s hard to know which exercises to do (and not do!) when you don’t know where to start. Watching other people at the gym is no help, especially considering that improper form and ineffective exercises can be spotted among even the fittest-looking of gym-goers. I’ve even spotted trainers coaching clients through exercises that are useless or even potentially dangerous. To help you navigate the weight room maze of barbells, dumbells, and crazy contraptions, I’ve compiled a list of workouts and weight machines that you shouldn’t use, and what to do instead.
- The Leg Curl/Leg Extension Machines: What I dislike about the leg curl and leg extension machines is that they really only work one muscle at a time; the leg curl is meant to work the hamstrings, and the leg extension works the quadriceps. This means you’re spending twice the time when you could choose an exercise that works both muscles along with the glutes. Another potential problem with these machines is that they put pressure on the knees, which could injure the joints. When adjusted properly and used in conjunction with other leg exercises, these machines aren’t necessarily all bad, there are just better leg workouts out there. Lunges and squats are more effective as they work more muscles and require more effort to perform.
- Abdominal Machines: In my opinion, these machines are worthless. While I do think that ab exercises are a good addition to your workout routine in order to strengthen your core, I have found that for me personally, the ab machines at the gym are too hard to adjust to my size, so they end up forcing improper movements that are hard on my back. There are many other core exercises out there that are more effective yet don’t require all that heavy machinery. The plank is my personal favorite, but the only real way to get that six-pack is to get rid of the belly fat that covers it, through cardio and a healthy diet.
- Lat Pulldowns behind the head: You’ve probably seen people do this variation on the lat pulldown; pulling the bar down behind their head instead of in front of their chest. Most people lack the flexibility needed to do this without causing injury, as it works the shoulders at an unnatural angle. This move can tear your rotator cuff over time, and puts undue stress on the spine. It’s best just to avoid this one altogether, and stick with traditional lat pulldowns.
- Upright Barbell Row: This one is debatable since the motion of the upright row is not unnatural and could be performed during daily activities, but most trainers will tell you to skip it. The reason is that the internal rotation of the arms during the exercise can cause inflammation and pain in the shoulder joints. A recommend exercise to do instead is a dumbbell front raise. It works the shoulders without causing stress to the joints.
- The Elliptical: I had to throw in this particular cardio machine because I’ve seen countless people in the gym stay on this thing for an hour a day and yet never seem to lose any weight. Here’s why: it’s too damn easy. Now, if you have a significant amount of weight to lose, you suffer from joint pain, or you just use it for a few minutes pre or post workout to warm up/cool down, then it can be useful to your routine. For most of us, however, it simply doesn’t challenge our bodies enough to be worth the time spent. Don’t trust the calorimeter on the machine; those really aren’t accurate when it comes to determining how many calories you’re burning. Your weight, metabolism, and level of fitness are all factors that determine how your body burns calories. If you want to maximize your calorie burn, substitute the elliptical for the row machine or alternating sprints on the treadmill.
While these are a few exercises that I recommend skipping altogether, any exercise can be ineffective or injurious if performed improperly. The best way to know if you’re doing them right is to do your research or find a certified trainer who can help. Trainers at franchised gyms and trendy fitness clubs often lack the proper certifications and may not be the best resource if you really want to see results.
*The trainers at Firefighter Fitness pride themselves on being NCCA certified personal trainers as well as Peer Fitness Trainers for firefighters in Atlanta. As firemen themselves, they are also EMTs who are educated in the prevention and proper treatment of injuries.