Over time, certain habits become ingrained in human beings and become behavior, regardless of the reasons. This certainly holds true in the world of fitness. Everyone gets into a routine and despite having the resources to change their program for the positive, they just keep on treading through the sludge hoping for the best.
You see it every time you walk into a gym. People religiously going through their workouts, believing deep down that the results will come. At some point, everyone has been there. What began as habit has become behavior. However, what works for one person may not work for another. People try too hard to tailor themselves to an exercise and not enough time tailoring the exercise or worse, their entire program, to them. Plus, what you’re doing might not train the muscles you think you’re training or might be causing the very injuries you’re trying to avoid. There’s a time and place for almost everything but truthfully, some things might not be worth doing.
The catch is that people don’t want you to question their religion. If you want to have a really bad day, try telling a recreational jogger that running long distances every day isn’t burning the fat he thinks it is… or tell a CrossFitter that the burpees she’s pounding away at are only compounding her existing shoulder pain. I’ll bite that bullet for everyone. Here’s a list of overrated exercises that, depending on who you are, might need to be reconsidered:
The barbell bench press is considered the mother of all upper body exercises. Walk into any gym and there’s at least one person at any given time smashing as much weight as humanly possible. The bench press is the standard for upper body strength development but without efficient technique and strength at all ROMs, it becomes little more than an injury factory. To add further insult to injury, it’s not even the best pec developer in the arsenal, especially if an extreme powerlifting approach is taken..
Who shouldn’t do it: Anyone with preexisting shoulder pain or optimal limb lengths. While a barbell may be considered a free weight, it fixes the hands and by extension, elbow and shoulder movement. If you don’t have acceptable shoulder mobility or feel any shoulder pain when producing the movement, best to stay away.
What to do instead: Dumbbell Chest Press. DBs give you plenty of wiggle room and variety. With the hands free to rotate into what ever grip is most comfortable, DBs take serious pressure off the shoulder. In addition, the decreased stability increases the amount of stability at the affected joints while also recruiting more pectoral fibers. Whether you’re injured, immobile, or otherwise. Pressing with DBs is a win-win. Additionally, Floor Presses (with a bar or DBs) are another way to alleviate extra deltoid stressors by limiting the range of motion.
Deadlifting and any hip-hinge variation is a spectacular way to build posterior chain strength. Like the bench press, it’s considered a benchmark of maximal strength. Also, like the bench press, it’s extremely harmful when poorly executed. Without the prerequisite thoracic and hip mobility, you’ll wind up looking like a marionette being pulled up by your lumbar spine. Another point to take into consideration: we’re all unique human beings with vastly different limb and torso proportions. Some people aren’t built to pull a bar from the floor simply due to longer lever arm. Ignore these facts and you could be setting yourself up for a big-time injury.
Who shouldn’t do it: Anyone who doesn’t have the mobility to set up with the bar over their laces and keep their body weight on the back of the foot. Excessive “knee dive” places the bar too far in front of your center of gravity and increases the load placed on your lumbar.
What to do instead: If you’re dead set on pulling the bar, you have a few quality options. The first is to pull from pins or blocks. Elevating the starting position of the bar allows you a better opportunity to maintain a neutral spine position without all of the hip mobility required to pull from the floor. The second is the Barbell Romanian Deadlift. You’ll be able to work on your hip hinge and keep the load close to your center of mass. If you must pull from the floor, the trap bar, aka the hex bar, gives you some flexibility learning the hip hinge without your long shins getting in the way. Additionally, a sumo-stance deadlift opens up the hips to get your torso closer to the bar.
Burpees began as benchmark endurance testing for the military almost a century ago and has been adopted by many cross training systems to get shredded and fit. A problem arises when the participant can neither perform a strict push-up nor a quality bodyweight squat. Upon further examination many don’t have the hip mobility to recover the knees underneath nor the strength to absorb the force of the ground from the jump landing. If you’re keeping track, that’s a lot of joint impact and stress… all in the name of getting fit.
Who shouldn’t do it: If you can’t perform a strict push-up, a mobile bodyweight squat, or a squat jump, it’s probably not in the cards for you yet.
What to do instead: Mountain Climbers. If the goal is aerobic conditioning, you can do a lot worse than mountain climbers. Start with the basic movement and progress into full hip switches once you’ve acquired enough strength to maintain your neutral spine. If the goal is relative strength, keep practicing those push-ups!
Kip-ups are an outstandingly efficient way to get from point A to point B if A is hanging from a bar and B is getting closer to the bar. The lower-body momentum, or “kip”, takes load off the upper body, allowing for work to be done in a much easier fashion. It’s a gymnastics style movement that requires a good deal of coordination, not just on the pull but also on the negative, in order to replicate the movement for sets. The issue with kip-ups isn’t necessarily in the movement itself, it’s how it is perceived. Many people working through exhausting sets of kip ups think they’re building strength. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Because the lower-body momentum removes load, kip-ups are more of an exercise in coordination and endurance, not strength. Furthermore, the high velocity of the movement, increases the risk factor a little in the form of falling hard on your back and adverse stress on the shoulder or elbows for those who don’t have the strength or stability to decelerate. You could make the case the the high-velocity nature of the pull places a greater burden on grip strength, but there are other effective ways to elicit this kind of response.
Who shouldn’t do it: Anyone trying to build vertical pulling strength or that has a fear of falling.
What to do instead: Pull-ups, Assisted Pull-ups, Lat Pulldowns, etc. You can build strength and stability through these movements through progressive overload with far less risk of falling.
Bear Crawls are a staple of most indoor and outdoor fitness bootcamps. Having to move while supporting weight at each joint builds dynamic stability and burns a hell of a lot of calories in the process. The issue here is the “gut-it-out” mentality of many bootcamps that typically leads to bad form and unwanted spinal stressors. What you usually see after a lot of cumulative fatigue is excessive thoracic and lumbar flexion. For an exercise that is ripe with possibility for learning pelvolumbar and scapular stability, this one gets botched a lot.
Who shouldn’t do it: This is dependent on the distance of the crawl, but anyone can’t hold a plank–or probably more appropriately a push-up plank– for at least a minute doesn’t need to be doing these.
What to do instead: A baby Crawl can give you all the pelvolumbar and scapular stability benefits of the Bear Crawl but at slower speeds and shorter distances. the slower nature of the Baby Crawl pulls double duty by allowing you to focus on body control while also increasing the time under tension of the deltoid, quadriceps, etc. try telling me you won’t burn calories this way.
As far as bodyweight exercises are concerned, dips are an awesome tricep and lower pectoral developer. That said, without proper shoulder mobility to hyperextend the humerus, many compensate with shoulder elevation and and thoracic/ cervical flexion… in other words, a rounded back. This limits the training effect of the dip as well as wrecks your posture.
Who shouldn’t do it: We keep coming back to shoulder mobility, but if you don’t have it, work on it before you tackle dips. If you truly feel the need to do dips, try descending only until you feel your humeral head begin rolling forward. Otherwise, there’s not much need. a lot of people find themselves already in a shoulders-forward posture. Those people need to do more work on pulling the shoulders back rather than exacerbating the issue with anything that will support that bad posture. Besides, there are other ways to train your triceps. Close grip bench press prioritizes your triceps in a horizontal press. Rope pressdowns or cable kickbacks are other examples of tricep exercises that you can scale to your mobility level.
The first thing that pops into people’s heads when they finally decide it’s time to lose weight and get healthier is to get outside and run. I’m going to make this very clear: we’re not all blessed with perfect lever arms or a naturally graceful stride. Those of us without a graceful stride usually find ourselves absorbing the ground every foot strike with our passive tissues (ligaments) rather than active ones (muscles). Heel-striking the pavement hard and loosely does solid repetitive damage to our hips, knees, and ankles. On top of that, it’s not even the most efficient way to target fat loss. Once your body adapts to the stress of running at a moderate pace, it becomes more proficient at saving energy, rather than expending it. Fat loss is all about energy expenditure.
Who shouldn’t do it: Probably most of us. Those who get bored easily won’t stick with it.
What to do instead: If you like running, try intervals. Alternate periods of sprints with light jogging. This will force your body to oscillate between periods of high and low intensity and force it to keep up with the metabolic demands. Changing the ratio of the intervals relatively frequently will also keep your body in a constant state of adaptation and out of it’s comfort zone.
Author: Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS
Aaron Runner is the Owner of Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA and a former NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coach.