Let me preface this blog post by saying the exercises about to be put under the microscope aren’t necessarily bad for you. As a fitness professional with a relentless mission of spreading the gospel of health and fitness to as many as possible, any form of physical activity is highly encouraged. A more physically active nation means a longer-lasting nation. However, there are quite a few exercises that I feel are a complete waste of your time and effort.
These exercises could very well be some of of your favorites and some of the premier exercises in fitness so I expect some of you to disagree with me. I truly believe these exercises are on the verge of being extinct. After some extensive research and experimenting, I’ve come to the conclusion that world of health and fitness is better off without the following 5 exercises:
1. SQUATS ON A BOSU BALL: Theoretically speaking, this movement makes no practical sense nor does it have any functional purpose. Doing squats on a bosu ball first gained popularity in the early 2000’s back when the ‘core’ craze was at its peak. It was thought that performing traditional exercises on unstable surfaces yielded the best core stability. I won’t dispute the fact that any squat variation trains the core stabilizers. If you routinely perform squats, you know the core is engaged a great deal. But why go through the daunting hassle of getting onto a bous ball to perform a squat when you can easily perform a traditional back squat and reap the same exact benefits? Furthermore, a case study conducted a month ago in Slovakia showed that squats performed on unstable surfaces greatly affected the concentric portion of the lift when compared to a stable surface like the floor. A 2013 research from the Journal of Strength & Conditioning also concluded that squats on a bosu ball resulted in lower EMG activity and force production in comparison to floor squats.
Surfers are perhaps the only group of people who may benefit from squatting on a bosu ball because of the amount of instability they have to deal with, not to mention how eerily identical both movements are. Other than these select few, everyone else should just stick to traditional squat variations.
2. UPRIGHT ROW: This exercise was made popular by bodybuilders in the early days and recruits the muscles of the trapezius, middle deltoids and to a small extent the biceps. It is often incorporated with overhead pressing movements and rows. I’ll admit that once upon a time I regularly performed barbell upright rows. Growing up around older lifters who adopted the 70’s and 80’s way of strength training, I had no choice but to acquiesce. But over the years, I’ve come to realize that this exercise is an utter waste. The biggest concern with this exercise is the internal rotation of the humerus at the top, which has been linked to shoulder impingement. When performed over time, the overhead movement of the arm plus internal rotation of the humerus stresses the subacromial joint. A 2011 research article in the Strength and Conditioning Journal supports this theory.
A traditional deadlift will effectively work the trapezius along with a host of other muscles and will prevent any use of the shoulder. The rear deltoid and other upper posterior muscles can be targeted with behind-the-back band pull-apart and Face Pull. The middle deltoids and biceps can be trained via lateral raises and any biceps curling movement respectively.
3. SIDE BEND: Almost every gym goer I know has performed (some still do) this exercise at some point. The side bend is a unilateral movement performed as an abdominal exercise to work the internal and external obliques. For those unfamiliar with it, it requires holding a single dumbbell or weight plate in one hand and tilting the body sideways and back to upright. Anatomically speaking this is an action of the body known as lateral flexion of the spine which uses a small muscle of the lower back called Quadratus Lumborum, or QL. By definition, the QL originates from the posterior iliac crest and inserts on the 12th rib and lumbar vertebrae. The QL also aids in extension of the lumbar spine and is associated with low back pain via prolonged seating and weak gluteus medius and minimus. Thus when you do a side bend, you’re actually working your lumbar region, not your obliques.
While side bending with a decent amount of resistance could potentially lead to a stronger low back, it has ZERO impact on the abdominal muscle group. Besides, compound movements like the squat and deadlift are ideal low back strengthening exercises that also offer a plethora of other benefits. For those looking to work their obliques, any anti-lateral flexion, i.e., resisting going into spinal lateral flexion (barbell rainbows, suitcase deadlift) or anti-rotation (pallof press) exercises will be ideal.
4. WHOLE-BODY VIBRATION: Simply put, whole-body vibration (WBV) is the use of vibration devices to strengthen the body. The most popular of this device is the Power Plate which originated in Russia and quickly spread through Europe and Japan before arriving on U.S soil. Experts of this device maintain that vibration transmission of energy into the body can help with weight loss, core strength, increased bone density amongst other things. I took a Power Plate introduction course in 2009 and have occasionally incorporated it into various segments of training programs of my clients and I.
Today I question the effectiveness of the device. While it can serve as a passive warm-up prior to strength and aerobic training (which I use on myself and a few of my clients), there is inconclusive findings to support the claims of weight loss, hypertrophy and core strength. In fact many of the promised benefits aren’t backed by research. There isn’t sufficient evidence to support these claims and it is my belief this device is on its way to extinction. On a small positive note, it appears sedentary individuals and chronically ill patients may benefit initially from WBV training.
5. GLUTE KICKBACK: If you’re a woman reading this, you probably already have a frown across your face. This is one of the most common butt exercises women love to do. Also known as ‘Donkey Kick’ or ‘Single-Leg Hip Extension’, it is performed from a quadruped position and involves pushing the foot of each leg towards the ceiling (from the knee) one at a time, usually with ankle weights strapped to each ankle. Some gyms even have machines that mimic this action from an upright position. My concern is that most women always hyperextend their lumbar spines when doing this exercise making it counterproductive. While effective, it expends way too much energy due to the unilateral nature of it and requires a good amount of effort to yield desirable outcomes.
As a substitute, perform any variation of the deadlift and squat, reverse lunges and hip thrusts. Simply put, no exercise activates the glutes better than the hip thrust.