5 Overrated Exercises You Shouldn’t Be Doing

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.

QuadratusLumborum

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.

glute-kickback-overrated_ph

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.

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Bodyweight Essential : The Parallel Bar Dip

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the one of the most popular and highly effective body weight exercise, the Pull-Up. The complement exercise to the pull-up is the parallel bar dip. When it comes to body weight training, these two inevitably go hand-in-hand like Peanut Butter & Jelly, Starsky & Hutch, Thelma & Louise, Andre 3000 & Big Boi, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (I think by now you get the point), etc. The parallel bar dip is an exercise that uses the muscles of the pectoralis major, triceps group and anterior deltoid. For the remainder of this post, I’ll refer to this exercise as simply ‘the dip’.

It is important not to confuse the dip with bench/chair dip which is strictly a triceps exercise. Although both movements require extension of the arms, the dip places a greater demand on the upper body. For those not familiar with execution of the dip, it requires a set of parallel bars that are shoulder-with apart. Most commercial gyms have designated apparatus for this exercise, though any two parallel bars that are shoulder-with apart (like the ones seen in recreational parks and playgrounds) will work just fine. Although some of the dip bars may differ in angles and inches apart, they generally don’t affect performance of the movement.

Set-up for the dip begins with both hands fully extended (locked elbows) on the bar with the body supported by the hands and suspended. The movement is initiated by eccentrically flexing the elbows via lowering of the body. This phase is usually aided by gravity so it requires little to no effort. However caution must be used during descent because a fast and sudden dip will most likely lead to injury to the shoulder, elbows and/or pecs (more on this later) over time. A 90-degree elbow flexion is considered to be an ideal bench mark on the depth of the lowering phase. Once that position is reached, the elbow extensors must now contract concentrically to push the body back to its original starting position. This is the phase of the movement that requires by far the most effort.

Anatomically speaking, the dip can be performed with virtually any upper body movement. It is generally thought of as a triceps exercise by many but as I mentioned before, it also works the chest and shoulder. Body position impacts the amount of fibers that get recruited in the pectoralis major. Generally, a slight forward lean will engage the pecs to a great extent. Regardless of the angle, the long head of the triceps will receive a good amount of work. Because both the traditional bench press and the dip work identical muscle groups, they are usually paired up in most strength training programs. Whether you’re a regular avid lifter, bodybuilder or powerlifter, the dip is an effective exercise in sculpting, strengthening and adding mass to the upper body.

So what if you’re unable to perform a single dip using your body weight?

As with the pull-up, the dip can be regressed and progressed for body adaptation. The most basic regression comes in the form of the parallel bar dip assisted machine. I don’t know of a commercial gym or health club that doesn’t have this machine. And just like with the pull-up, assistance (via selectorized resistance) allows the individual to perform the movement with a lesser challenge. Another common regression is having a partner hold on to the legs during the movement allowing for lesser weight in the trunk musculature being pushed. Also, because gravity is constantly pulling the body down during descent, having someone hold on the legs eliminates this and allows the individual focus on pushing back up. A strength bands can also be used as a regression but requires a much more difficult set up. A band of medium or heavy resistance is looped over both parallel bars forming what looks like an upside down semicircle. Both knees are placed gently over the band which stretches down during descent and helps to pull a person back up as it undoes its elasticity. This regression can be effective for some, however caution must be used when mounting off the band.

There are those who are very strong and anaerobically gifted enough to perform extremely high number of repetitions on the dip. I once witnessed a colleague and good friend of mine perform 100 dips!! (What’s even more impressive is that fact that we had worked our chest together so intensely that day and decided to do some dips as a finisher). People like this need progressions for added challenges. Adding more resistance to the body via a weight belt (also called a chin-up/pull-up/dip belt) or placing weighted chains over the shoulder are the most common ways to make the dip a whole lot more challenging. The same buddy of mine who can do 100 dips may only get 15 reps with, say for example, an additional 100 pounds of resistance. But those 15 reps will have a greater impact on his size and strength. (Fun Fact: The world record for a weighted dip belongs to Pat Casey, an iconic powerlifter in the 1960’s. Casey once performed the dip with a whopping 380 pounds of additional resistance at a body weight of 340!)

med_1207428278-King_CaseyPat Casey

As great an exercise the dip is, the potential for injury is very high. Dipping beyond the 90-degree elbow bend has been linked to injuries affecting the wrist, elbow (tendonitis) shoulder (acromioclavicular joint and rotator cuff muscles) and tears in the triceps and pectoralis major muscle groups. The shoulder joint becomes vulnerable to extreme tension when the body descends too deep because the joint is biomechanically misaligned at that point. Remember that the ball and socket joints of the shoulder and hip are the most vulnerable to injuries because of their multiplanar feature. This is not to scare you away from doing the dip but simply to inform you of the injury risks that come along when done with improper form, too much additional resistance is used and performing the movement on too many days with inadequate rest and recovery periods in between.

So here are 5 takeaways:

1. The dip is one of the most effective pushing body weight exercise for strengthening and aesthetically developing the upper body. It is often paired with the pull-up/chin-up and makes for an ideal ‘push-pull’ superset.

2. The dip can be performed by men and women, young and old and people of all sizes. The individual performing the movement must use proper technique and a variation type that matches his/her abilities.

3. The training recommendation for strength, hypertrophy and muscular endurance is the same as basic strength training and powerlifting. So if your goal is size and strength in the triceps and chest, the repetition range should be 1-10 with a moderately heavy load. If endurance is your goal or you’re just trying to maintain the lean muscle you already have, 12-20 repetitions with a light load or just body weight is an ideal rep range.

4. Flexion of the elbow during descent should not be deeper than a 90-degree bend. There are some who go deeper than this angle and never experience any problems while there are those who never descend close to 90 degrees and still get injured. There is inconclusive evidence to support whether going past 90 degrees is dangerous. In fact, injuries from weighted parallel bar dips are very few, one study shows. Err on the side of caution when doing the dip and listen to your body.

5. The parallel bar dip should not be confused with the bench/chair dip, which is strictly a triceps exercise.

Walking The Walk

In an age where exercise is as mainstream as ever and science continues to show us new and easier ways so stay active, walking remains the oldest and simplest form of physical activity. Not only is it inexpensive, it is the the most ubiquitous form of exercise available to everyone in the world. According to science research, some of the benefits of walking include fat loss, reduction of the the risk of cardiovascular diseases, treatment and lowering of high blood pressure, improvement of HDL and lower resting heart rate.

Fortunately for me, I live in a city where walking is an integral part of the lifestyle and is inevitably encouraged. If you live in New York City or have visited before, you know how essential walking is, regardless of your areas of destination. According to walkscore.com, a website company that ranks walkable cities with access and proximity to and around neighborhoods in United States, Canada and Australia, New York City is ranked number one. It is for this reason that New Yorkers living in New York City get a good portion of their aerobic activity via walking, covering as far as even two miles a day!

But as great as that sounds, you can make walking a much more challenging cardio activity. Brisk walking, which is how an overwhelming majority of us walk, is generally the preferred pace the body will adhere to. This is because at higher intensity work, the body will rely on carbohydrate for fuel as opposed to fat which is used for lower intensity, long-duration activities. Because carbohydrates are limited in the body (via depletion of glycogen stores as exercise intensity elevates), the body will naturally use fat for brisk walking.

However, using high intensity interval training protocols (HIIT), you can make walking fun and challenging while burning tons of fat calories. Here are 5 ways to incorporate HIIT into walking:

1. Aerobic Interval Training: In this method, a 4-minute aggressive, challenging walk is followed after by an easy, light 2-minute walk and repeated 8 to 10 times. As a way to gauge intensity, use the Rating Of Perceived Exertion Scale with the work portion at Hard to Very Hard and the recovery portion at  Light.

2. Sprint Interval Walking:  Note that the term ‘sprint’ here doesn’t mean an all-out run. It should be a near-maximal walk on a treadmill. It should be fast enough so you feel you’re just about to slide off the treadmill but not quite. Using the RPE scale, combine a Very Hard 30-second ‘sprint-walk’ with a Light 4-minute walk. Aim to do 4 to 6 total intervals.

3. Four-Minute Interval Walking: This method calls for an increase in RPE every 4 minutes. Start at a moderate-pace walking speed on the treadmill and increase the walking speed to a much more challenging one after 4 minutes. The process is repeated until a specific number of interval is completed or a set time is achieved. For example, a sample workout could start out at a walking speed of 2.0mph on the treadmill. At the 4-minute mark, the speed is increased to 2.5mph. At the 8-minute mark, the speed is increased again to 3.0mph. The workout is terminated at the 20-minute mark when 5 intervals are completed. The workout can also be terminated after a certain amount of time, say 35 minutes. This workout can be done using an incline walk or a combination with a treadmill speed.

4. Near-Maximal Interval Walking: This method combines a 5-minute near-maximal ‘sprint-walk’ with a light 5-minute recovery walk. The near-maximal walk should be performed at a ‘Hard’ or  ‘Very Hard’ level on the RPE scale while the recovery walk should be Light. 6 to 8 total intervals should be performed or at least 60 minutes.

5. Supramaximal Interval Walking: This may be the the most adaptable and likeable walking HIIT workout. A 90-second ‘sprint-walk’ is combined with a 30-second easy walk. The ‘sprint-walk’ should be performed at a ‘Very Hard’ intensity while the recovery walk should be Light.  An ideal number of intervals to aim for is 12, although 8 would suffice.

Keep in mind that if you’re an elite athlete or possess higher-than-average fitness levels, these forms of walking may not present a challenge for you and can be deemed boring. But even if you can run a mile in 6 minutes, you can embrace a different challenge and give your joints a break occasionally by performing one of the aforementioned workouts. Those suffering form ankle and hip chronic conditions may have a very hard time doing these workouts. Tendonitis, arthritis and bursitis of the knee and hip can make walking very difficult, let alone walking at higher intensities. If you have a chronic condition of any of the joints of the lower body, brisk walking at a moderate-pace is enough for a challenge. Be sure to walk at a RPE intensity of at least Hard.

Rapid Fire : Installment 2

The leaves on the trees have begun to change from green to red, orange and yellow. The mornings are dark again and days shorter again. It’s been brisk, cold and windy the last few weeks forcing some of us to bring out the hoodies, fleeces and coats.

Fall season is upon us once again. I personally love this time of the year with Spring season being my favorite. Most runners consider this to be the ideal time to run because it’s neither too cold nor too hot. In my experience over the years working at health clubs and working with many clients, the cold weather can be discouraging for people who go to the gym regularly. People typically rather stay in the warmth of their apartments or go to the gym less frequently.

Some avid fitness enthusiasts like to take advantage of the fall weather and participate in outdoor recreational activities. I personally think this is a brilliant thing to do because it’s another way to challenge yourself physically, athletically and mentally without doing traditional exercises in the gym.

Fall season training, outdoor fall exercises and much more are explored in ‘Rapid Fire: Installment 2’.

1. Morning Workouts Are Ideal In The Fall: For many of us that juggle working out with work and other family commitments, waking up early can be a dreadful process. However as challenging as it may be, an early morning workout before work in the Fall could make life much easier for you. As the weather transitions from summer into fall, many exercisers tend to get lazy and try to avoid the cold as much as possible. It becomes more of a challenge trying to get psyched for a workout after working a long day. Although a morning workout requires waking up much earlier for a sufficient workout, the thought that home is where you’re headed after work is refreshing, relieving and euphoric. As winter approaches, working out can become more difficult because the weather gets colder in the evening in certain parts of the country. If you live in a warmer climate, you may not have this problem in which case it wouldn’t matter what time of the day you trained. But for the majority of those in northeastern and mid-western states, a morning workout may very well be what keeps you focused and on track during the fall and winter seasons.

2. Drink A Cup Of Coffee As A Pre-Workout Booster: Over the last few years, several studies, including this ACSM study, have shown caffeine as being a great energy enhancer prior to a workout. It actually makes sense because all pre-workout creatine powder drinks have moderate to high doses of caffeine in them. Just look at the label of these products next time you’re at your local GNC or Vitamin Shoppe and you’ll see it written on there. A cup of coffee in the morning prior to a workout will actually wake you up faster, keep you alert for a while and activate the central nervous system. Even if you don’t workout in the morning, a cup of coffee will come in handy as you make your way form work to the gym or if you’re pressed for time. If you have a low caffeine tolerance, start with any basic tea and gradually asses your tolerance. However in both cases, be careful not to drown your caffeinated beverage with milk and sugar as too much of both can devalue the effectiveness of the caffeine. Anaerobic activities seem to thrive the best with pre-workout coffee consumption but there’s also evidence suggesting that coffee consumption prior to endurance activities like swimming and distance running can enhance performance.

3. Participate In Obstacle Course Challenges:  Fall season is a great time to participate in outdoor activities because of the uniqueness of the weather (warm, breezy, windy and brisk). Several obstacle course challenges have taken the fitness industry by storm over the last 10 years. These are events, usually lasting anywhere from less than an hour to several hours a day, that measure a person’s aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Besides being a great way to embrace new challenges other than traditional gym exercises, it’s a fitting way to transition from the summer into fall by enjoying the last of good outdoor weather before the cold comes in. Some of the popular obstacle course events making waves around the country are Metro Dash, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Men’s Health Urbanathlon. These events will also test your willpower, mental fortitude and fatigue threshold. I competed in the Metro Dash in 2011 and walked into it with little preparation thinking it would be a piece of cake. After all, I’ve been lifting weights my whole life so how hard could it be. Nothing could be further from the truth! I realized my aerobic and muscular endurance weren’t where they needed to be. It served as a wake-up call to incorporate more conditioning drills into my workout programs. While the summer will always be perfect for most outdoor activities, it can often be too hot and humid and thereby uncomfortable for exercisers to work under. The spring and fall seasons are considered by many as the best season for obstacle course events.