Let’s imagine you have gotten off to a good start and you are all set to hit the gym hard with your fitness stats and SMART goals at the ready. Since you are probably paying a pretty penny for your membership and trainer you should be getting the best, most efficient and most importantly the best exercises for your health and goals.
A large proportion of people have fairly sedentary jobs, which means over time there can become several structural imbalances within the body. Generally, the glutes become weak, the anterior hip muscles become tight, the core switches off and there is a rounding of the upper shoulders, among other issues. Every trainer has their own style, energy, and personality and you will definitely see different trainers who have ‘their exercises’ that they will believe are the best, but if you are a desk jockey or relate to some of the above issues make sure you avoid the following exercises, like the plague.
This machine you will find in most gyms around the world. A popular machine for the ladies as the machine is meant to target the hip abductors (obviously) such as the glute med. This muscle plays a very important role in stabilising the hip, knee and ankle during daily activities like walking, running and going up and down the stairs. Now here’s the thing when you sit down and your hip is at 90 degrees the piriformis muscle also becomes a hip abductor. This muscle is associated with sciatica due to its proximity to the sciatic nerve and using this machine can ramp up the tension in this muscle and can flare up any previous existing problems or start a brand new one.
My advice: If you want to hit those hip abductors without engaging the piriformis try; Clams, Monster walks or Sumo walks.
This exercise is from the old school bodybuilder’s library for the obliques. If you are not too familiar with this exercise then you hold a weight in one hand and flex your torso to the side.
There are two big issues with this exercise. Firstly most people don’t have the flexibility in the thoracic spine or upper shoulders to sufficiently perform this, which usually means increased pressure on the lumbar vertebral discs. The thing about the human body is that it is task orientated. Meaning if you have the desire to do something the body will do its best to complete the task, even if it means not doing it correctly. So when you flex and pinch down on one side the lack of mobility in the upper back means the lower back has to flex further to complete the task. Excessive use of this movement will only end you up on the physio bed before too long with some lower back or lumbar disc issue. Secondly the core muscles are not designed to move the same as the global or glamour muscles of the body like the biceps and pectorals. In fact they are anti-movers, meaning they are designed to stabilse the spine so forces can be transmitted between the upper and lower limb like during a golf swing or round house kick.
My advice: To hit the oblique’s and core try; farmers walk, wood chop and plank variations.
The quadriceps are four main muscles at the front of the leg and one of them in particular (Rectus Femoris) crosses both the hip and the knee. Because of this its gets tight easily when in the seated position for too long. Now building quadriceps strength is important especially the vastus medialis oblique (VMO) when recovering from knee injuries such as a meniscus tear or patellofemoral pain. The issue with the leg extension machine firstly is that it has the potential to tighten up that Rectus Femoris even further, which in turn can pull pelvis forward and lead to a deep arch in the back especially when you add having weak bum muscles too. Also this machine places increased anterior shear force and pressure on the knee, which is the primary mechanism injury risk to the ACL ligament and not to mention the fact this exercises has no real functional benefit. There are a lot of quadriceps exercises that works much more efficiently to help stabilse and strengthen the quadriceps and knee.
My advice: Want healthy knees and big quads try; ski sits, lunges, squats and split squats.
Oh look another machine, this time the lat pulldown. When performed correctly (bar to top of chest) the lat pulldown machine is good exercise in developing the mid/upper back. There is even some benefit to doing behind the neck pull down, but as mentioned before the main issue with this exercise is few individuals possess the flexibility to perform it properly. When performing the behind-the-neck pulldown you must externally rotate your shoulders as much as possible, which places your shoulders and the rotator cuff muscles in a precarious position. The rotator cuff group is your main shoulder stabilisers and repetitive use of this exercise can lead to an over use injury such as an impinged shoulder. Also due to the lack of flexibility it is likely you will bend the neck forward to do the movement which can also lead to compression and shear forces on the vertebrae. Definitely one for the exercise bin!
My advice: Want strong a strong back try; Pull up and chin up variations and inverted rows.
The benefit of stability ball training has become a bone on contention in the fitness industry of late and there are grounds for each side of the argument. Some of the exercises can help proprioceptive feedback to an area of the body after an injury. However some exercises have more place in the circus than in the gym, and none more so than the stability ball squat. This exercise is dangerous and requires you to stand on top of a stability ball whilst performing a squat. If your aim is to impress someone in the gym then great, but the reality is this exercise has no benefit in improving lower body strength and places increased stress to the ankle and knee ligaments, even more so when you see someone doing this with weight! If your SMART goal is to train for maximal size or strength, stick with squatting with your feet firmly on the ground so that you can benefit from pushing a reasonable weight. Any benefits that might result from stability ball squats aren’t worth the decrease in the load you’ll be able to handle and the potential danger you place yourself in.
My advice: Want to squat properly try; Back squats and front squats (with weight!)
There are pros and cons to pretty much all exercises out there, some have more than others and some have no cons at all. They say some exercise is better than no exercise, but if you find yourself doing the above anytime soon with your trainer run if you still can!
James is master trainer at Talise Fitness based at the iconic Jumierah Beach Hotel. He gained his MSc in Sport Rehabilitation from St Marys Twickenham and has 10 years of fitness industry experience behind him and lives by two ideals: ‘Don’t dream of success, get up and work hard at it’ and ‘If it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you’.
TaliseFitness can help you achieve your fitness goals. Join one of their clubs at Emirates Towers, Madinat Jumeirah or Jumeirah Beach Hotel. For more info, visit TaliseFitness.com