If you’ve ever been to a gym, you have probably seen someone looking like they’re doing some revolutionary exercise that you have never seen before. These exercises usually take place on a cardio based piece of equipment and they’ll tell you they’re trying to get their resistance training in at the same time, or that doing this altered exercise will “burn more calories”…. But do they? Or are they just a recipe for disaster (injury) and should be avoided?
What do I mean?
Below are just a sprinkling of exercises that I personally have seen performed in just the last two weeks (there are probably loads more I’ve missed, keep an eye out and tag them on to this article). Listed along side these are what muscles they are activating when performing these, as well as alternative exercises that make much more sense in terms of a greater muscular contraction, as well as from a safety standpoint instead.
Walking backwards on an incline treadmill or stairmaster– Calves, Hamstrings, Glutes, VMO and due to the ankle being in a constant planter flexed positions; the muscles in the shin – alternative exercises: Walking lunges, Kettlebell swings, Hip thrusts, Pistol squats, Squats, Squat jumps, Broad jumps, Burpees.
Just think how easy it would be to lose your balance when walking backwards on a treadmill. This just makes no sense to me whatsoever. Good bye front teeth!
Glute kickbacks on the stair master– Quads, Hip flexors, Hamstrings and with adding in the kickbacks; the glutes – alternative exercises: Sumo squats, Hip thrusts, Banded crab walks, Banded clams, Step ups, Running mans, Wall sits.
This one just looks stupid. If you’re after greater glute development, place that muscle under greater mechanical tension (lift heavier weight) or simply hold a glute kickback for a far greater amount of time (even though you will know I think kickbacks are a waste of time). In the 0.0002 seconds you get to kick your leg back before having to take the next step before falling on your face, are you likely to get an effective, focused muscular contraction?? Probably not! This particular piece of kit is used incorrectly the majority of time anyway, but this adaptation takes it one step further.
Jumping on the stair master– Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Hip flexors, Core and on the evidence of the individual doing them…. A lot of arms- alternative exercises: Broad jumps, Jumping lunges, Box jumps, Single leg vertical jumps, Hip thrusts.
Yes, seriously I have seen this being done! The individual held on to the handrails and broad jumped every other step! It looked very uncomfortable and as you can probably imagine, one slightly untied shoelace, or misjudging the jump and clipping the edge of one of the steps could have ended VERY VERY badly.
Behind the neck lat pulldowns- Lats, Biceps, Traps, Rear delts- alternative exercises: Lat pulldowns, Close grip pulldowns, Straight arm pull downs, Pull ups/Chin ups.
I have to specify here however that on the whole these aren’t that bad. But when done with incorrect form from people who are clearly new to training it becomes a cause for concern. Work on perfecting the conventional lat pulldown first, where the bar comes to your collar bone and no lower. Work on the mind muscle connection with your lats at the point of maximal contraction (at the bottom of the pull) before trying to get fancy and add different angles in. Your neck, T spine and shoulders will thank you for it down the line.
Hanging upside down sit ups/crunches- Abdominals, Hip flexors, the muscles in your shin, Spinal erectors, Obliques- alternative exercises: Hanging leg raises, Hanging wind sprints, L sits, TRX knee tucks, TRX jackknifes.
This for me is the worst of the lot because quite frankly I think sit ups are a pretty s*** exercise to begin with. They place a lot of strain on your lower spine, you frequently see people curving their lumbar spine and neck, hands are often behind their head pulling on their neck and the majority of time individuals drive the lift with their hip flexors instead of the desired muscle group…. the abdominals. Add this in to hanging upside down from a bar and the fact that it’s more often than not performed by people wedging their legs in-between two bars in just a pair of trainers (anti gravity boots are slightly safer), it just screams out danger from the start. As soon as I see someone getting in to this position, I just can’t help but think that I’m on a count down until I hear a loud crash, click and a clunk and see some poor guy that was trying to be fancy in a mangled heap on the floor.
Bear crawls on a treadmill- Abdominals, Lats, Spinal erectors, Deltoids, Traps, Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes- alternative exercises: Bear crawls (on the floor).
Again we’re back on the treadmill! (*face palm emoji*). There seems to be a theme here! Bear crawls are a ninja exercise! I incorporate these into most of my clients programmes for conditioning purposes. They get your heart rate up, they fatigue the shoulders, the core, the lower back, the calves, your hamstrings and they’re just downright challenging (if you don’t find them challenging, add a weighted vest in to the mix). So why the F are people trying to do them on a continuous belt to which they have no mode of stopping when they get fatigued! This just seems nonsensical…. and it is! Bear crawls are so great because you can do them anywhere that you have space… So don’t try and get fancy and make yourself look like a knob and do them on the treadmill!
Turning to the side and performing a single leg press– Glutes, Quads, Obliques- alternative exercises: Leg press, Single leg presses, Pistol squats, Squats, Lunges, Goblet squats, Reverse lunges, Crab walks, Banded clams.
This one confused me a lot when I saw it, as all it seemed to be doing was placing the L spine in an extremely compromised and uncomfortable position, heightening the potential for injury ten fold. The leg press is an extremely effective exercise for quad development and if you’ve got it set to reach plenty of depth; hamstring and glute development. This dramatically changes when you try and get fancy on this piece of kit. Use the piece of kit how it’s designed to be used= keep your knees and toes aligned, progressively add more weight, crunch out the reps and you’re on for a win. All turning to the side will do is meaning you can’t lift anywhere near as much weight (so the muscles are under less tension) and increase the risk for any of your vertebral disks to go squirting out of their natural position and leaving you in a heap on the floor. AVOID AT ALL COSTS. Even stop those you see performing it and reference this article as to why!
Russian twists- Abdominals, Obliques, Spinal erectors, Quadrates Lumborum- alternative exercise: Cable wood chops, Bicycle crunches, Plank cross body knee tucks, Plank twist to reach ups.
Now this is more of a personal preference/opinion, but I frequently witness people performing these and it’s always confused me a little bit. Everyone wants abs, but doing exercises that look like they’re painful just don’t look fun or beneficial at all. With the russian twists, they are frequently rushed and very rarely controlled, but my big gripe with the exercise is that you are balancing ALL of your bodyweight on your coccyx. It’s just not beneficial for your spine health, especially when there are a million and one other core exercises out there, the russian twist just seems a bit unnecessary (for more core training ideas, search for #AbAttackMonday on Instagram).
Look, I get it… Everyone wants to look good in the gym and be seen to be performing impressive and effective exercises. There are few better feelings whilst training than knowing you are out working the rest of the people around you.
But honestly, anyone that has trained for years and spent some hours in the gym will tell you, it is far more impressive to see someone performing the basic exercises with correct form and really killing it with effort! Pushing themselves to the point of sweat dripping from their brow, grunting out those final few challenging reps or straining through gruelling supersets. Not trying to do handspring backflips whilst the treadmill is set to warp speed; or hanging upside down from a pull up bar… If I wanted to see that, I’d go to a zoo!!!
If you have any questions about any fancy exercise you may have witnessed in the gym but were hesitant in asking the individual about them, then don’t be afraid to get in touch and discuss them with us! Your safety matters.
To summarise; the simple and most commonly performed exercises are frequently performed for a reason, because they’re the most effective. If you’re relatively new to training and looking to transform your body, then formulate a plan that includes: Deadlifts, Squats, Walking lunges, Bench press, Push ups, Pull ups, Rows, Burpees, Ball slams and Treadmill intervals (fast periods of running by slow periods/complete rest) and fit them into a four days per week split, then you’ll be FLYING!
DON’T BE FANCY FOR FANCIES SAKE!
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Yours in health.