6 Exercises I Used to Think Were Essential
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
LifeTime WeightLoss in Corey Grenz, Exercise, Exercise, fitness advice, fitness mistakes

Crazy picture aside, when it comes to exercise, there’s a spectrum of what I’ll call exercise sense to non-sense. On the positive side are the many exercises that, when done with proper form, are invaluable for training the whole body or a particular muscle group. On the opposite side, you find moves fitness professionals wish didn’t exist (that’s fodder for another post). Yet, you also find exercises that many of us thought were essential at one time but later learned were ineffective at best, dangerous at worst. Even trainers like me have found themselves in this boat at some point. The latest and greatest recommendations too often fall by the wayside as updated science later suggests otherwise. Some of the debunked practices, however still persist in gyms everywhere. Old advice tends to die hard, and too many people operate their fitness from outdated instructions. Below are six examples to illustrate my own fitness revision. Do you recognize your routine in the following?

The 10-Minute Warm-Up on a Cardio Machine Prior to Lifting

Confession: I did this from 1995-2005. Before each lifting session I would jump on the Stairmaster, bike or treadmill for 5-10 minutes. In 2005, the book Core Performance by Mark Verstegen started to explain the importance of a Dynamic Warm-Up or Movement Prep, and I started to incorporate this approach prior to my workouts with more focus on full body, range of motion warm up exercises. The result was fewer aches and pains during the lifting session and feeling more flexible after the workout later in the day. Talk to a trainer about trying the movement prep approach.

Static Stretching Prior to Lifting or Cardio

This was part of the warm up listed above. After the 10-minute warm-up on the cardio machine I would static stretch the muscles I was training prior to lifting. Eventually, research came out explaining how doing this (relaxing the muscle) can actually make you weaker and more prone to injury during the session. When I learned this, I stopped and switched to Foam Rolling or Movement Prep prior to my workout with some body weight movements like lunges, squats, and pushups. Once again, I experienced better results with my lifting when I made the switch.

Wearing a Lifting Belt for the Entire Workout

I think the popularity of this had to do with the Saturday Night Live “Hanz and Franz” segments (hands—those who remember those) Of course, if you look at many of the old photos of bodybuilders from Arnold Schwartzenegger’s era, they often wear belts as well. While a lifting belt isn’t an exercise itself, wearing one can have a major effect on exercises themselves. Wearing a belt can be effective if you are performing a max effort exercise like a squat or deadlift for a few reps. The intra-abdominal pressure can help keep the spine stable. However, it can actually weaken the deep core and spine muscles when worn while training exercises that require less spine stability. The average person who incorporates resistance training (most people reading this article) will rarely if ever need to wear a belt for lifting.

The Seated Back Extension Machine

This is an exercise I enjoyed doing when I was in high school in the early nineties. I would strap myself to the chair, lean forward and try to extend back at my hips with as much weight as possible. Even though the name of the exercise is “Back Extension,” it’s actually a hip extension. Your back muscles mainly stabilize the other muscles that are working. This machine is still found in many Life Time Fitness facilities usually in the abdominal or back machine area. Although it might have its time and place, I don’t use this exercise anymore or recommend it, since the squat, deadlift and lunge variations will help stabilize the spine without unnecessary spinal extension.

The Bench Dip

This used to be one of my favorite exercises as a “finisher” for my triceps at the end of a workout. I also used it as a triceps exercise when I taught group fitness classes. To perform the exercise, you sit on a bench or step placing your feet on the floor or another step/bench. From there, you place your hands on the bench next to your hips, scoot your hips forward and lower your body up and down by bending the elbows and shoulders.  As popular as this exercise is, however, it actually puts the shoulder joint in a compromised position, since the hands are behind the hips while performing it. As good as it feels on the triceps (and as many magazines still suggest it), it’s not worth the potential shoulder damage. However, when it comes to focusing on the triceps there are several exercises that can be used instead that are more forgiving on the shoulder joint like triceps pushdown variations, lying extension variations and even normal dips (Use the assisted dip machine if you need help).

The Leg Extension

Like the Bench Dip, I would use this exercise as a finisher for the legs. The leg extension machine is found at Life Time Fitness clubs (in the legs area). It’s similar to the back extension as you sit on a machine. This exercise can cause a burning sensation in your quads that makes people think they’re really getting an effective leg workout. However, there are three limitations with this exercise. The first limitation is it only trains one joint in the body (the knee). The second limitation is it only trains the muscles at the knee joint and muscle imbalances are more likely to happen as people often forget to use exercises that target the hamstrings. Finally, it can cause unnecessary chronic injury by causing shearing forces at the knee joint if done for long periods of time. Alternative exercises for the leg extension would be squat, deadlift and lunge variations. They train the muscles of both the hip and knee joints, reduce the chance on muscle imbalances and aren’t as hard on the knee joint.

Now your turn! Curious about the pros and cons of your favorite exercises? Not sure whether an alternative move would be safer and more effective for your fitness routine? List your questions and feedback. Thanks for reading, everybody.

Written by Corey Grenz, Personal Trainer

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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