f 2016 is the year you vow to dust off your Converse high tops and get back to the gym, there are a few things you should know. Like, you need new shoes.
Oh, and the sit-up — you know, that exercise you had to do for a minute if you wanted the president to say you were in shape — is pretty terrible for you. According to the Navy Times, the sit-up is “an outdated exercise today viewed as a key cause of lower back injuries.” The Canadian Armed Forces has already cut the activity from its performance test, and members of the Canadian Armed Forces are known worldwide for their lack of lower-back injuries (maybe?). Notable fitness professionals like Tony Horton have followed suit and ditched the movement altogether.
The sit-up isn’t the only exercise that’s wasting your time (and potentially damaging your body). To help you sort the “hurts so good” exercises from the ones that just hurt, we asked personal trainers to reveal the worst exercises you might be doing, and what you should be doing instead.
Edward Rush, owner and operator of INFighting Shape, thinks the elliptical machine is extremely overrated, and not the challenging aerobic workout many people believe it to be. “It’s almost impossible to get a good aerobic workout on an elliptical machine, and what’s even more ironic is that many people turn to the elliptical machine to gain some relief from their aching knees. Too often, the pain in their knees is coming from having bad form when performing squats, or from running incorrectly.”
Rush suggests ditching the elliptical and spending more time perfecting your squat and running form. “You’ll get in much better shape, and probably enjoy your workout much more.”
Poorly executed planks
If you want planks to be the ab-toning workout they can be, you need to execute them perfectly. Jessica Sander, group fitness manager at The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers, often sees people plank with improper form, especially when trying to hold the position for time. Allowing your chin to drop, your shoulders to shift behind the wrists, your chest to sink, and your hips to sag or rise are all small setbacks that diminish the effectiveness of the workout, and can hurt you in the long run.
Sander recommends focusing on form and alignment rather than duration of the exercise. “Without proper form it will be very difficult to build the strength needed to hold your plank for your goal duration.”
Credit: Flickr/Amber Karnes
Smith machine squats
Despite the fact that nearly every gym in America is home to a Smith machine, you’re better off on your own. “The Smith machine in general locks you into a guided bar path, which reduces the use of the muscles you’re trying to target,” Lacey Stone, trainer at YG Studios, says. “It actually decreases the activation of the hamstrings and quads.”
The fix? Do squats on your own — with proper form, of course.
Curls aren’t necessarily bad, but the single-joint exercise is primarily used for vanity rather than actually building strength or endurance, Stone says. “For your biceps, you’re better off doing various lateral pull-down exercises or chin-ups, because you’ll get more than one joint involved,” Stone advises. “That way, you can use more weight and put emphasis on the targeted muscles.
Credit: Flickr/Eric Astrauskas
This is the exercise that involves pulling dumbbells or a barbell up to your chin. The problem? It puts your shoulder joint in an unnatural and compromised position that can result in injury. Tom Holland, Bowflex fitness advisor, recommends simple front and side raises with dumbbells to work the same muscles — without the risk of getting hurt.
If you’ve got a little extra weight in your hips (who doesn’t?) and think focusing on hip-abduction exercises and machines is the solution, well, you’re just wrong. “Our bodies lose fat in genetically predetermined patterns, and we cannot target certain areas, like the hips, and reduce the fat deposits in them,” Holland says. “The better alternative is squats and lunges, which target the entire leg.”