Busy bros know that in order to maximize your gains, you need to spend your time in the gym training smart and efficiently. Seeing results isn’t about how much time you spend in the gym, but rather what you do when you’re there. If you want results, you need to be performing exercises that give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Unfortunately, far too many dudes are guilty of performing exercises that are suboptimal and a waste of time. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they just don’t know any better.
But that’s okay. In this article I am going to outline five things you need to stop doing in the gym, as well as give you better alternatives for each.
School is in session bros, take notes…
The Smith Machine
You undoubtedly have seen a Smith Machine. Nearly every gym has one. And I for the life of me cannot figure out why.
If you don’t know what the Smith Machine is, it looks like a squat rack, except that the bar is attached to cables and only moves in a straight line up and down. Sounds safer right?
There is no barbell movement where the barbell moves in a perfectly straight line. None. So why on earth would you use a machine that only lets you move the bar that way?
Not only will limit the amount of muscles used during an exercise because it takes out the stabilization aspect, but it sets the stage for joint injuries because the body is not allowed to move in its natural motion.
Alternative: Just use the regular squat or power rack and barbell. There is nothing dangerous about squatting, benching, pressing or rowing if you are using proper form. If you aren’t comfortable using the barbell yet, start with dumbbells first. Just don’t use the Smith Machine.
Plate Loaded Machines
These are the machines you typically see set up in a circuit at every gym. Not only are they falsely viewed as “safer” alternatives to free weights, but most gyms will use them as an extra money maker, charging you to have a trainer “show” you how to properly use them.
The problem is, these machines are not nearly as effective as training with free weights. The reason being is that these machines only move on one plane. The body however moves on three planes. When training with free weights, you have to work all three planes. With machines, you only work one.
In addition, no two people move the same due to our bone structure, muscle mass, joint alignment, and such. Yet machines only allow you to move one way, creating greater risk for injury.
Alternative: Free weights. If you’re not comfortable using them or don’t know how, you are much better off spending money on a trainer to show you proper form on free weights rather than machines.
Seated Calf Raise
This one isn’t so much about the effectiveness of the machine itself, but rather how people use it. If there is a bigger time-waster in the gym, I don’t know what it is. I think most people get more sets of text messaging in on this machine than actual calf raises.
Calves can be an especially stubborn muscle for a lot of people. Unless you have the genetics, calves are notoriously tough to grow. In order to get bigger calves, you have to hit them with a lot of volume and short rest. However, most people using the seated calf raise machine don’t know the meaning of the term “short rest”.
Alternative: Get off your butt and do standing calf raises. Bodyweight calf raises, dumbbell calf raises, barbell calf raises, single leg calf raises, etc.
Situps and Crunches
While people are slowly coming around to the view that crunches are a horribly ineffective ab exercise, there are still far to many people wasting their time doing them.
Not only do crunches fail to work most of your core muscles, they also place a tremendous amount of stress on your spine and lower back. World-renowned spinal expert, Dr. Stuart McGill, did a study on the effects of situps on the spine. The study found that situps placed over 3,000 Newtons, or almost 700 lbs, of force on the lower spine. And for an exercise that doesn’t hit many of the core muscles, that’s a pretty bad tradeoff.
Alternatives: Any of the exercises I wrote about in this article.
Few things are dumber and more useless in the training world than BOSU balls and unstable surface training. Originally used by physical therapist to help rehab patients (where it does have some validity), it was adapted by personal trainers because it was quote “more functional” than performing exercises on stable ground.
You know what balancing on a BOSU ball makes you good at? Balancing on a BOSU ball. And that’s about it. Performing exercises on an unstable surface does not “activate your core” or “isolate” any particular muscle.
Your body gets stronger by applying maximal loads, something that you can’t do while standing on a BOSU ball. Plus how often in every day life do you find yourself standing on an unstable surface? If the purpose of a functional exercise is to mimic normal movements, how is training on a BOSU ball doing that? Balance comes into play more often when you are standing on a flat surface, bending over or reach for something.
Alternative: Just perform exercises that mimic normal every day movements on a flat surface, i.e. the exercises we already know are best: the squat, deadlift, presses and rows. You can also incorporate unilateral training to help strengthen your core and improve balance.