The fitness world is filled with its share of overrated exercises. Whether they were fads from a bygone era or there was simply something about them which stuck in the collective fitness unconscious, we will never know. Maybe it’s a genuine mystery, like the rise of the 80s power-dressing shoulder pad… Regardless, if you’ve been doing any of these overrated exercises, you don’t have to keep doing them, we’ve gathered up some effective replacement exercises which you can add to your workouts.
Try some of these out to see if you like them better. At the very least you’ll keep your workouts fresh, and as we’ve written about before, workout variation is one of the keys to getting great results.
6 Overrated Exercises (And Better Replacements)
Sit Ups & Crunches
Why it’s overrated:
Sit ups and crunches only hit a small portion of your core, the rectus abdominus, which means you don’t work your lower back or obliques. This can result in a muscle imbalance in your core, which can lead to back pain later.
Both exercises put a lot of strain on your neck (as you’ve probably felt) and your spine. Further the movement involves spinal flexion and too much spinal flexion can lead to problems down the line.
What to do instead: Plank variations and compound resistance exercises.
Plank variations are fantastic core exercises – i.e. working your lower back, obliques and rectus abdominus. If you do resistance training – and you should – then doing compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, military press and so on, will all work your core very effectively.
Most Exercise Machines
Why they’re overrated:
When you go into any commercial gym, you’ll notice one thing… lots of machines! And when most people start out in gyms they start out with machines.
But there are more than a few problems with using exercise machines.
To sum it up:
First, they isolate muscles without strengthening the muscles involved in stabilization and thus create muscle imbalances for real life movements like lifting something heavy off the ground.
Second, they lock you into unnatural movement patterns with a fixed range of motion and the movements can be dangerous and are often detrimental to your posture.
What to do instead: Free weight exercises.
Free weight exercises are better than machines in just about every way, and by doing them you will get much better results. Compound exercises, like squats, offer you a lot of bang for your buck because they hit multiple muscle groups each time you do them; contrast this to the seated leg press which mainly targets the quads (which many people have overdeveloped anyway as a result of gluteal inhibition). More than this most compound exercises work your core very effectively too.
Of course, isolation exercises have their place too, if you want to fix muscle imbalances, build greater muscle symmetry or just build an impressive set of guns (for example) – you can use isolation exercises to help you do it.
When you move to free weights, realize that proper form is paramount; first get your form perfect without weight, then once you’ve got that down, slowly increase the weight over time keeping proper form until the weight gets challenging. Once you’ve hit that point, you simply follow the principles of progressive overload or put another way: keep the exercise challenging.
Beginner Variations When They’ve Become Easy
Why they’re overrated:
They’re too easy! Progressive overload is critical for getting great results. You’ve got to push yourself, or to paraphrase Bruce Lee: you must go beyond your plateaus.
What to do instead: Intermediate and advanced variations.
Don’t be afraid to move on to more advanced variations (or progressions) of exercises, whether that means adding weight (or more weight) or doing more advanced versions of the exercises, for example: plank variations, lunge variations, squat variations and push-up variations.
How do you know when it’s time to move on to a more advanced variation? When you can easily do more than your allocated repetitions or time for the exercise.
E.g. you’re easily able to get out 3 sets of 10 reps or hold a position for 30 seconds.
High Rep Exercises For Abs
Why they’re overrated:
Spot reduction just doesn’t work, so if you’re pumping out thousands of sit ups, crunches or any other abdominal exercise with the aim of getting a sexy set of abs, you’re wasting your time.
What to do instead: Eating clean, resistance training and high-intensity cardio.
You’re probably tired of hearing it, but it’s true: abs are made in the kitchen. More accurately, eating clean strips away the layer of fat which is hiding the set of sexy abs you already have. No single exercise is going to do that for you, no matter how many reps you do.
And rather than sticking to bodyweight isolation exercises (e.g. sit ups), you would get far better results from starting a resistance training program and particularly making sure you mainly do compound exercises because they are an excellent way to hit your core too. If you wanted to take it further then you could add in some resistance isolation exercises (e.g. weighted cable crunches) with a lower rep range (10 – 15 reps) – but with the compound exercises, you may find you don’t need to do any direct abdominal work at all.
It all depends on your specific fitness and aesthetic goals.
Lastly, for fat burning, instead of sticking to low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio, you may find you’re better served by switching to a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) protocol, which can often be better for fat loss. LISS can still be great for fat loss, so you probably wouldn’t go wrong with having a few LISS sessions in your monthly workouts too. Experiment! At the very least you’ll be giving your workouts variation, which is one of the keys for great results.
Why it’s overrated:
The bench press is the go-to exercise for male gym-goers the world over. But today, more and more women are getting into resistance training and hitting the bench press too (heck, we’ve even used them in some of our workouts)…
However, it’s a highly overrated exercise – at least the flat, barbell bench press is. It can lead to wrist, shoulder (especially rotator cuff) injuries, amongst others – the risk to reward is too high.
What to do instead: Push-ups or dumbbell bench press.
Push ups are a great exercise for the chest and arms, and you can make them harder with the many push up variations. Of course, if you’re doing resistance training, sometimes push-ups just don’t cut it, so you can do dumbbell bench presses on an incline and decline bench.
And if you wanted to add some isolation exercises into the mix, you’ve got the cable crossover and dumbbell flyes – all great exercises for hitting the pectoral muscles.
Abduction & Adduction Machines
Why it’s overrated:
We’ve already stated how most machines are overrated, but these machines require special mention. Not only is it critical that you don’t make eye contact when you’re using them – and for some strange reason, most gyms place them directly in the line of sight of just about everyone in the gym – but they just don’t work because they’re essentially based on the myth of spot reduction (if you’re using them to ‘tone’ your thighs).
What to do instead: Squats, lunges, deadlifts, high step ups, etc.
Stick to compound resistance exercises and unilateral exercises and you’ll work your abductors and adductors safely and you’ll get much better results. Bonus, you’ll be able to make eye contact with fellow gym-goers.
What are your overrated and underrated exercises? You can let us know in the comment section below, if you want.
You’re wrong about the bench press. Most injuries come from poor form, incorrect hand positioning, pushing through fatigue or increasing intensity too much too soon.
Incorporate both bench press and push ups into your routine and you shouldn’t have many problems.
Of course you can easily come up with many reasons why any exercise is potentially injurious. There are pro’s and cons to everything that we do.
DB bench press still restricts scapula rotation, which is the main reason, thought to increase the stresses placed on the rotators during the flat bench press. Because the scapula are inhibited as they are forced against the bench.
It’s also interesting to know that up-to 95% of body weight has been noted during variations of the push up. It’s highly doubtful that most people could DB incline press up-to 95% of body weight. So strength gains, for most people, push up variations will more than cut it compared to DB press exercises.