It’s a free country; at least it was the last time I checked. Freedom means it’s up to us to do what activities we wish when it comes to our leisure time. This includes the time you spend at the gym. If you like to do Prancercise six days a week and that’s how you stay active, that’s your prerogative. Who am I to criticize?
I’m in no place to tell you what to do with your free time, exercises included. However, I am in a place of telling you how to do certain exercises and which exercises will help you get the results you want. With this in mind, here are some exercises you can cross off the list in terms of effectiveness and results:
Skip the Elliptical
Before you go tearing my head off, I contend that while you most certainly can get a good workout on an elliptical, I also contend that you probably don’t. Here’s why: you are pedaling that elliptical like a bat out of hell with little to no resistance.
Resistance is what makes us grow, period. Whether that resistance is against gravity, added weight, or through water, gains are made when we push against something. That resistance also makes us uncomfortable, and spinning your wheels on the elliptical makes some feel like they are moving fast without that uncomfortable feeling like running produces. Well guess what? The reason you hate running, is exactly what delivers the results.
The proof is in the pudding – the calories burned. I remember when the Precor elliptical first came out. At that time I wasn’t much into running and I liked that I could burn nearly 1,100 calories in an hour doing a low-impact exercise like the elliptical. Wait, what? 1,100 calories? Was I climbing Mt. Everest, fighting for the welterweight title, running sprints up sand dunes? Nope, the 1,100 I was estimated to be burning was according to the data listed on the elliptical machine.
The truth is, even if you happen to use the elliptical correctly and intensely, you aren’t burning 1,100 calories in an hour, unless you are a very, very large person working at all-out intensity. In fact, according to a recent study, the elliptical trainer was named as the least accurate when it comes to calorie counting. According to Jay Cardiello, SHAPE fitness editor-at-large, most elliptical machines overestimate your burn by 42%.
Unless you’re planning to crank up the resistance, skip the elliptical. If your body needs a lower impact alternative to running, hit the pool or the bike for your cardio instead.
Say Goodbye to Crunches
My college roommate used to sit on the edge of a bench and perform hundreds of knee crunches, always at warp speed. Despite all of his ab work, my roommate did not have ripped abs.
When people tell me they want toned abs, I tell them to change their diet and start running. I tell them that after they lose weight, they can define their abdominals by doing resistance-based core exercises (cable-based exercises, medicine ball work, etc.). In addition to being limited in terms of effectiveness, crunches also place undue pressure on the spine. People tend to do crunches in huge amounts of volume and at high rates of speed. That flexion and repetition takes a toll on the back.
A study commissioned by ACE suggested that crunches are limited in their effectiveness, ranking them eleventh out of the thirteen exercises examined. Unfortunately, the study was also limited in scope. But a follow-up study published by the ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal concluded the same thing – skip the crunches and do more stability work.
The bottom line, forget the crunches and work either stability exercises or resistance based ones.
Avoid the Abductor and Adductor Machines
At one of the gyms at which I worked, I pleaded with them to get rid of these two machines to free up some much needed functional movement space. My request was in vain, however, as these machines were among the most popular in the club, like they are in many gyms. Why? People like to think they are melting fat and “toning” their hips in using these two machines.
Here’s the deal with the adductor and abductor machines – nothing in life replicates the limited movement you do on these machines. That limited range of motion also places pressure on the IT band. Critics also contend that in a seated position it is difficult to activate the glutes, which are obviously essential musculature in hip support. The hip is a ball and socket joint with an indefinite number of axis of rotation. Why then limit the hip to a fixed position when training it? It makes no sense.
Instead of working the adductor and abductor machines, stick with the tried-and-true squat and lunge. if you want more isolated hip-specific work, try cable-based abduction and adduction.
Why Do People Do Exercises That Don’t Work?
If certain exercises are limited in their effectiveness, why then do countless numbers of exercisers insist on doing them? In short, people like doing exercises they like. These exercises also typically offer the path of least resistance.
At the end of the day it’s a free country, and if you like to do the abductor machine, who am I to say you shouldn’t? But here’s my response to those who insist on doing their fast crunches, getting on the adductor machines, and spinning the elliptical like crazy: a gym is a sanctuary of health and wellness. It’s a place for people to get fit and stay fit.
With that in mind, if you plan to show up, you should do yourself a favor and make each minute count. My job is to help people get well and give them the best and most effective tools in doing so. Part of that sometimes involves spelling out hard truths. In fitness it is our job and responsibility to give people what they need, not necessarily what they like.
1. Jessica Smith, “How In Accurate are Calorie Counters at the Gym?” Shape September 28, 2012.
2. Mark Anders, “New study Puts the Crunch on Innefective ab exercises,” Acefitness.org, May/June 2001.
3. Kevin Charles, “The Effectiveness of a Hip Abduction and Adduction Exercise Machine,” Demand Media.
4. Jeannette Wang, “Science gets to the core of which exercises really give you fab abs,” South China Morning Post, July 2013.
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.