I recently conducted a poll. This involved my current clients, as well as a number of former clients and athletes I have trained over the past 25 years. The intent was simple: to find out what are the top three exercises you hate but know are good for you.
The specific question was this: What three exercises do you dislike more than another when they were performed with maximum effort? Sharing any particulars as to why they were hated was also encouraged. Here are the most-hated eight exercises, based on 76 responses and listed from least to most reviled.
The 8 Most Hated Exercises
Considered uncomfortable to perform due to the bent-over position. The one-arm dumbbell row was particularly singled out because the bent-over position had to be maintained for each arm.
7. Stiff-Leg Deadlift with Barbell or Dumbbells
Holding posture was listed as a pain in the ass, let alone the repetitive transition from upright to bent-over to upright to bent-over. The fact you have to think and focus made this exercise even more a pain.
This one surprised me. As an athlete, you need to run in some capacity to either get in shape or replicate sport skills. How do you expect to improve if you eschew sport-related running? Yes, it can be brutal, but it’s a fact of life. A head scratcher for me on this one as running should be enjoyable.
5. Leg Press
The uncomfortable nature of being jammed into a compact position to begin the exercise was not favorable. Leg presses that commenced with the legs in the extended position garnered a bit more favorability. On top of that, my goal of pushing my trainees to the point of muscular fatigue was apparently not popular.
4. Close-Grip Pulldown
An upper-body exercise ranked so high? I believe it being a long-range, large-muscle-group-activating (latissimus dorsi) exercise (if worked properly through a full range of motion) was the clincher. As a matter of personal opinion, I would have to agree here. This exercise is brutal if performed properly. I’ll take wide-grip pulldowns any day.
Or, as one person called them, “Barfees.” These are the essence of annoying and uncomfortable exercises. The act of long (standing) to short (crouched) to long (plank position) to short (crouched) back to a jump (standing) can be a tedious routine. Add to that all the various burpee variations (single leg, spread eagle, dumbbell, or dumbbell plank row) and it makes them even more disgusting. No matter how you slice it, burpees suck according to my people.
Soliciting feedback resulted in these comments: they suck, brutal move, I hate these, I would love to avoid these, very demanding, why do you make me do these? Any time you must lift a resistance from the ground – either heavy for a few reps or lighter for a maximum number of reps – it requires extreme muscle fiber involvement. This is manifested in the heavy breathing and extreme muscle fatigue that ensues from the effort. For one, the deadlifter needs to latch onto the resistance, thus requiring a strong grip. Then, the major muscles of the body – that is, the back, buttocks, quadriceps, and hamstrings – are activated throughout the set to the point of fatigue. Yep, that sucks.
1. Barbell Squat
This is the king of all exercises. The bar sits on your upper back so there is no grip failure issue. The entire body is involved: the calves, the quads, the glutes, the abs, the low back, and the upper-body stabilizing muscles. Much of performing the barbell squat comes down to your intestinal fortitude to overcome the inevitable fatigue that will ensue if indeed you push this exercise to the limit. If done properly – using significant resistance, good form, and maximum repetitions – your heart rate and breathing will be challenged to the upper limit. In addition, you’ll feel awful due to muscle acidity and the uncomfortable nature of that bar resting on your upper back or neck for an extended period of time. It takes cast-iron testicles to squat properly and with extreme effort, which renders this exercise as the most-hated. It is analogous to your mother-in-law driving your 2014 Mercedes over a cliff into the ocean. You love it and you hate it, simultaneously.
Photo 3 provided by CrossFit LA.