Going to the gym means you'll automatically get a good workout in, right? Not exactly. Of course you'll get more exercise than you would sitting on your couch, but not all of your moves and techniques will make you stronger and fitter. And some are just not that helpful at all, no matter how many reps you do. Here are 10 moves that simply waste your time, 10 moves you should do instead.
The move: Using the seated thigh machine
Why it's a waste: It seems like it will help you get rid of the fat on your inner and outer thighs, but it won't. "Spot reducing" exercises don't help you lose fat.
What to do instead: Lunges—both forward, backward, and side. These exercises tone and strengthen your whole body, including your thighs, says Greg Justice, an exercise physiologist at AYC Health & Fitness in Kansas City. "Plus, they are functional, which means they train the body for activities performed in everyday life—something the thigh machine does not do.
The move: Using the leg extension machine
Why it's a waste: "The stated goal of this machine is to strengthen your quads, but you actually end up just putting a lot of stress on your knees as you straighten your legs from the seated position," explains Justice.
What to do instead: A basic squat or lunge. "They strengthen the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, giving you more bang for your buck," says Justice.
The move: Crunches
Why it's a waste: They just aren't that effective. "Research has shown that the crunch is less effective at stimulating muscle fiber than exercises that require the spine to stabilize, like the plank."
What to do instead: Planks. "They activate more muscles in the core than crunches do," says Travis Barnes, a certified personal trainer at Journey Fitness Coaching in Elmira, New York. Plus, he adds, they don't strain your back as crunches can.
The move: The broomstick side bend or rotation
Why it's a waste: While you may think you're strengthening your core or burning fat, you're not. "There's really no resistance when you put a bar weight behind the neck and start twisting or bending. It's much better to work against gravity," says Justice.
What to do instead: A side plank, with or without movement. "Planks work against against gravity, consequently working your muscles more efficiently and effectively."
The move: Seated chess press
Why it's a waste: "You're sitting down, which allows the stronger side of your body to compensate for the weaker side, which means you'll develop imbalances," explains Barnes.
What to do instead: A push-up. "It forces you to develop equal strength, or else you'll collapse on both sides," says Barnes. Also, "the push-up has a plank quality to it, and therefore it stimulates your core even more."
The move: Using the lying leg curl machine
Why it's a waste: Lying down to exercise means that your core is not engaged, and you activate the least amount of muscle, says Barnes. "When in real life are you ever lying down curling your legs to your butt for any real purpose?" he says.
What to do instead: Single leg deadlift. "This exercise activates the backside of your body—which includes the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves—while also activating the core with the challenge of instability," Barnes says. But best of all, "this exercise gives us the strength we need for bending and the balance we need for real life single-leg activities, like climbing stairs, stepping on a curb, or lunging down to pick something up."
The move: Using the Smith Machine bench press or squat
Why it's a waste: "This move takes a lot of the stabilization out of the equation," says Justice. "And it puts a lot of pressure on the knees because of decreased activation of your hamstrings."
What to do instead: Do dumbbell or barbell squats with lighter weights. "It will activate all the large muscles in the legs, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps," explains Justice.
The move: Triceps kickbacks
Why it's a waste: "You won't be able to lift weights that are heavy enough while keeping proper form, to get results," says Justince. "Usually, the upper arm starts to drop toward the floor and you lose the effectiveness."
What to do instead: Skull crushers, i.e. a barbell lying triceps extension. "It still works your triceps but you don't lose your form," explains Justice. "The skull crusher position allows your elbows to stay where they belong to get the most of the exercise."
The move: The standing calf machine
Why it's a waste: The machine loads all of the weight onto your shoulders, which pushes it onto your back before it ever reaches your calves.
What to do instead: Try sprinting. "It's better than running if you want to develop your calves. That's because it activates more of those fast twitch muscle fibers responsible for strength and growth development, which leads to a more toned body overall," says Barnes. If sprinting is not for you, try bodyweight calf raises, and if those are too easy, then try them on a single leg.
The move: Leg press
Why it's a waste: "People tend to add too much weight, which adds potential for injury," says Justice. Plus, it's not that effective: A study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) compared eight different exercises that target your glutes, and found that the leg press activated the fewest amount of muscles.
What to do instead: Dumbbell squats. You're still targeting your legs, but it's more stable and there's less potential for injury, says Justice.