Some exercises are obviously better than others. But some actually waste your time. You might be surprised.
1. Tricep Kick-Backs
I've never understood how this exercise became so popular. In theory, it sounds good. In practice, however, we quickly realize its inherent flaws.
The angle of tension in relation to body position is simply inefficient to thoroughly fatigue the bulk of the triceps. As with many isolation exercises, Tricep Kick-Backs show an ascending tension curve (the exercise becomes exponentially harder as you near the peak.) So, a weight might feel extremely light at the bottom of the rep and impossible to hold in the peak position. This is due to the increasing horizontal distance from the axis of rotation during the movement. In short, this exercise leaves you with two options: use a weight that's too light for full range of motion or too heavy for a limited range of motion. There really isn't much room for middle ground, unless you apply a simple fix (see below.)
The simple fix: Use cables and a body position that allows for more evenly distributed torque at the elbow throughout the movement. Cables allow you to adjust the angle of tension and manipulate your body position, all while keeping constant tension on the target muscle group. Tricep Press-Downs and overhead extensions with cables are great alternatives.
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2. Abduction/Adduction Machines for Aesthetics
This exercise is important for specific situations such as rehabilitation or muscular deficiencies. That said, the exercise machines we see at franchise gyms seem terribly misused by trainees who simply don't know what else to do with their time.
This exercise works the muscles in charge of tracking the femur and knee stability. It does not produce large amounts of force or hypertrophy. Think of these muscles as guides that channel direction rather than motors that produce movement.
The simple fix: Perform multi-planar movements at the hip joint. Think "Crossovers," "Side Shuffles," etc. Not only are these movements more challenging metabolically, they also present real-world scenarios that the muscles are meant to encounter. If you use these exercises for other purposes, such as corrective exercise, consider similar movements that also engage the core for pelvic stability (as seen in Standing and Side-Plank variations.)
3. Leg Lifts for Glute Development
This exercise haunts me at every franchise gym like Jason out of a horror film. I wrote on the topic of glute training once before, but this exercise is so widespread that this article would not be complete without it. Leg Lifts (hip extension) from the prone or kneeling position are meant as a corrective modality for spine-hip-thigh integration or overcoming a muscular deficiency. You cannot reach mechanical overload or metabolic stress (two necessary factors for increasing size and/or strength) at the glute with this exercise. The movement can be a solid addition to an effective warm-up, especially for those who sit for long periods of time, but it's simply not effective at furthering glute development.
The simple fix: to train your glutes, use high force and/or weight-bearing exercises. Step-Ups, Hip Thrusts, Lunges, Squats and Uphill Sprints are all solid exercises for glute development.
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4. Dumbbell Flys
I know I'll catch a lot of negative comments for this one, but my professional practice is to prescribe other exercises in place of Dumbbell Flys. Many lifters justify this exercise for a number of reasons, none of which holds up when we consider more effective and safer alternatives. Much like with Tricep Kick-Backs, the angle of tension and range of motion are simply inefficient for challenging the target muscle (unless you have extremely weak chest muscles). The exercise can be recommended for many due to the high torque placed on the shoulder at its most compromised position (externally rotated and abducted).
The simple fix: Use cables and body positions that allow for more evenly distributed amounts of torque at the shoulder throughout the movement. If cables are unavailable, stick with Chest Presses. Fly variations with cables and machines do a much better job than this biomechanically unsound exercise.
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