Just doing some strength-training exercises means that you’ll get fit, lose weight, and be a better runner, right? Not exactly. Not every move or machine at the gym is going to make you stronger or fitter. Some are not that helpful at all, no matter how many reps you do.
In fact, a lot of the moves you see—and maybe do—every day in the gym aren’t the best way to strengthen your muscles. There’s a lot of ‘bodybuilding pollution’ out there. Now many of those exercises have become mainstream. Not only does it take hours, but the average woman will never get the shape she wants by isolating each and every muscle.
The better bet: hit a broad range of muscles at once. Swap these exercises for our choices, and you’ll save time while you get firm faster. Here are nine moves that simply waste your time, and nine moves you should do instead.
Ditch: Ab Crunch:
That’s right. This quintessential abdominal move might as well be dubbed ‘the great time waster. Originally designed to isolate the abdominal muscles, the crunch is best for beginners or people recovering from back pain. Because the range of motion in a crunch is so limited—and abs get strong fast—people can end up doing dozens of crunches without seeing any real progress.
Sit-ups involve a greater range of motion, so your abs work longer under tension. Sit-ups also work your hip flexors (the muscles at the front of your hips), which help maintain proper posture and are often weak from disuse.
- Lie on your back with feet resting flat on floor, knees bent about 90 degrees, and arms crossed over chest.
- Tuck chin toward chest, contract abdominals, and roll all the way up, bringing chest as close to knees as possible.
- Roll back down.
- Start with 10 to 15 sit-ups.
Ditch: Dumbbell Fly:
Hailed as a cleavage creator, this popular chest exercise isolates just a small part of the pectoral muscle. It’s not functional for anything but giving a better bear hug. And less-than-perfect form can strain the shoulder joints.
DO: Stair Push-Up:
Push-ups are one of the best upper-body toners because they recruit muscles in your chest, triceps, and shoulders. But many women avoid them because they’re too difficult. By performing them on an incline, you lessen the force of gravity slightly, so you can complete more reps and give your torso a total workout.
- Place hands, under shoulders, on a step with arms extended.
- Walk feet back until body forms straight line from head to heels.
- Bend elbows and slowly lower chest to step until shoulders are in line with elbows.
- Press back to starting position and repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
- If this is too challenging, start at a higher step or use an aerobic bench.
Ditch: Seated Leg Extension:
Whether done on a machine or with ankle weights, this move will help shape your quadriceps. But leg extensions can place dangerous loads on the ligaments and tendons in your knees. Women’s knees are notoriously fragile.
DO: Planted Set-Up:
It’s safer, plus your quads get a great workout as you lift your body weight against gravity. It also tones your butt, hamstrings, and calves.
- Hold an 8- to 10-pound dumbbell in each hand and stand facing a step.
- Step up with left leg.
- Straighten left leg; at the top of the move, contract glutes and extend right leg behind you.
- Bring right leg back down, and lower your body until tip of right toe just touches floor, keeping left foot on step.
- Immediately repeat, completing a full set (10 to 15 reps) with one leg.
- Then switch sides. (For added challenge, make the step higher or step onto a bench.)
Ditch: Side Knee Crunch:
For years, love-handle loathers have been trying to isolate their obliques (side torso muscles) by dropping their knees to the side during ab crunches. In reality, this move puts excess pressure on the fluid-filled disks in your spine while leaving your obliques largely untouched. The risks far outweigh the benefits on this one.
DO: Straight-Arm Crisscross:
Your obliques are responsible for twisting your torso, so they’re challenged throughout the move. Your abs get a full workout, too—without any risky spinal compression.
- Lie faceup on floor with knees bent and aligned over hips, and calves raised and parallel to floor.
- Hold ends of a towel in each hand, arms extended so towel is stretched over knees.
- Roll head and shoulder blades up off floor while extending left leg to about 45 degrees from floor and moving towel to outside of right knee.
- Then extend right leg and bend left knee, moving towel to outside of left knee, keeping shoulders lifted.
- Continue alternating without dropping torso.
- Do 10 to 15 reps.
Related article: Shape Up Your Core And Obliques With These 6 Minute Bodyweight Moves
Ditch: Upright Row:
This is another move that was designed to build vanity muscles but ultimately may create more strain than shape. Standing straight up and pulling weights along your body is awkward and unnatural. Lifting too high can also painfully impinge the shoulder and cause wrist pain.
DO: Forward-Leaning Lateral Raise:
This move targets the rear shoulder muscles more effectively than the upright row. It also targets the often-overlooked rhomboid muscles, which hold the shoulders back to help you easily maintain good posture.
- Sit on bench with feet together, a 3- to 5-pound weight in each hand.
- Lean forward at waist and, keeping elbows slightly bent, let arms hang down next to calves, palms facing each other.
- Squeeze shoulder blades together.
- Raise arms to sides in an arcing motion until they’re parallel to floor.
- Pause and then slowly return to starting position.
- Do 10 to 15 reps.
Ditch: Heel Raise:
Though this move may be useful for walkers prone to shin splints, if you’re doing it for aesthetics, it’s useless. The shape of your calves may be largely genetic.
DO: Walk on an Incline:
Your calves help propel you forward up hills. Incline walking will not only work your calves much better but will also strengthen your heart and burn many more calories than just doing heel raises would.
- Find a hill or set the treadmill on an incline and walk for 30 minutes.
- Your calves also get a good workout during squats, lunges, and step-ups.
Ditch: Side Bend:
Another supposed love-handle eliminator, this old-school move can actually make your waist look bigger as it unnaturally builds the obliques. I’m shocked how many people still do these. The obliques aren’t designed to lift in that up-and-down motion.
Your obliques are fully engaged to brace your entire torso during this popular core-strengthening move. The result: those abdominal muscles tighten up without bulking out. This move targets your whole upper body and prevents back pain.
- Assume full push-up position, with arms extended, hands directly below shoulders, and legs extended so body forms straight line from head to heels.
- Tighten abs and roll body to right side, supporting torso with right arm.
- Extend left arm straight up, so body forms a sideways T.
- Hold 5 seconds, then switch sides.
- If balance is a problem, perform the move on your forearm instead of with your arm extended.
- Repeat 5 to 8 times.
Ditch: Seated Adduction:
This machine was specially designed to fight inner-thigh fat. Although it does work the adductors (inner-thigh muscles), it’s not the most effective way to target them. When you sit on that machine and squeeze in your legs, you’re mostly targeting deep hip rotators you never see.
DO: One-Legged Press:
During a single-leg press, your inner thighs work to keep the leg from moving out to the side. This move also shapes your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, so you get more total toning for your time.
- Sit in leg press machine.
- Position feet hip- to shoulder-width apart, with legs at 90-degree angles (adjust seat if necessary).
- Remove left foot from platform and place it on floor, leaving right foot where it is.
- Hold side handlebars and press lower back to pad.
- Slowly push platform away and extend right leg without locking knee, then slowly lower the weight.
- Complete a full set (10 to 15 reps), then switch legs.