Fitness evolves. If it didn't, we'd still be strapping vibrating belts to our waists or securing ourselves into a Molby Revolving Hammock (if you're younger and don't know that one, do a quick internet search). Some classic exercises that were once staples of any workout regimen just a few years back are now viewed as antiquated or even dangerous. We had three trainers weigh in on some recognizable exercise favorites that may be doing you more harm than good, and then we asked them to offer up better alternatives.
INSTEAD OF: The Standard Bench Press, TRY: The Incline Dumbbell Press
According to personal trainer Ashley Borden it might be best to avoid the standard bench press. "So many people out there have issues with shoulders and chest tightness," Borden says, and with the standard bench press, "it's easy to extend beyond your shoulders -- have them come up off the bench -- and risk injury." Instead of a flat bench and Olympic bar to work the chest, try using dumbbells on an incline bench, which will limit stress and strain. Borden prefers dumbbells because they are much more forgiving and allow for better range of motion, and the incline bench helps people target their pecs more effectively.
INSTEAD OF: The Leg Extension Machine, TRY: Lunges
Few exercise machines are as universally discouraged by fitness experts as the leg extension. While it can be useful in isolating and building muscle or in rebuilding strength in a leg undergoing rehab, the leg extension is often doing more harm than good. "It puts a lot of tension on your knees, particularly on your patellar tendon," says personal trainer Adam Rosenthal. He warns that runners, particularly, should avoid the leg extension machine, because it could damage the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). But lunges are easier to learn, safer on the body and unparalleled in efficacy. "The lunge covers pretty much every part of the lower body," says Rosenthal, "and it's one of the best lower body exercises you can do." Rosenthal explains that the key to the exercise is to keep one's chest and head up, with the shoulders back. And your front knee should be directly over your ankle.
INSTEAD OF: The Cable Lat Pulldown, TRY: Barbell Rows
There are better and safer ways to work those beloved latissimus dorsi muscles (aka "lats") than with the cable machine. "When you're doing a cable pulldown, your body is locked into one position," says personal trainer Adam Rosenthal. "This means that you're not working all of those smaller muscle groups." Rosenthal also warns that gym-goers who do the pull-down by bringing the bar behind their heads can injure their neck and shoulder nerves, causing discomfort and pain. Instead, give bent-over cable rows a shot. In addition to working the lats, it also targets the triceps.
INSTEAD OF: The Side Leg Lift, TRY: The Lateral Band Walk
Side leg lifts have been around since the days of the VCR, as it offers the tantalizing promise of working both your thighs and your hips. But the side leg lift is better left back in the 80s. Personal trainer Ashley Borden says that with this exercise, people's alignment is usually wrong and their form is off. Instead of contorting your torso and doing side lifts for your hips, she recommends strapping an exercise band around your ankles and then one around the area just above your knees, which gives you the opportunity to do a stationary "in-and-out" exercise or "hip walks." According to Borden, most people look at this exercise as part of the workout, when in reality it should be the warm-up to your actual workout.
INSTEAD OF: Crunches, TRY: Planks
You can't enter a gym without seeing someone huffing and puffing through a set of crunches. But too many people do this exercise incorrectly, according to certified Pilates and fitness instructor Cassey Ho. "They're pulling on their neck," she says, "not even working their abs." Most people think that by lifting their head as high or for as long as they can, they're engaging their abdominal muscles. But they're actually straining their arms and the base of their neck. Throw out the crunches and switch to the plank. Done right, the plank can do wonders for building endurance in the abs, back and stabilizer muscles. "Suck your belly button all the way into your spine," Ho says, "and then tuck your tail bone into your butt. Once you start shaking, then you know that you're doing it right." Make sure you're not cheating yourself. Don't drop your hips or allow your lower back to relax. This puts all of the pressure in your shoulders and other inappropriate areas.
Related: The 41 Toughest Ab Exercises
INSTEAD OF: Squats, TRY: Weighted Donkey Kicks
Squats are an excellent exercise, if done correctly. The problem with squats is that most people are mimicking the motion without incorporating the proper form, which can quickly open the door to injury. According to fitness instructor Cassey Ho, many times when people do squats, they jut their chests forward. This puts unnecessary pressure on the toes, when the weight should be in the heels. The chest should be upright so that the exercise activates your glutes. The donkey kick may not seem like much at first, but it's an exercise that isolates and activates the glutes well. Starting on all fours, exhale and drive one heel into the sky as high as you can, and then back in again. Keep the foot flexed and your hips level the whole time. Try for 20 reps on each side.
What Do YOU Think?
Are there any exercises you just refuse to do? What are some exercises you've swapped out of your routine? How do you keep your workout routine fresh and interesting? Share your favorite gym exercises (and variations) in the comments section below!