7 Common Exercise Moves That Actually Work Against You

Updated: Apr. 14, 2021

Why you should skip crunches, plank rows, and more, plus the best fitness tips to tone your abs, arms, and thighs.

iStock/Rich Legg

Squats on a BOSU ball

The BOSU ball—half exercise ball, half flat platform—can add an element of instability to your workout. But doing squats or other moves while standing on the rounded side of the ball may actually set you up for injury. “Unless you’re a top athlete you’ll likely have worse form,” says Lindsey Wismer, a personal trainer and nurse practitioner at Merritt Health and Wellness in Portland, Oregon. Your knees and ankles may roll in or out, causing a breakdown in alignment all the way through your body. Stick with traditional squats or wall squats, where you have your back against a wall and your knees directly over your ankles. Here are more secrets personal trainers won’t tell you.



You know that head forward, rounded shoulders posture that you get from reading your phone or sitting at your computer? That’s the same body position as a crunch, says Wismer. “Because most people do a crunch by pulling up on the head, not by using the abs, all this move does is reinforce that bad posture.” For a more effective move, use your legs instead: lying on your back, lift your legs to the sky, and lower them partway down—until you feel your core really tighten—then lift them back up. Also: Try these tricks to get a flat belly (without a lick of exercise!).


Dumbbell punches

This move isn’t confusing: It looks exactly how it sounds. You hold dumbbells then punch forward into the air. What is confusing is why anyone would do it, says Alain Aguilar, a lecturer in exercise and sport science and staff athletic trainer for men’s soccer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “If you have limited time or energy, this exercise isn’t going to give you the most bang for your buck,” says Aguilar. The move doesn’t really target the shoulders or arms, although it might count as a conditioning exercise if done fast enough and long enough.  To tone your arms, stick with tried-and-true biceps curls and triceps extensions. Here are secrets to getting stronger arms without having to lift weights.


Shoulder shrugs

For stronger shoulders, says Wismer, everyone but professional bodybuilders should skip shoulder shrugs and focus on arm and back moves. Shoulder shrugs target only the trapezius muscles that run along the top of the shoulders and the neck, reinforcing postural problems and contributing to shoulder tension. To tone the top of the arms, work the deltoids, such as with straight arm lifts to the sides.


Plank rows

If you want to primarily strengthen your core, this move works wonders. But to strengthen your back and arms, traditional rows are more effective. “This move works stability,” says Aguilar. “But the position minimizes the force producing capability of the rowing muscles.” In layman’s terms: the balance challenge that comes from holding a one-armed plank will limit your ability to row a heavy weight with proper form and adequate force.


Inner and outer thigh machine

Not only is this possibly the most unflattering machine at the gym, it’s also one of the most ineffective. “When you use this, you’re probably sitting with bad posture and not using your abs,” says Wismer. “You can strengthen the same muscles leg by doing a squat, dead lift, or lunge. Plus you’ll target several more which will be better for overall strength and weight loss.”

iStock/Holger Mette

Lat pull-downs behind the neck

The lat pull-down machine allows you to build arm, torso, and back strength by pulling a weighted bar down in front of your chest. But when you switch to pulling the bar behind your neck, your alignment is off and the shoulder is impinged, says Aguilar.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest