16 Moves That Fitness Instructors Think Are a Waste of Your Time
Done properly, most exercise is fine—but not always worth your effort. The country's leading wellness experts reveal the moves they think are a waste of time—and what you should do instead.
Save time, get fitter faster
Working out is already a challenge—no one wants to hear that they’re actually wasting their time while they’re at the gym. We asked fitness trainers the moves that you can skip so that you can get the most out of your exercise time. Related: These are the best workouts for people who hate exercise.
There are plenty of ways to get better abs without doing crunches. Here’s another reason to avoid the exercise: “I believe that doing crunches in order to strengthen your core can be a huge waste of time. It’s much more effective to incorporate core exercises that target your full body to maximize effectiveness and time. A great example is a plank along with a one-legged pushup. Remember to keep your core activated the whole time.” – Doriel Koblenz, personal and group fitness trainer and Microsoft corporate head coach
“The bicycle crunch can be a very effective move, but there are a lot of parts to coordinate and this is where some people run into trouble. Most times I see people moving through the motion too fast, just kicking their knees into their chest without any kind of core engagement or twist of their torsos. They miss all three parts of the abs that this movement is supposed to target. (The rectus and transverse abdominis along with the external obliques.)
“To execute an effective bicycle crunch, lie on your back with knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Place your fingers or hands behind your head with elbows bent to the sides. Press the lower back into the ground and lift the chest up; the shoulders elevate just off the floor, engaging the core without dropping the chin to chest. Extend the left leg and, while the lower back stays connected to the floor, twist the torso to bring the left elbow and the right knee together. Repeat with the opposite limbs while the shoulders remain off the floor, the chest lifted, and the neck is long.” – Amanda Rey, master instructor at SLT. Here are some other core exercises that work without doing a single crunch.
“I often cringe when I see people do exercises on a Bosu ball. There’s been this craze of trainers trying to be inventive and ‘groundbreaking’ with their clients’ routines. I’ve seen everything from kettlebell swings to heavy barbell squats done on Bosu balls, under the guise that it helps train stability. All that it really does is up the risk of injury and make you better at training that exercise specifically on a Bosu ball. The remedy is to put your feet on the floor. Training on a stable surface, you’ll be able to properly perform the exercise and increasingly get stronger at it by adding more resistance and/or upping the reps.” – Noah Neiman, founding trainer of Rumble Boxing. These are some other exercises that actually work against you.
“Many women erroneously believe that lifting heavy weights will bulk them up, make them look fat, and/or old, so they do things like arm circles for 45 minutes until their shoulders get numb. It’s very important to understand that to develop a lean body you should not fear weights. Muscle, not fat, is inherently lean. To develop the muscle, we must perform exercises with proper form and adequate resistance. Weight training also helps reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Instead of circling your arms with one-pound weights, do shoulder presses, lateral raises, front raises, and upright rows with adequate resistance.” – Noah Neiman, founding trainer of Rumble Boxing. Here are some other fitness myths you should stop believing.
“It’s easy to think you’re getting in a decent workout on the elliptical when in reality it’s unchallenging both physically and mentally. You’ll burn calories on it, you’ll probably break a sweat, but there’s so much more you could be doing. An alternative is high intensity interval training (HIIT) on a treadmill or stationary bike. You’ll reduce exercise time but increase intensity of training. After warming up, try going all out for 30 seconds and then lowering your intensity for 30 to 60 seconds; repeat the pattern for a total of ten to fifteen minutes.” – Jera Foster-Fell, SoulCycle instructor Tired of running? Check out these 10 calorie-busting alternatives.
Swinging bicep curls
“I’m not a fan of completing bicep curls using a swinging motion with the weight. The swinging motion creates momentum from the bottom of the curl and helps propel the weight upwards versus lifting the weight up with the biceps. Also, generating the force needed to swing the weight up can cause injury to your shoulders and/or back. Instead, try doing standing two-arm hammer curls with your back against the wall. Stand with feet hip- to shoulder-width apart and pointed straight with knees slightly bent and back and rear pressed against a flat wall. Arms at the sides of the body, a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your back and hips pressed against the wall, draw in the core and curl both dumbbells up to the shoulders, keeping thumbs up and palms facing the body as if swinging a hammer. Lower to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.” – Matt Wilpers, instructor at Peloton. These are the moves fitness instructors say transformed their body.
Lat pull behind your head
“Trying to improve back strength by pulling the lat bar behind your head is not a great idea. That decreases the activation of the target muscles and places more stress on the shoulder joints and rotator cuffs. Instead do a lat pull in front of the head. Set the machine at an appropriate weight, sit upright with feet flat on the floor. Grab the handles or bar and pull toward the chest by flexing the elbows and depressing the shoulder blades. Maintain a neutral spine through the exercise. Upon reaching the end of your range of motion, slowly let the bar go back up to the starting position in a controlled manner. A great way to activate the target muscle even more is to think about squeezing your shoulder blades down and together.” – Matt Wilpers, instructor at Peloton.
“The pelvic tilt is a great exercise for your glutes and hamstrings, but I often see people confuse it with a shoulder bridge (which is a stretch for your upper back/hips/shoulder). Here are a few things to keep in mind when performing the pelvic tilt: the spine is always straight. The tailbone curves to the knees and the hips point up to your chin. When you tilt the pelvis this way the abs engage. This move is usually done in fast quick motions and you can add leg movements. If the spine is in an arch, this can cause major lower back pain.” – Keely Ahrold, instructor at modelFIT. Feeling uninspired to get to the gym? Here are some tips for gym motivation.
“Lifting anything overhead can be tricky. Repetition with poor form will increase the likelihood of impingement and possible tears. Instead, do an overhead hold with a lighter weight and add a curtsy lunge. Allow your shoulders to sink into the shoulder girdle. Keep your biceps close to your ears. This will allow for longer holds, increased mobility in the joint and allow you to progress towards heavier weights and longer holds using proper form. Place one foot behind your body so you can see it in the mirror and lunge down so your back knee hovers above the ground. You will work not only your glutes and legs, but your abs will be engaged in order to maintain stability.” – Nikki Warren, founder and co-CEO of Kaia FIT.
Biceps curls with arms lifted
“I’ve seen people bring their arms up so their elbows are in line with their eyes and curl super light weights. This seems ineffective because you’re not going to be able to properly squeeze your bicep at the top of the curl, which is the most important element of a curl. I suggest a standard bicep curl with medium or heavy weights as an alternative. Either standing or in a seated position, hold medium to heavy weights at the sides with your palms outward—toward the mirror in front of you. Curl the weights up and really squeeze your biceps at the top of the curl.” – Alycia Stevenin, instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp.
Flat-back ab work
Flat-back ab work is a series of ab exercises in which you sit under the barre and maintain a “flat back” position on the wall behind while doing different sorts of leg extensions. When you are lifting the legs with your back flat against the wall, it puts a lot of strain on your hip flexors, the small band of tiny muscles found inside the hip. They’re not really made to take on such a large job. Even seasoned dancers spend a good deal of effort trying to figure out how to lift their legs with their abs rather than the quads and hip flexors. By changing your “sitting” position to be lower into the ground, you’re allowing your body’s biomechanics to support abdominal work by bringing a small tuck to the lower abdominals and pelvis. By moving the low back away from the wall and keeping it connected to the ground, you’ll be able to perform the same leg extension exercises, but with a greater deal of activation from the lower abdominals.” – Jillian Dreusike, founder of Allongée. Love barre classes? Here are some other calorie-busting workouts to try.
Seated thigh abduction and adduction
“The seated inner and outer thigh machines are the worst. People go to them thinking they will tone their thighs, but since the muscles you’re trying to target aren’t really used in a seated position, there’s no benefit to these exercises. Functionally the adductors (inner thigh muscles) and abductors (outer thigh muscles) work to keep the knees in alignment when you do things like walk, run, squat, and climb up and down stairs—not while you’re sitting. Instead, do a lateral lunge. Standing upright with a suitable weight dumbbell in each hand, step forward to the right and sink into a lunge; hold, then push back up to a standing position. Repeat on the left side. This exercise works the abductors and adductors in an upright, weight-bearing position so they can be strengthened along with the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. It’s a better exercise because it saves time and burns more calories because you’re not in a seated position.” – Lacey Stone, master instructor at Flywheel Sports.
Weighted side bend
“Weighted side bends are going to make you build your oblique muscle, which gives you the appearance of a wider torso—the exact opposite of why you’d be doing the exercise in the first place. Also when you use a dumbbell it adds extra stress on your lower spine and does nothing for your sides. Instead, do woodchoppers: Holding an appropriate weight dumbbell with both hands at your left side, take a wide stance and slowly swing the weight from left to right, and from low to high across your body in a controlled manner; pause, then return to the starting position. Do several repetitions, then swap sides. This exercise is more functional because it uses trunk rotation. It’s also much easier on your back and will help slim down love handles.” – Lacey Stone, master instructor at Flywheel Sports.
Back squat with bar
“The reason I don’t recommend this move is that I often see poor positioning of the bar—it’s often on the neck and not the shoulders. Many people also don’t move effectively from their ankles, knees, and hip joints, which causes them to overuse their back. This exercise inherently places considerable compression on the spine.
A better option is a goblet squat. With this squat remember to maintain structural integrity: The weight—kettlebell, dumbbell, medicine ball—must remain positioned at chest level. It is acceptable to let the load move slightly away from the chest during the descent and should move back towards the chest returning to the start position. It is also important to note that the spine is allowed to remain in a much more vertical (safer) position throughout the range of motion while allowing more motion (strengthening effect) to occur at the ankles, knees, and hips.” – Keith Nelson, certified exercise physiologist and certified functional movement specialist. Here’s how to safely perform a squat.
“The reason this exercise is so risky is due to the amount of instability and mobility in the joints. With all the movement in this exercise, one small mistake can lead to an injury in the shoulder, knees, back, or another joint. Instead, use a PVC pipe or bar. Grasp the PVC pipe and perform the same movements of a snatch, but slow down to ensure correct form. Slowly graduate to a more fluent motion.” – Zack Daley, coach at Tone House.
Heavy kettlebell swings
“The kettlebell is a very basic piece of equipment, but very complicated to use efficiently. It’s very easy to injure your lower back from rounding with kettlebell swings. I suggest instead of a heavy kettlebell swing, lighten the weight and focus on form. To do a proper kettlebell swing, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, with feet turned out slightly. Loosely grasp the kettlebell with arms locked straight and hands touching. Keep shoulders back, tighten your lats, engage your abs, hinge at the waist, and push your hips forward. Squeeze glutes tightly keep the spine in a straight line. Return to starting position. ” – Zack Daley, coach at Tone House.
- Doriel Koblenz, personal and group fitness trainer and Microsoft corporate head coach
- Amanda Rey, master instructor at SLT
- Noah Neiman, founding trainer of Rumble Boxing
- Jera Foster-Fell, SoulCycle instructor
- Matt Wilpers, instructor at Peloton
- Keely Ahrold, instructor at modelFIT
- Nikki Warren, founder and co-CEO of Kaia FIT
- Alycia Stevenin, instructor at Barry's Bootcamp
- Jillian Dreusike, founder of Allongée
- Lacey Stone, master instructor at Flywheel Sports
- Keith Nelson, certified exercise physiologist and certified functional movement specialist
- Zack Daley, coach at Tone House