We've all seen him in the gym. The bro-dude who walks into to the gym and right to the dumbbell stack, picks up 60s and does "biceps curls" like he's having a seizure. He's actually targeting just about everything EXCEPT for his biceps, especially his lower back which is about to throw a disc across the gym.
In an effort to keep more people from being THAT guy, here are 5 really, really, really stupid exercises that the bro-dude does all the time, but shouldn't. And neither should you.
The point of doing a strength training exercise is to strengthen and grow the muscles that you are targeting, and to do so in the most effective and safe way possible. The following exercises fail on all counts - they do very little to actually add strength or size to the muscles and possibly put the exerciser at risk for injury, derailing any progress they might make with time off for surgery, physical therapy or just a need for rest, ice and Advil.
BRO MISTAKE #1
The Smith Machine is one of the worst pieces of equipment ever invented. Nonetheless, we see it all the time - there is one in just about every gym - with a line of guys ready to throw 405 pounds on and do squats that shut down the hamstrings and glutes, and put a ton of stress through the knee joint.
Because this machine does not allow the body to move the way it naturally should, it puts a tremendous amount of shearing force through the knee which can lead to damage to the discs that work as cushions between the upper and lower bones of the leg. In addition to stressing the knee joint, this machine does not allow the lower back to move in a natural and supportive way and can also cause back pain and disc problems. This machine moves through the same motion whether the exerciser is 5'3" or 6'4" - how could that possibly provide for a natural movement?
Instead of this arcane device, do squats and lunges with dumbbells or a barbell. These movements have a list of advantages over the Smith Machine. They target all of the lower body muscles more effectively, not just the quadriceps, and strengthen supporting muscles including the abdominals.
BRO MISTAKE #2
"Hey bro, let me work in on that Preacher Bench. I'm gonna rip up my biceps".
Well, no, but you will probably rip up your shoulder joint and rotator cuff.
The Preacher Curl is another popular exercise that you shouldn't be doing. The position of the arms with a protracted shoulder stretches the long head of the biceps (which goes into shoulder joint), so that when it quickly shortens, when you contract your biceps, it pulls on the shoulder capsule. It is also this capsule that all of the rotator cuff muscles attach into and so it can injure these muscles as well. Also, as the weight pulls you down and your arm pits get forced into the pad, you can impinge your Brachial Plexus, which contains all the nerves going into your arm and hand. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've ever done this exercise and then felt tingling or lack of feeling down your arm.
Instead, do Dumbbell Biceps Curls, starting with your hands facing each other at your sides and curl up while turning the weights so they are parallel to the floor at the top of the movement. The Biceps Brachii is not just an elbow flexor; it also supinates (turns forward) the forearms. If you neglect this secondary role of the biceps, you are missing out on half of what the exercise can do for your biceps. Just make sure you tighten your abdominals so your body doesn't sway, move with control and keep your elbows at your sides (they should not come forward during this motion)
Instead of wasting your time on these laughable contraptions, do exercises that work your lower body by balancing the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings - exercises like squats, lunges, jump squats, one-legged squats, dead lifts, Romanian split squats, etc.
BRO MISTAKE # 4
Doesn't this one look great for your neck and spine? Nonetheless, I see people doing this "old-school" exercise in the gym every single day.
Very few people have the range of motion in the rotator cuff required to complete this exercise without risking injury. It forces the shoulder into an unnatural alignment, allowing for impingement, tendonitis, bursitis, you name it.
And then there is the forcing of the neck forward which can cause bulges or herniations in the cervical spine. And when you load up too much weight, and yank the thing down without control and it bangs into one of your vertebrae, well, ouch. Serious damage requiring surgery can occur.
This exercise should just never be done this way. Never.
BRO MISTAKE # 5
The basic crunch performed on the floor is just a really bad exercise. It doesn't work the ab muscles through the strongest part of their range of motion and it puts a lot of stress on the spine. About the only way to make it worse is to get into a weird torture device that forces your neck into an uncomfortable position and requires you to do the crunch against a weight stack. Stupid and ineffective.
I hope that these tips help to make you just a little more efficient and safer in the gym. There are a host of other popular gym exercises that you should not be doing, and I'll write about 5 more of them next week. Stay tuned.
Time to hit the gym, bro.
Greg Rothman, MS PT, is a fitness professional, writer and the owner of Empower Fitness in NYC. He received his Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and has twenty years of experience in the fitness and rehabilitation fields. He believes that absolutely anyone can have the body of their dreams once they understand how to eat and exercise in a way that supports their goals. It is his mission to Empower as many people as possible to do just that. His “Recession-Proof” Fitness Programs are an affordable way to find dramatic physical change over the course of 10 weeks. Greg is happy to hear from you if you have questions about any topic related to fitness or nutrition, and can be found at www.GetEmpoweredFitness.com.