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01 Aug

6 over rated exercises

It’s very easy to get emotionally attached to your own workout and think it’s the best. Yes we know working out is not a religion, but we continue to practice it like any other person of real faith on the planet. We all have our own sacred cows when it comes to our routine, but it turns out we’re probably better not being devoted to the cause, but better treating our regular routine like our other relationships – easy to get in a rut, and much more beneficial when we shake it up a bit, work on it, and keep it fresh.


In addition to making the same moves part of our routine week on week, do we ever consider our lack of real gains may be down to slavishly following our favourite exercises rather than turning things over and embracing the new. Life is change people, we want to put the effort in for our bodies and our overall health, so let’s start embracing change in our workout routines.


If you find yourself hanging on to session after session with no real benefits, it might be time to step back and get your usual practices under the microscope. I hate to say it, but you may be hanging on to some exercises which are not doing you much good, and you also might also be practicing stuff that while impressive, may be doing you harm. It’s not my place to judge, but once I dropped running for lunging I made gains which would have gotten me laughed out of both the gym and the local running club. But the gains in terms of symmetry, definition, balance, posture and lower body strength were undeniable.


Time to shake it up I reckon. So here’s six sacred practices from the mists of time you need to drop as they’re probably doing you no good at all.


1 – Burpees – If you are in the UK you’ll be like WTF is a Burpee?


Do real U.S. soldiers call it this – for us Europeans it’s called a squat-thrust – burpees indeed?!


The burpee (let’s go with it) came about in the 1940s to test the fitness of candidates for military service during World War II. I personally discovered them during Karate training classes in the 80s as a child, and being of a larger frame, I never got much from except sore knees and ankles, which I later learned are usually alarm bells for “this is hurting you rather than helping you”. Today, as it was back in days of yore, the Burpee is notoriously common in CrossFit and metabolic conditioning workouts. I think it ends up there through tradition rather than usefulness.


Okay, burpees can raise heartrate in a short period of time, but there’s no way it’s mandatory for general fitness. If you’re not prepared for the burpee, it can be a harmful and debilitating exercise. There are simply too many moving parts, changes of position and focus on the outdated idea of physical exhaustion being beneficial for the risk-to-reward ratio for it to be very useful in any modern exercise programme.


I reckon the reason most folk do this exercise is to help bring their aerobic conditioning up to scratch. That’s an excellent goal, but there are better ways of doing it without putting your shoulders, wrists and lower back at risk. I’ve written before on how debilitating lower back pain can be to general fitness, with severe spinal pain putting not just your workouts, but your whole life on hold. So as a rule of thumb, I’d leave well alone unless you’re able to complete sound bodyweight squats and push-ups as standalone movements. Speed and strain are never a good measure of a successful or a beneficial exercise routine.


2 – Sit-Ups


So a thousand sit ups a day for an impressive six-pack “yeayah go me”. It’s a story as old as time. Do sit ups before breakfast and some at your morning ‘Huel’ break. Why not do a few on the bus home from the gym. I hate to say it, but the benefits of the sit-up are mythical and not at all factual. Time we out this one to bed and got on with real movement for real fitness.


“But it’s influencing your core” you say and yes targeted regional fat loss is possible at the very highest levels of sport. The truth is however, for most of us mere humans, the sit-up isn’t doing a great deal for us at all.


I reckon most of you are gone and burpeeing and sitting up this article out of your system by now, but the real-life science of targeted abdominal fat-loss is simple enough – it doesn’t work for the average person doing average level training. A strong muscular contraction is powerful for enhancing results, but in the case of the sit-up, it’s not doing a whole lot for most of us.


Basically, if you’re carrying any substantial amount of body fat, especially fat around your middle, or in technical terms the abdominal wall, a more generalized fitness program would be far more beneficial in both the short and long term. Ultimately, building muscle, burning fat, and monitoring your nutrition will do you far more good than pounding out endless sit-ups.


If you want more prominent abs and you concentrate mainly on strength and lifting, considering practising direct core training is an incredibly powerful alternative. Build lean muscle and if you’re lean enough to see an aesthetic benefit, then power to you, but you’d probably be doing sit-ups from now to doomsday to achieve the same results.


3 – Running


Runners. We need to be careful how we approach runners. Never tell a runner that their human worth is unrelated to their ability to crank out mileage. It’s not safe, it’s not useful, and they may harm you for saying it. For all round exercisers, the runner should never be confronted about the benefits of their chosen vocation.


It is almost impossible to coach a runner. It is the one area where pain is overwhelmingly doing more harm than good, but changing their plan in order to train around potential injury and show-stopping pain is like pissing in the wind when it comes to advising your dedicated runner.


Runners are a certain breed of people, so why are these (often incredible) athletes a challenge? It’s possible that this discipline attracts them for reasons other than health. Evidence suggests that certain athletes are “harm avoiders” meaning that they are drawn to routine and predictable practices.


How many runners do you know who continue to train while injured. I know more than a few and I’d answer, “most of them”. Okay many runners use endurance training to control their calorie output, but you shouldn’t really be involved in activity that frightens you to stop when you depend on that activity to burn of thousands of calories. There are healthier and safer ways to exercise, get healthy, and make real gains other than running.


I’m not much of a runner myself, but I have had a period of being emotionally attached to running and experiencing the “runner’s high” that’s associated with long duration exercise. It’s good to be mindful that every exercise has its own benefits, but runners often use their workouts to improve their outlook on life. Do not be duped into painful and challenging conditions being equal to good health and real functional fitness.


Lifters can alter training loads, methods, means, and frequencies more easily. Running is a single movement. Yes, take lessons from the commitment, but make sure you create more wiggle room that allows healthier, stronger and more resilient bodies for the long haul.


4 – Pull-Ups


That first real pull up is a doozy isn’t it! My first real, no leg help, no cheating pull-up was a moment I repeated again and again until my arms were dying. It’s worth remembering however that too much of a good thing can affect your net gains in a negative way.


Let’s face it, if you can only do a few quality pull-ups without assistance, then you’re not really getting anything from it.  Once someone gets a pull-up for the first time, the very thought of using accommodating resistance like a band or pull-up machine is considered beneath them. This results in tons of “skill work” instead of any structural work, which elicits strength and hypertrophy-based benefits. As anyone who has focused on power sports knows, working at high frequencies, volumes and intensities on any given movement can be pretty hard on the body.


The truth is, pull ups are not good for your joints at all. It takes a great deal of strength to do pull ups properly where that energy would be far better used in working on coordination and motor control. In turn, developing these skills would enable you to pull-up safely utilising stable and correct movement.


You may be burning empty energy if you can’t get into a full range vertical pull, or you lack the motor control to stabilize the shoulders through the range of motion involved. Continuing to practice this is simply throwing gasoline on the fire.


There is already a strong body of evidence which proves that pull-ups can result in shoulder and lower back pain and injury. So please, as someone who longs for a better back and regrets past mistakes, be smart about your pull-ups.


Read this: Stop doing them if you’re no good at them; work your whole body to get stronger over time, and then try again. You’ll soon realise how minor they are in the grand scheme of physical training.


5 – Hamstring Stretches


“Yeah I have a hamstring injury” said everyone with sudden lower back pain. It’s never crappy movement patterns or a weak core to blame. I’ve seen it again and again; athletes and lifters almost religiously stretch their hamstrings because they think this muscle group is too tight.


I used to stretch my hamstrings every day, but I noticed doing it for months on end didn’t bring about any improvement at all in terms of flexibility, mobility, movement patterns, or relief from pain. It wasn’t working and it took me too long to get out of the rehab purgatory I was in.


Stretching without results is not only a waste of time, but it may be working against you. Muscles simply don’t get any longer; they maintain a certain tone or tightness based on neurological impulse. So yes, strategic stretching works in terms of reducing tone and tightness, but if it hasn’t worked for you by now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news – it probably isn’t going to.


I’m not saying stretching doesn’t have its place, but if it isn’t alleviating pain, you ought to look elsewhere. Doing anterior core activation drills such as active straight leg raises and dead bugs will help so much more. Don’t waste time guessing if drills are working, just touch your toes. Test this before and after your core stability work, and assess the results for yourself.



6 – Barbell Bench Press


This is a controversial one. In every gym across the land, someone is doing a horrible twisted interpretation of the barbell bench press. It’s a shocking but true statistic (I’ve proved this by using at least 11 or so gyms in my lifetime…ahem).


Bench press is very hard on the shoulders and does little for the aesthetic musculature of your pectorals. It’s incredible how many people gravitate towards it for reasons more to do with gym rituals and gym image than actual results. Many people don’t know their results kind of suck, since the bench press does directly train and pump up the mirror muscles.


The cold truth is, If you can bench press without pain, or without drastically compensating your movement pattern, range of motion, or tempo, you’re fine. Otherwise, leave it alone until you’ve either figured it out yourself or been taught and fully practised the correct method.


If you want a bigger chest – and we all do, don’t think the barbell bench press is the best pressing variation. Try Bench Press Without a Bench for example.


In addition, please for goodness sake don’t for a second think anyone cares how much you can press. This information is about as useful and interesting as a friend’s holiday snaps or a detailed account of a mate’s dream they had after eating cheese on crackers after midnight. Don’t be that person…not cool…not cool at all.


So, the conclusion is – slay those sacred cows, take an interest in learning about your muscle groups and how they can be worked best. Don’t get in the rut of practice for practice sake. Mix it up a bit – it works in the rest of life, so why not in your regular workout.