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Trigger Warning: I’m feeling cranky today. Below are my five favorite wastes of time in the gym. Mistaking pain for progress is the common cognitive error behind all five of these unfortunate exercise choices.
If you currently use any of these questionable moves, don’t close the page. Instead, let me know why I’m wrong in the comments section below. Hey, you might change my mind, but I doubt it.
If your primary goal is improved strength or body composition, almost anything else you do in the gym, including the remaining four exercises on this list, would better serve you than planks. The main problem with planks is that they are a static exercise. The absence of movement means you’ll experience dismal payoff for getting stronger, leaner, or more muscular. Basically, you’ll just get better at doing planks.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: TO TRAIN YOUR ABS AND IMPROVE YOUR CORE STABILITY, FOCUS ON EXERCISES LIKE STIR THE POT, PALLOF PRESSES, ONE-ARM FARMER’S CARRIES, AND TOES TO BAR. THESE DRILLS ARE MORE DYNAMIC AND HAVE GREATER CARRYOVER INTO REAL LIFE.
2. Anything Done on a BOSU or Other Unstable Surface
Training on unstable surfaces may be hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s productive.
To develop significant muscular tension for building muscle and strength, you must push (or pull) from a stable platform. The more stable your working surface, the more weight you can lift, which equals more muscular tension and better results. You will develop more leg strength from heavy back squats than you would squatting while standing on a stability ball, which is incredibly dangerous while under load.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: FORGET THE CIRCUS-TRICK EXERCISES AND STICK TO THE CLASSICS. THE MOST MUSCULAR MEN AND WOMEN THROUGHOUT HISTORY ACHIEVED THEIR STRENGTH THROUGH THE TRIED-AND-TRUE STANDARDS: PRESSES, ROWS, DIPS, PULL UPS, SQUATS, AND DEADLIFTS.
3. Flipping Tires
Unless you’re a strongman competitor, stop flipping tires. Flipping tires might feel badass, but most people inevitably pick the wrong size tire. They either pick one that is too light to force any significant adaptation, or one that is too heavy and beyond their ability. If you flip an appropriately-weighted tire with skill, you’ll get a reasonable conditioning effect, but it’s not a great move to build muscle or strength.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: PUSHING SLEDS ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE CONDITIONING TOOLS. LIFTING WEIGHTS IS KING FOR BUILDING STRENGTH AND MASS, BUT IF YOU WANT ANAEROBIC CONDITIONING THAT WON’T BEAT YOU UP, CHOOSE A SLED OVER A TIRE EVERY TIME.
4. Box Jumps
Box jumps are fun, and if that’s all you’re looking to get out of them, don’t let me spoil the party. But box jumps are only useful as a power test, not an exercise. And they are a less effective way to test power than standing long jumps. Box jumps inevitably evolve into a test of hip mobility rather than jumping power.
TRY THIS INSTEAD: A BETTER WAY TO BOX JUMP IS TO PURPOSEFULLY LIMIT THE DEPTH OF YOUR LANDING SQUAT TO NO MORE THAN A 90-DEGREE ANGLE. STRIVE TO LAND SOFTLY AND QUIETLY, AND OF COURSE, DON’T MISS. THE SKIN ON YOUR SHINS WILL THANK YOU.
I’m not against rope drills in general. John Brookfield’s Battling Ropes certification course was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done, and I came out of that weekend with a healthy respect for the ropes.
However, whenever you see anyone using the ropes, they never use remotely enough intensity to make the exercise productive. Slamming the ropes with half-ass intensity could be a decent warm up, but why settle for decent when you could be doing something that’s actually useful?
TRY THIS INSTEAD: UNLESS YOU’RE GOING TO ATTACK THE ROPES WITH MAXIMUM INTENSITY FOR ONE-MINUTE ROUNDS, SKIP THEM ALTOGETHER. THERE ARE MANY BETTER OPTIONS FOR CONDITIONING LIKE SLED DRAGS, HEAVY SWINGS, ROWING, AND BARBELL CIRCUITS.
Are All These Exercises Really That Bad?
I can think of even worse exercises, but I’m giving you enough credit to assume you’re not doing them. If you do any or all of these drills on occasion for a change of pace, that’s totally fine. But if any of these moves are staples in your training, I’d urge you to reconsider.