When in pursuit of a better physique or figure, many will look for exercises that “spot” reduce problem areas on their body and others may unknowingly perform inappropriate exercises that may put their body in harm’s way. This article is going to call out 3 of these most common exercises in hopes to call attention away from them if they aren’t relevant to your goals in the gym.
We will preface this by saying this article is generalized to the “newbie” gym goer who is looking to lose weight and is unconditioned as these exercises may have a sliver of value for a very small population. If this applies and you’ve just started a workout program, this will help avoid common mistakes, injuries and will help you allocate your time to be more effective for your best results.
Questionable Exercise #1: Weighted Side Bends
This is a classic gym favorite for many unknowing gym patrons that continues to be executed in hopes of getting rid of those love handles and saddle bags. Those extra layers of body fat on the sides of our midsections can be reduced by increasing your metabolic rate, increasing energy output and decreasing caloric intake.
Doing side bends can in fact, increase strength in our external obliques but it can also increase their SIZE as well! If there is a lack of focus on big compound movements such as squats/lunges, bench press/push-ups, pull-downs/pull-ups, dead lifts and overhead presses; there will be a lack of desired response to one’s workout program yielding less impact on metabolism, less fat loss and little results as a whole.
So, what does this mean? Well, if we increase the size of our obliques by regularly doing side bends and lack structure or willingness to focus on big compound movements as mentioned that have a huge impact on calories burned and resting metabolic rate, what results in time is actually a WIDER looking waist because the obliques have gotten bigger, but the body fat has stayed the same.
If one’s program was on point and they lost weight while still doing this exercise, their waist would still be wider than if they had not done weighted side bends so much. Weighted side bends will contribute to the external obliques muscle size which often contributes to a muscle/fat muffin top. That’s not a good look.
It would be recommended to do some form of a slight twisted crunch to engage your serratus and abdominal muscles instead of primarily isolating your external oblique muscles if your goal is to achieve a slimmer waist and hips. Long story short, you may not want to put so much emphasis on weighted side bends.
Questionable Exercise #2: Behind the Neck Pull downs
Doing straight vertical pulldowns or pull-ups is an essential part of a workout program to develop ones back nicely. If you watch a professional perform this exercise, the normal movement pattern is to pull the weight down towards the upper chest/clavicle bone with elbows directly under the bar (not way behind it) and have a very slight lean in your back while you reach the bottom of the exercise.
This engages our lats very nicely and isolate our targeted back muscles the way we want. But, if you observe someone who pulls the bar down behind their head, you will notice a hunching of the back as their head moves forward in order for the bar to pass behind it. This causes unnecessary stress on your neck, shoulders and rotator cuff muscles with its excessive external rotation. The shoulder is not meant to rotate to that odd angle with pressure on it and this is what contributes stress and possible injury to a lot of rotator cuffs.
There is a small population of well-conditioned athletes or bodybuilders that may have a small benefit from performing a behind the neck pulldown, but for the majority of us it just simply is not the best option. So, sticking to lat pulldowns pulled in front of your head and to your upper chest is most likely your best bet. Behind the neck lat pulldowns have no big or relevant benefits for newcomers in the gym in comparison to pulling in front, but they do present the very real risk of increased injury for some.
Questionable Exercise #3: Torso Rotation Machine
This is the machine where you sit down and rotate side to side against weighted resistance. The idea is that you’re strengthening your abdominal muscles and firming those “love handles.” The torso rotation machine, also called a rotary torso machine, is intended to help strengthen the muscles of your core.
However, if you use improper range of motion or tempo, the torso rotation machine loses its effectiveness and can encourage undue stress to the user’s back. This exercise strengthens your core muscles, but it will NOT “burn off” fat from your midsection or sides.
Like weighted side bends, using the rotary torso machine can help build your oblique muscles, but it will not spot reduce any “jiggly stuff” in the area you are working, despite the common belief that carries. This exercise sounds good in theory, but the reality is this movement is terrible and is one machine to avoid in any gym.
For starters your body was NOT designed to rotate from side to side with a lot of resistance, while sitting down. This movement results in flexing of the spine and can cause back problems in a hurry.
Some better Choices in place of the torso rotation machine and side bends:
Be Smart and Learn the Ropes in The Gym
Knowing the basics and learning the tried and true fundamentals is important to maximize your time in the gym when getting started. It can mean the difference between seeing results and winning, or wasting time, having set-backs and losing in the game of fitness and wellness.
Winning is fun, and motivating. Losing is not. Stay tuned for more helpful tips to help you become the best version of yourself ever in 2018!
Best wishes in fitness,