Thanks to great reader response to our previous two articles about terrible exercises, we’ve come up with five more exercises that are not worth your time.
The dubious distinction of the exercises on this banned list is that none of them will produce significant changes in strength, muscle size, or body composition, regardless of how much you do them. Many of them also place the trainee at a high risk of injury.
#1. Pec Dec. The pec dec is a popular exercise for bodybuilding and fitness photographers. Why? Because (1) the photos show the full face of the model and (2) the tension the exercise places on the pectorals makes these muscles “pop.” Photo ops aside, in the pec dec you start with the shoulders externally rotated, a position that is biomechanically disadvantaged (in contrast to an exercise that starts from a biomechanically advantaged position, such as the bench press). The unfortunate result is the tendency to jerk the forearm pads to get the resistance moving, thus increasing the stress on the shoulders even more.
• Superior Alternative: Barbell Bench Press
#2. Seated Back Extension. Exercises such as the horizontal back extension and the standing good morning are considered effective exercises that focus on developing the lower back and the hip extension function of the hamstrings. So far, so good. In contrast, a seated back extension, which is performed on a machine specifically designed for this purpose, is a version we do not recommend.
Although these machines have been marketed to people with back pain, the exercise places extremely high compressive forces on the lower back. Compared to exercising from a horizontal position, by exercising from a seated position and leaning forward about 15 degrees, you nearly double the compressive forces on the L2 and L3 vertebrae (as shown by Swedish researcher Alf Nachemson in 1975). Leaning forward more than 15 degrees, which these machines often allow, increases those forces even more. People who have disk injuries or who simply want to perform exercises that put minimal stress on the spine should avoid seated back extensions.
• Superior Alternative: Horizontal Back Extension
#3. Mixed-Grip Power Clean and Jerk. One strength challenge that has been making the rounds is to perform a power clean with a mixed grip (one hand over, one under), then change to a pronated (overhand) grip, and then jerk the weight overhead. Looks impressive, but besides being an extremely technical exercise that few coaches know how to teach properly, it offers no advantage over the conventional version.
The exercise originated with John Henry Davis, a weightlifter who won the gold medal in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. On September 13, 1949, Davis became the second person to complete an overhead lift of the Apollon Railway Car Wheels (the first was French lifter Charles Rigoulot). This wasn’t a barbell, but an axle that weighed 366 pounds (166 kilos) and was 1.93 inches (49 mm) thick, and was bent from being dropped previously. To lift it, Davis used a mixed grip to pull the weight off the floor, then switched to a pronated grip when he shouldered the weight so he could jerk it overhead. This lifting technique might be optimal for lifting heavy railway car wheels, but not regular barbells. Bottom line: Don’t get on that train.
• Superior Alternative: Power Clean and Jerk
#4. Dumbbell Bench Press on Swiss Ball. While the barbell bench press is considered the king of chest exercises, the dumbbell bench press is also popular among those who want to improve upper body strength and size. Although the instability of dumbbells (compared to barbells) reduces the amount of weight you can use, impressive weights are still possible – in fact, you can see YouTube videos of former Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman pumping out reps in the exercise with 200 pounds.
What is not advisable is performing the exercise with your upper back resting on a Swiss ball. Although this variation is sometimes promoted as a more natural movement, the risk of losing your balance (and the ball bursting or rapidly losing air) is too high for any supposed benefit you might receive.
• Superior Alternative: Dumbbell Bench Press
#5. Rotational Torso Machine. Often promoted as offering a core exercise for the obliques, this machine is actually ineffective and risky for physiological reasons. The muscle fibers of the obliques are arranged in a primarily diagonal alignment, not transverse to the trunk. Also, rotating the spine on a single axis is an unnatural movement pattern, especially when performed seated, creating large shearing forces. This exercise can easily damage the disks of the spine, especially when performed with resistance.
• Superior Alternative: Wood Chop Cable Exercises
If you are considering performing any of these exercises, don’t. Likewise, if you are performing these five exercises on a regular basis, please stop. Use the alternatives provided and get the most out of your workouts.