Overhyped Exercises That Are Actually Wasting Your Time

crunches, woman doing crunches

Unless you're a competitive bodybuilder, hitting the gym shouldn't be an hours-long time suck as you painstakingly isolate each of your 300-ish skeletal muscles. No one has time for that shit.

And if you make time, I question your priorities -- you don't need to add three sets each of preacher curls, hammer curls, barbell curls, and concentration curls after you've done alternating biceps curls. Go home, spend time with your partner or your cat. Surely one of them would like to see you.

As an exercise physiologist, I hesitate to say any exercises are "bad," because there's no such thing as a "bad" exercise; there are just bad exercises for certain people, and there’s certainly bad form. But if you’re having a hard time making your workout a priority, you need to ditch the exercises that isolate one or two muscle groups and focus on compound, multiple-joint movements that deliver more bang for your buck. Your partner, your cat, and your body will thank you.

crunches, young man doing crunches


I don't know who decided way back in the day that crunches were a good idea, but they're more or less useless. The range of motion during a crunch is incredibly limited, and the exercise fails to engage the deep, stabilizing muscles of the core or back, preventing it from offering a functional advantage. Skip the crunches and opt for full sit-ups or better yet, planks -- each will provide a functional advantage and full engagement of the core.

Forearm curls

There's no reason for the average Joe to do forearm curls for basic physical fitness. While incredibly important, the small muscles of your forearm are used during practically every upper-body exercise as you lift, press, and grip weights and other equipment. If you're concerned you're not working them hard enough, ditch the curls and opt for jumping rope with a weighted jump rope, instead. In addition to taxing your forearms, you’ll benefit from a tough burst of cardio, too.  

Shin raises

These are the muscles that run along your shins, folks. If you're wasting time at the gym working your shins (the muscle running along it is called the tibialis anterior, for what it's worth), you better be trying to recover from shin splints. Otherwise, it's not a thing.

Like the muscles of the forearm, no one's saying the tibialis anterior isn't important -- of course it is -- but as a small muscle group that's engaged during all lower-body movement, you're better off putting it to use when you run, jump rope, play a sport, or ride a bike.

hip exercises, indoor opening legs workout

Abductor and adductor machines

All the ladies love the abductor and adductor machines, and all the guys love watching ladies on these machines. While you may think you’re "slimming your thighs" as you open and close your legs against the machines' resistance, you're actually just spending extra time doing exercises that target small muscle groups in a mostly unnatural movement pattern. I mean, how often do you find yourself opening and closing your legs like that? (Insert bad joke here.)

Instead of going to town on the abductor and adductor machines, try compound exercises like side lunges and curtsy lunges that target the adductors and abductors while also hitting the larger muscle groups of your lower body -- your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Weighted glute kickbacks

Look, I get wanting to have the booty of a Kardashian, but spending hours on the weighted glute kickback machine isn't the solution, especially when you're crunched for time. Squats and deadlifts each require significant engagement of the glutes, and they’ll also target the other muscles of your lower body, as well as your core. Sub them in for the kickback machine and perform at least two sets to exhaustion.

Standing calf machine

There's nothing wrong with working your calves, but the standing calf machine isn't your best bet. Because you support the machine's weight across your shoulders, you end up carrying much of the added resistance with your back, rather than loading it directly on your calves. You can more effectively isolate your calves with single-leg standing calf raises, or you can target them during functional movements, such as sprinting, plyometric box jumps, or high skipping.

stationary exercises, exercise machines

Any other isolation exercise

While there's nothing inherently wrong with a triceps pressdown, biceps curl, lateral shoulder raise, or glute bridge (or any machine that similarly targets one muscle group), they're not your best bets when you've got places to go and people to do. Rather than lollygagging through a 10- or 15-exercise routine, choose four to six compound exercises, such as pull-ups, push-ups, squats, lunges, deadlifts, and burpees and work your way through a total-body routine in less than 30 minutes.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer who wishes she could get back all the time she used to spend working her forearms and shins. What a waste. Connect on Twitter: @girlsgonesporty.