No woman walks into the gym hoping to spend all her time just to get so oh so-so-results. Get more out of every rep and workout by trading these ineffective and crazily common exercises for superior time-saving alternatives.
1. Warming up on the Stationary Bike
You need to warm up, but the typical five-minute tour on the stationary bike probably isn’t going to do much. Your warm-up should get your heart rate to at least 60 to 65 percent of your max heart rate (aim for 120 or up). This will increase your core body temperature and get blood and nutrients to your muscles so you’re primed for your workout. If you don’t increase your heart rate or break a sweat, you’re wasting your time.
Better Moves: Warm up (and in less time!) by hammering out some quick bodyweight exercises. Try 30 jumping jacks, 30 bodyweight squats, 15 mountain climbers, or 10 to 15 burpees. Your heart will pound just thinking about it.
2. Machine Leg Presses
The leg-press machine turns a multi-plane exercise (squats) into a single-plane exercise; which means your legs can only move in one direction, not up and down, side to side, and forward and backward, like nature intended. Your stabilizer muscles are taken out of the equation, and you get only a fraction of the muscle-building, calorie-torching benefits.
Better Moves: Squats are probably one of the best multi-joint exercises. They not only develop your legs, they also help develop overall trunk stability. Start with bodyweight squats and then progress to goblet squats, holding a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest for added resistance. To get the most out of the exercise, make sure to lower your torso until your thighbone is parallel to the ground and keep your weight in your heels.
3. Smith Machine Shoulder Presses
This one goes on the inefficient list for the same reason as the machine leg presses: The Smith machine fixes your weight’s path so that you only need to push it up and down. You don’t need to work to keep the weight stable, meaning fewer muscles in your shoulders work during every rep.
Better Moves: You might need to lift less weight, but performing shoulder presses with a set of dumbbells is going to get you a better burn and sexier set of shoulders.
4. Kettlebell Swings
It’s one of the most common kettlebell exercises out there, but kettlebell swings—in which you swing a kettlebell between your legs and then up in front of you or even over your head—use a lot of momentum. The more momentum you use, the less muscle you use—and sculpt.
Better Moves: Most people do kettlebell swings in an effort to tone their legs and the frontal deltoids, Rowley says. If that’s you, opt for working your legs with squats or lunges and working your front deltoids with slow and controlled dumbbell front raises.
5. Weighted Side Bends
When it comes to working your obliques, many women perform these: They stand tall, holding a dumbbell at one side, and they crunch toward it over and over again. And while they will work your external obliques, crunching like this, especially with heavy weights, will make those muscles more pronounced and dare we say it, bigger. If you’re vying for a chiseled athletic look, that’s great, but if you want to make your middle look smaller, this could be counterproductive. Plus, these side bends don’t do much for your internal obliques or the rest of your core, which is critical to sports performance.
Better Moves: Try side planks with a twist, bicycles, and Russian twists, she says. They’ll all work your external obliques, while also working your deeper abdominal muscles—including your internal obliques and transverse abdominis, your true powerhouse.
6. Hip Adduction/Abduction Machine
You know that machine that makes you feel like you’re sitting in stirrups at the gyno’s office? Yeah, you don’t need it. By sitting when performing this exercise, you’re actually hurting your ability to deliver maximum results. The glute muscles have a harder time activating while you are in the seated position, and you’re not working a variety of muscles here, when you could be using a different exercise.
Better Moves: Try squats, lunges, and, if you really want to work your inner and outer thighs, side lunges. By working those muscles while standing, you’ll be able to better work your adductors and abductors, while you’ll also get an awesome calorie burn by also recruiting your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
7. Machine Leg Extensions
These can strengthen the muscles in your upper thighs, but that’s about it. Isolated movements like this one provide very little carryover to daily functioning and sports performance. Moreover, they lack the efficiency of using multiple muscle groups for maximal calorie burning needed for weight loss and general health.
Better Moves: Again, the squat reigns supreme. (See how many moves you could cut from your workout routine if you simply squatted?) Squats involve multiple joints to strengthen the front and back of your legs, as well as your butt, so it builds more strength and burns more calories. Plus, it’s completely functional, meaning it mimics motions you do in everyday life outside of the gym. Step-ups and lunges are also great quad-strengtheners that work the rest of your legs, too.
8. Behind The Neck Lat Pull-Down
Any exercise that brings your spine out of alignment under load is potentially dangerous, and particularly when it’s the neck, which is the most fragile section of the spinal column. By their very nature, behind-the-neck lat pull-downs require the user to thrust her head and neck forward and break spinal alignment, which can result in a muscle strain, pull, tear, or, even worse, a spinal disk herniation.
Better Moves: To the sternum lat pull-down. The key to giving your largest back muscles, the latissimus dorsi, a workout, is maintaining good form, while keeping your neck and spine safe. First, stand beneath the bar with your arms forming the shape of football goal posts, then shoot your hands straight up to grasp the bar; this gets your arms the appropriate distance apart. Sit down on the seat with straight arms, bringing the bar with you. Keep your posture upright — don’t lean back — and think about raising your sternum toward the bar (rather than the bar to your sternum) while you pull down.