If you want to be really bad at working out, all you have to do is follow the lead of the average gymbro.
Wander with them from machine to machine, drop set the entire rack of dumbbells, reserve five stations for your supersets, and only use the squat rack for curling (girls don’t care about legs anyway).
If you’re lucky enough to be mentored by someone who really knows how to do it wrong, you’re going to do a lot of terrible exercises as well, including many of the ones I’m going to talk about in this post.
So, here are the 10 best exercises for failing in the gym, and what to do instead if you want to actually make some gainz.
Table of Contents
1. Weighted Side Bend
If I had to guess why so many people do this exercise, it’s because they’re trying to spot reduce their love handles.
Well, the irony is that side bends build up your oblique muscles, which simply makes their problem worse. The bigger your obliques are, the fatter you look.
That said, developed obliques are definitely an important visual part of a great core when you’re lean. And fortunately, the easiest way to develop them is to simply do heavy, compound lifts like squats and deadlifts every week. Your entire core will develop, obliques included.
If you’re already doing that and feel your oblique development is still lacking, then I recommend adding twists to your ab routine, such as twisting cable crunches or air bikes.
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2. Anything on the Smith Machine
Okay this is actually pretty awesome.
The Smith Machine is a bromagnet. It lets them load up more weight than they can actually handle and really make the other weaklings jelly.
Well, the Smith Machine sucks. Period.
It’s just bad for everything. It completely removes the stabilizer muscles from lifts and forces an unnatural range of motion. The result is sub-par gains in both size and strength, which becomes VERY obvious if you try to switch to free weights.
So do yourself a favor and stick to the free weights. Your muscles will thank me later.
Don’t be this guy.
For whatever reason, this exercise is often done by people that also do side bends. And again I wonder why they’re doing it.
Want a stronger lower back? It’s time to deadlift. End of story.
The only people that should be doing hyperextensions are those that are rehabilitating their lower backs. Well, and girls with killer bodies and skin-tight workout outfits. They should do these a lot.
4. Yates Row
Do you even range of motion?
What the hell kind of ego exercise is this? It’s like a half-rep cross between a shrug and reverse barbell curl.
It violates the simplest weightlifting principle there is:
The greater the range of motion in an exercise, the more work your muscles have to do. More work=more growth.
That’s why partial reps suck, and why this exercise sucks.
Instead, make me proud and do your rows like this. The weight starts and ends on the ground, the back remains parallel, and the bar touches your stomach every rep.
5. Pec Deck
Gotta get that sick pump before the club.
There’s usually a line of bros waiting to use the Pec Deck machine, talking about how it really brings out the striations.
They’re wrong. This exercise sucks.
It doesn’t allow for enough weight to properly overload your pecs, and it increases the risk of hyper-extending your shoulders as you lower the weight backward.
The bottom line in building a big, strong chest is a lot of heavy pressing, both with the barbell and dumbbells. And incline pressing in particular.
Every chest workout should contain at least 6-9 heavy pressing sets, and if your physique and goals call for isolation work, that’s done last.
6. Anything Done on the BOSU Ball
Did he learn that in his Crossfit class?
The BOSU Ball is used by trainers everywhere to trick their clients into thinking they know what the hell they’re doing.
It’s usually claimed that using the BOSU to add the element of instability to exercises improves the activation of core muscles.
Well, it doesn’t. Performing exercises on unstable surfaces actually just makes them less effective.
So, leave the BOSU and Swiss balls to the “professionals,” and keep your feet and back on stable surfaces.
7. Partial Squat
HELL YEAH BRO NEW PR!!11!1
That’s the kind of guy that will hobble around at 50, whining about how squatting ruined his knees. No, half-squatting stupid amounts of weight did it.
There’s nothing impressive about half squats. Like the half bench press, it’s just the mark of an amateur or idiot.
The reality is squatting properly (deep) actually strengthens your knees, and is often used to rehabilitate injuries.
So, read my article on how to squat properly and do it right. Your knees will thank you, and your legs will grow much quicker.
8. The Behind-the-Neck Pulldown and Press
It’s all about the muscle confusion.
Unless you have crazy shoulder flexibility that allows for full range of motion, behind-the-neck exercises are at best a waste of time, and at worst a shoulder injury waiting to happen.
They were popularized by powerlifters and strongmen, but that doesn’t mean we should all be doing them. You need to have incredible shoulder flexibility to even hope to do them right, and even then they put the shoulders in very unnatural positions, and can put a ton of strain on the neck as well.
Play it safe and just stick to the traditional pulldowns and presses. You won’t be missing out on anything.
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9. Ab Machines–All of Them
Ooo youz fancy.
The standard crunch sucks enough as it is. Do we really need to add machines to make it even worse?
My biggest gripe with ab machines is that they reduce the involvement of the lower back, which is meant to flex and tense along with the abs. This can increase the risk of injury.
Instead, here are the best exercises for building great abs:
1. Heavy squats and deadlifts. Both of these exercises are incredibly effective ways to train your entire core, and will do a lot for your ab development.
2. Weighted Cable Crunch. I believe weighted ab training is very important because most of us, even when we’re lean, don’t have defined, rippling abs that really pop. Weighted training is the most effective way to fix this, and the weighted cable crunch is, hands down, my favorite weighted ab exercise.
3. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise. This is one of my favorite core exercises. It works the abs and obliques, and you can even add weight by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.
4. Air Bicycles. This is another great exercise for training both the abs and obliques. What I like to do is include it last in an ab circuit, and go to burnout.
10. Triceps Kickback
Worst exercise ever.
This is probably the worst triceps exercise you can do. It’s just too easy.
The triceps really only feel like they’re doing anything at the very end of the lift, and you can’t use any amount of weight and still maintain proper form. Even if you’re a woman, this exercise isn’t for you.
Instead, I recommend you focus on the following exercises for your triceps.
1. Close-grip bench press
2. Overhead triceps press
4. Triceps pushdowns
What do you think about these sucky exercises? What should also go on the list? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Hamlyn N, Behm DG, Young WB. Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21(4):1108-1112. doi:10.1519/R-20366.1
- Kohler JM, Flanagan SP, Whiting WC. Muscle activation patterns while lifting stable and unstable loads on stable and unstable surfaces. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(2):313-321. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c8655a
- Willardson JM, Fontana FE, Bressel E. Effect of surface stability on core muscle activity for dynamic resistance exercises. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2009;4(1):97-109. doi:10.1123/ijspp.4.1.97
- Schick EE, Coburn JW, Brown LE, et al. A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2010;24(3):779-784. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cc2237
- Schwanbeck S, Chilibeck PD, Binsted G. A comparison of free weight squat to Smith machine squat using electromyography. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(9):2588-2591. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181b1b181