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8 Exercises That Waste Time and What to Do Instead

By NCSF 5 comments

Time seems to be one of the most common limitations when it comes to getting in shape. That being said, exercise selection should be geared towards maximal work, in minimal time, using safe and effective exercises. Some exercises on this list are so common, one would only assume they are both safe and effective, but popular opinion is certainly wrong in this case. This article will not only identify several inefficient and unsafe exercises, but also provide appropriate alternatives.

Bench Dips

Problem: Loaded shoulder internal rotation

Loaded shoulder internal rotation compromises the integrity of the joint by increasing anterior compression and impingement. This can place undue stress on the shoulder capsule, causing anterior tightness and migration of the humeral head.

Alternative: Neutral Grip Dumbbell Press

The anterior deltoids and triceps will go through a similar ROM, and loading can be modified to the capacity of the client; can be performed seated or standing.

Glute Kick Backs

Problem: Hyperextension of spine, insufficient load (intensity) for desired results

Glute kick backs are said to be done for glute hypertrophy and toning. Unfortunately the movement is rarely performed correctly. Due to tight hip flexors or poor stabilizer recruitment patterns, exercisers often hyperextend their lumbar spine, putting stress on their L5-S1 disk (most commonly injured), which minimizes gluteus maximus activation.

Alternative: Reverse Lunge

The gluteus maximus is put through a similar ROM, and the heavier relative loading will increase anabolic hormone release, which will enhance lipolysis and hypertrophy (fat burning and muscle growth). Furthermore, the exercise functions to extend the contralateral hip, stretching commonly tight hip flexors. The reverse lunge has a greater effect on toning and size.

Triceps Kick Backs

Problem: With dumbbells the triceps are only under tension for the second half of the movement

Many individuals wish to tighten and tone the back of their arms, performing triceps kick backs with a light dumbbell for scores of reps to try to accomplish that goal. Continuing with that movement is futile. With a dumbbell, the lower arm essentially functions as a pendulum, with no activation through the first portion of the movement, and often using momentum to complete the rep.

Alternative: Banded kick backs

Alternate the loading implement and use a band or cable machine to provide a resistance consistent with the line of pull.

Seated Rear Delt Flyes

Problem: Use of momentum reduces muscular activation, compromised exercise position

While not a bad movement, seated rear delt flyes are often performed with hip and trunk extension to aid in completing the rep. Since the posterior deltoids are often undertrained, exercises should be performed to maximize their recruitment.

Alternative: Standing Rear Delt Flyes

Perform the movement standing with the hips flexed 90 degrees. Do not extend the hips for assistance and the emphasis will be on the posterior deltoids. Lighter weight should be used and movement should be initiated with scapular retraction.

Partial Rep Curls

Problem: better recruit through full ROM

Partial Range of Motion exercises are generally not as efficient as full ROM exercises for muscle recruitment and damage (what causes growth). Full ROM reps also help maintain / improve flexibility in the trained muscle.

Alternative: Curl Super Set

Since performing partial ROM is often done as a means of a burn out set or to increase volume, why not superset the first set of curls with a second of set of curls using a different resistance such as bands or cables. This will allow additional, full ROM reps to be performed to further enhance muscle fiber recruitment and hypertrophy.

Leg Extension Machine

Problem: Loading places stress on the knee, more effective and safer options exist

The mechanics of the leg extension increase shear forces on the knee, and stress the ACL. The often cited benefit of the leg extension machine is isolating the quads, which can be accomplished with safer movements.

Alternative: Box Step Up

Target the knee and hip extensors with a step-up, which also adds the benefit of improved stability and patellar tracking. If you are looking for more of a “pump”, perform as many as you can in one minute (power step).

Flexed-Hip Leg Curls

Problem: Mechanical advantage of flexed hip eliminates emphasis on hamstring (knee flexor)

Hamstring curls are essential in any program but unfortunately are often forgotten. To further complicate the matter, many fitness facilities only have the prone hamstring curl machine that places the exerciser in a flexed hip position. This will increase hip flexor activation (a negative) and reduce hamstring activation.

Alternative: Manual Hamstrings

The only equipment that is needed for manual hamstrings is a partner. Communication between partners will allow resistance to be placed consistently throughout the movement, targeting the lower hamstring through full ROM.

Pulsing Squats

Problem: Limited physiological adaptations due to reduced ROM, risk of knee complications

The goal is to increase muscle tone, but the limited ROM decreases caloric expenditure, which will decrease weight loss (aka toning). In addition, constant bouncing within the limited ROM puts unnecessary stress in the knee joints. An exerciser will activate more muscle mass, burn more calories, and become stronger by doing full ROM squats.

Alternative: Goblet squats

Goblet squats are a good exercise to focus on stability and ROM in the squat. The front loaded position forces the exerciser to maintain and upright torso, recruiting additional musculature and causing increased caloric expenditure.

Let this post be a guide to help you make your workouts as safe and effective as possible. What inefficient or unsafe exercises have you seen in the gym?


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Kendra Marshall
Great article and tips!
George Hasbun
i disagree with notion that the leg extensions on a machine can be substituted by box step-ups. Done properly over time, the leg extension serves to strengthen the knee join overall and minimize the risk of ANY injury (especially the ACL) during other sports. i believe leg extensions to be an indispensible exercise when properly performed and used in conjunction with other leg exercises.
George Hasbun
goblet squats are an excellent substitute for those with shoulder pain during normal squats due to impingement, etc of the shoulder complex.

the most dangerous exercise i have seen is squats with the bench underneath to stop at 90 degrees. this can cause compression of the spine and definite injury.
Belkis Colon
Extremely helpful information. Especially the pulsing squats.
Tyler Read
I love these alternate exercises that you guys have created. I will be using them in my personal training sessions with my clients. Thanks for the great write up. I have created some other alternate exercises on my website as well.