5 Exercises to Stay Away From

Lets begin with some groundwork concepts.  Our approach to training and movement is one of integration and exploration.  The concept of integration is one based on the premise that the body works best as a whole and not as independent parts.  Therefore, it should be trained as one integrated system rather then in pieces. This first phase of retraining, at Willspace, involves learning how to get into positions and shapes, in which tension is created throughout the body, to maximize strength and results.  An example of this would be your ability to position your body into a Hollow Hold. This position is the basis for developing a strong core and relates to other positions, like Planks, Dips and Pull-ups.

As integration and the fundamental positions are established then we can move onto the next concept, called exploration.  In order to achieve anything worth while, in life, it generally takes a conscious effort to improve one's actions.  The biggest flaw that I see in the fitness approach is that little time is invested into learning proper alignment and technique, while too much time is focused on just getting a "good sweat". 

Exploration refers to evolution or progress of movement.  If today you can do 3 push-ups tomorrow aim for 4 and next week 5 repetitions.  If today you have a good plank you can explore walking your feet up a wall while your arms and core stabilize your body to develop a vertical plank, aka handstand.  In this manner, your training program or regime becomes more challenging and complex rather then monotonous.  Exploration deals with purposeful movement and a practice that is continually evolving. Otherwise, what is it all for.  I have found that exploring movement and positions rather then muscles yields a far greater result.  You can try and isolate muscles but take some time and really look at the results.  Is the quality of your movement improving? Is your body changing? If I were to video you today performing an exercise and then did the same in a month would I notice improvement?  An investment that does not yield a return is more of a liability then an asset.  

With these two concepts, integration and exploration, we select the best path to improve clients movement and as a by-product, their bodies.  Better movement. Better results. 

Strength is a skill and to develop any skill one must have a strategy.  Over the last 20 years, my research has led me to develop a method, called Re:Train, which we use to help clients better understand how to develop a movement practice that addresses strength, endurance, flexibility and mobility.  Throughout my research, I have found certain approaches to be incredibly effective and others to be ineffective or irrelevant, in the results that they produce.  I have selected 5 exercises that I feel lack substance and have coined them as "pointless" because I do not believe that they are the best movement selections to change the intended muscles.  My intention is to create an awareness of their flaws and help you to explore a different way of approaching your movement agenda. While there may be a need to perform some of these in a rehab setting, for a short period, I don't believe they are effective exercises for long-term use or progress. 

TRX Squat

TRX Squat

Let me start by saying that I believe the TRX is one of the most improperly used pieces of equipment. It is a watered-down variation of gymnastic rings and most of the exercises have no real translation to better movement. 

Any tool that is used in developing a skill or a movement must at some point be removed. The same way that you would remove training wheels off of a bike you would want to be able to remove the straps and still keep going, in a similar manner or better then when with the straps.  I do not find that this is the case with the TRX Strap because of the dependence on the straps to lower yourself you don’t really develop the appropriate strength or mobility to perform the same squat pattern without the straps.  As a matter of fact the mechanics of the TRX Squat is completely irrelevant to a body weight squat because most people lean back and fall into the squat with the arms holding a lot of the weight.  If you try the same mechanics without the straps then you will fall backwards.  If the implement doesn't make you better I believe it's best not use it.  Instead, spend time in the Deep Squat hold to develop strength below knee level. 

Tricep Kickbacks

Tricep Kickback

I have watched both men and woman sweat through countless reps attempting to tone and strengthen the backs of their arms with this exercise, to no avail.  The Triceps are an incredibly strong group of muscles and are responsible for many upper body exercises, like Planks, Pushups, Handstands, Pull-ups, Muscle-ups and more.  Lets take Planks, for example,  when you are properly set-up in your plank position the triceps are working to keep your elbows straight and assist in stabilizing the shoulders.  We can assume that they are managing at least half your weight. If this is the case, then what will 5 or 10 lb dumbbells do for muscles that can handle so much more resistance.  Add to that, the fact that triceps never work in isolation and that they do more then just straighten the elbows, so the minimal strength that you are developing from the tricep kickback is not really transferable to other movements.  Some of the other issues I see with this exercise is lack of postural integrity.  The lower back and postural muscles are compromised in this position and if you are not engaged in keeping the right form it will do some damage to those areas then good.  Instead develop a Handstand Practice or try Parallel Bar Dip Holds. 

Lateral Band Walks + Shoulder Bridges

Lateral Band Walks
Shoulder Bridge

While I can understand the reasoning behind these two movements I believe that they do very little for developing the gluteus.  These two tend to be used to “activate” or “turn on” the butt muscles. The thing is that most of the people that have a weak glutes can't even assess the proper muscles that will allow them to maximize these exercises. 

Lets address the issue, the gluteus muscles are weak because in most fitness approaches the bottom positions or end ranges in Squats or Lunges are never developed. What I mean by this is that the butt "activates" most at the bottom of the squat and at the deepest position of a lunge.  However, few either lower to the proper point to assess the gluteus or rush out of the bottom position too quickly.  Instead, a better way to develop strength and tone in the butt is to spend more time in the position where you are weakest, the bottom.  One thought-leader in the movement space, Ido Portal, recommends accumulating 30 minutes a day in the deep squat position.  I agree completely. 

Developing a deep squat has many advantages because at the same time your postural muscles and legs will get stronger as well. This is not the case with isolation exercises like the Band Walks or Shoulder Bridges. 

TRX Push-ups

TRX Push-ups

The approach to Push-ups and Burpees are incredibly frustrating to me.  People muscle through them knowing deep down that something is not right and trainers allow compensation because they don't have the knowledge set to properly coach the movements. They are rarely performed with integrity and this is why we see lackluster progress. I won't go into all the detail that goes into developing a proper push-up but I will say that in general first you should develop strength on a very stable surface, like the floor, before moving onto an unstable surface like TRX straps.  Secondly, to optimize your position your arms need to be close to the body and your core needs to be tight with the thighs pressed together.  A lot of people don’t realize that a push-up is nothing more then a moving plank so the same requirements for the plank must be present while you're bending your elbows to lower yourself, to and away from the floor, with regards to core engagement. The first sign of core disengagement would be the hips or stomach dropping towards the floor.  Another concern is when the elbow flare out, placing unnecessary strain on the shoulder stabilizers and decreasing tricep engagement.  Develop the ability to perform 10-15 proper pushups on the floor or on parallette bars before trying to use the TRX or Ring Straps. 

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