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People like to do things that they see other people doing, it’s our way to be a part of something and fit in with society, but just because something is done by the many that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do.
If there’s one place where this is more true than any other, it’s in the gym.
No one in the gym wants to look as if they have no clue what they are doing and so it’s understandable that many go in and just copy whatever they see other people doing, especially if they’re in half decent shape.
Unfortunately, walk into any gym and you will see PT’s and muscle bound guys and gals performing exercises that just don’t make sense when the goal is to build muscle, but they do them because they’ve seen someone else do it, who had also seen someone else do it and so on and so on and as a result the exercise has stuck around like a bad smell from your unwashed protein shaker you forget to take out your gym bag 2 weeks ago.
But as long as your performing these exercises you’re leaving a lot of muscle building potential on the table, no matter how many protein shakes you guzzle down.
Below are the 5 worst offenders for stealing your muscle building potential.
- Smith machine squats
There could only ever be one exercise to kick off our list – the Smith Machine squat – a piece of equipment that would be best permanently deleted from bodybuilding history.
The problems with the Smith machine start with the fact the bar is attached to the machine, causing it to follow a fixed path up and down, which in theory may be great, but when we take into account that everybody who uses the machine will have a different body shape and height, it causes issues by restricting people from moving within their body’s natural movement patterns.
The second issue is that we don’t have to recruit our stabilizer muscles when performing each rep. Due to the bar being attached to the machine, it removes the instability you would get with a free bar and a result our stabilizing muscles “switch off”.
Due to this there is no carry over into other exercises, sports or even day to day life when you may be required to squat a weight that isn’t stable.
What to do instead?
You may have to drop your ego and weights but start performing your squats with a free bar.
This will help recruit all the muscles in the legs, help develop power and increase stability. All of which can be transferred into other aspects of training and life.
Oh, and whilst you’re it, take away the bar pad too. It just encourages you to stop using your traps and rear delts to keep the bar in place and therefore giving them no reason to get bigger
2. V sit ups
Despite being regarded as an advanced core exercise, the V sit up is often a core exercise that does more harm than good in the long run. Like most crunch variations the V sit up forces your spine through repetitive flexion and extension, which over time can lead to injuries such as disc herniation.
The reason it’s not great for building muscle? Well, for starters it’s hard to maintain constant tension on the target muscle group through the entire rep, obviously not ideal when time under tension is key factor for muscle growth. The exercise also provides little resistance or overload to the muscle and it is very easy to use momentum to complete the exercise.
What to do instead?
When training your core look to incorporate exercise that focus on resisting movement rather than creating it. Exercises such as the Plank, Ab wheel roll-outs and Cable wood chops are great alternatives.
These exercises are ideal for creating and maintaining tension throughout the entire rep, helping you build a solid six pack whilst keeping your back and spine healthy.
3. Feet elevated bench press
The most popular piece of equipment on the gym floor – the Bench press is often the first exercise people go to when they want to build a big upper body but despite its popularity, it still seems people don’t know how to use it effectively to build the desired slabs of muscle.
Benching with your feet in the air is not only pretty stupid, as it increases the likelihood of you rolling off and having the barbell land on your head, but it’s also pretty pointless when the goal is to build muscle.
In order to bench press heavy, we need to generate force through our entire body and up into the bar and can you guess where this force production starts?
That’s right! at your feet.
Having our feet firmly planted on the floor not only lets us generate the required force but it also helps keep our body and core stable during the exercise.
What to do Instead?
This one’s simple.
Whether you’re doing bench press, close grip bench press, Incline dumbbell press or any other pressing variation, keep your feet on the floor and drive through your heels.
4. Wrist curls
You may have your sights set on a pair of pop-eye like forearms, and whilst a healthy dose of spinach may help, rolling your wrists up and down with a barbell in hand certainly won’t. It may come in handy if you’re a single guy with a long Valentines night ahead of you but when it comes to building the forearm muscles, its best to dump this exercise.
The reason this exercise is best avoided is because it will do little to nothing for your grip and therefore have no benefit to other, more worthwhile, forearm and grip dependant exercises. Basically, anything that requires you to hold heavy weights: think Deadlifts, Pull-ups and Bent over rows.
What to do Instead?
Well the three movements mentioned above would be a good place to start, but anything that requires you to grip a bar or handle and work against gravity is going to do the trick, my personal favourite is Farmers walks.
If you’re looking to target more of the upper arm at the same time, then the Hammer curl or Reverse grip barbell curl should be your go to’s here.
Note: When trying to build up your grip and forearms, avoid using straps for as long as possible. If you need some extra support opt for a good quality liquid chalk to help hold on for those extra few muscle building reps.
5. ANYTHING on a Bosu ball
For some reason unbeknown to mankind, Bosu balls are a real thing and have regrettably made their way onto the gym floor.
You may have seen online videos of people performing all sorts of weird and wonderful exercises on these unstable and unnecessary pieces of kit and whilst it may be good for getting likes and attention on social media, it’s going to do little for building muscle.
No matter what exercise is performed on the Bosu ball you can be guaranteed you’d be better of just doing it on the floor.
Performing exercises on the unstable surface only means having to use lighter weights, concentrate more on balance than form and increasing your chances of getting injured.
What to do instead?
Basically, whatever it is you’re contemplating doing on a Bosu Ball (or stability ball for that matter) just perform it as it was intended, on a flat and stable surface.
Building muscle comes down to good technique, creating tension and lifting weights heavy enough to elicit growth, none of which is possible is you resemble a car showroom Tube Man flapping about in the wind.
Stick To The Basics
The basics are the basics for a reason
When you’re on a quest to build muscle you want to get there the quickest way possible and to do that you need to do what works, not what is seen to be popular.
Focus on compound moves such as the Deadlift, Back Squat, Bench press (with your feet on the floor!) and Shoulder press.
Hit these movements week in week out and incorporate progressive overload as you go and you’ll be building muscle like nobody’s business.
These exercises may not be the most eye catching, but the gains you make most certainly will be.
Stand out from the crowd, go into the gym and do what you know is right, not what people assume is right, just because everyone else is doing it.
About the Author
Since leaving the PT world back in 2015, Matt Mearns has turned his hand to blogging and social media to do his bit on spreading the word on the benefits of lifting weights, and eating well for an improved lifestyle and mindset. Fuelled by an overly enthusiastic love of coffee, Matt’s goal is to “put common sense back into fitness.”