Let's be real: It takes willpower to haul your butt to the gym, so when you get there, you want to make the most of your time instead of wasting it on ineffective exercises. When you feel like you're putting a lot of work in and not seeing results, it becomes oh-so-easy to skip your sweat session for happy hour or a date with the DVR. That’s why we enlisted the help of strength and conditioning expert Kori Lyn Angers, BS Exercise Science, CSCS, USAW, FMS, and fitness education coordinator at Equinox gyms, to give you the scoop on the unproductive workout moves that are wasting your precious gym time—and what to swap them for to see better results.
Keep reading to see the four gym moves that are wasting your time.
For toned legs, the leg extension machine is the last one you should head to. "This is the most dangerous machine in the gym," Angers says. It puts too much force on your patella (kneecap) and patellar tendon. She notes that leg extensions mainly work your quads, leaving your glutes and hamstrings turned off—more bad news for your knees. Plus, she says most people are "quad dominant," meaning the quads are already stronger than the muscles around them. "This makes it one of the last muscles you want to single out in an exercise program."
Squats, box step-ups, or Bulgarian split squats are bigger, better, calorie-torching movements that involve the whole leg. "When all these muscles are firing, they balance the leg naturally," she says. "These movements are safer and way more effective than leg extensions." (Click here for a video on how to do a squat correctly.)
We hate to break it to you, but if you think you're going to get Gwen Stefani abs by doing hundreds of crunches a day, you're not only going to have a tough time getting there, you're also putting yourself at risk. "Crunches (or any kind of repeated spinal flexion) can be dangerous," Angers says. That's because, contrary to popular belief, the abs’ main purpose is to help us walk upright, not to actually flex the spine. "Think of your spine like a credit card: If you keep flexing it back and forth, it eventually bends and then breaks," she says. "This is what happens when you do crunches all the time."
Don't believe her? She says to try this experiment while you're standing: Flex your spine as if you were doing a crunch and feel your abs. Next, lean backwards from your hips and feel your abs again. In which position did your abs feel firmer? (Correct answer: while extending.) "Moral of the story: Your abs fire automatically when you hyperextend to keep you upright and stable," she says.
Planks and side planks "train spinal stability," resulting in stronger abs. Because you're using more muscles than when you do crunches, Angers promises "hard, sexy, functional abs in no time!" NikeWomen shows you how to do a side plank correctly here.
Yes, it's time to quit the machine you've spent countless hours on while watching Food Network reruns. Angers says this machine "should be reserved for extreme rehab situations and hangovers only."
While it's true elliptical machines have little to no impact on your joints, they force you into a movement that's "unnatural." "Your limbs are hanging in space and forced to follow the prescribed arc of the machine, which can create or exacerbate orthopedic issues," she says. Plus, since elliptical machines move off of momentum, the machine is often doing most of the work for you (even if the setting is on high). "The truth is you need some form of impact, no matter how small, to get the bone-building benefits of exercise and maximal calorie burn," Angers says.
Ditch the elliptical for walking at an incline on a treadmill, or try using the step mill (just be sure to not to lean on the console for either—that's cheating your workout). Angers says you can also take a spin on an upright bicycle (think spin class-style, not the kind where you lean back in the seat). "All of these activities rely on natural human movement, use balanced muscle firing to protect the joints, are low-impact, and can still kick your butt," Angers says.
Many women flock to this awkward machine because it promises to tone inner and outer thighs into Beyonce-like perfection. But, like leg extensions, Angers says these aren't effective because you're only working a single joint, and your glutes and supporting muscles aren't engaged. This creates imbalances that can affect your hip and spine, she says. Not to mention, if it's a lean leg you're after, she says this exercise can cause aesthetic imbalances as well: "They will cause your inner and outer thigh to bulk up, and if you still have excessive fat deposits in that area, the newly built muscle will make it bulge more."
Lateral lunges, split squats, lateral step-ups, curtsey lunges, and single-leg deadlifts are all much better options for sculpting your legs, because your inner and outer thighs are working together. "When doing the above activities, all of the muscles in the leg will tighten around the joints to stabilize them, reducing the circumference from all sides—therefore making the leg look smaller," Angers says. "As an added bonus, you are now involving the core, getting a higher heart rate than sitting on a machine, and burning a ton more calories!"
Not sure how to do a single-leg deadlift? This video will show you how.
Are you shocked at the exercises that made the list? Will you be changing your gym-going habits? Let us know in the comments!