6 terrible exercises, according to science

6 terrible exercises, according to science

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SOME EXERCISES ARE tried-and-true winners, both from a functional standpoint—training movement patterns you use all the time—as well as in terms of muscle activation, as determined in studies like those done by the American Council on Exercise. Still, “fitness isn’t quite so black and white,” says Jessica Matthews, M.S., exercise science professor at Miramar College in San Diego, CA, and senior advisor for health and fitness education for ACE. “You can’t really say, ‘This exercise is horrible, never do it,’ or ‘This is the best to do ever.’” That said, when it comes to these six moves there are some good, science-backed reasons to reconsider them, or swap them out for something else.

1. The upright row

When it comes to evaluating any exercise, you first have to ask, “What do you expect to gain from this?” With the upright row, the intention is to train the shoulder muscles. Thing is, when ACE looked at popular moves to see which elicited the most muscle activation for the anterior, middle, and posterior delts, respectively, the upright row came in toward the bottom of the list. Not only that, the position it puts the shoulders and arms in—protracted and internally rotated—can create the risk of shoulder impingement, says Matthews.

Instead: Best to stick to exercises such as the shoulder press and incline row.

2. The legs press

Here’s a case where the move isn’t inherently bad, but it doesn’t necessarily do what you think it does. If your goal is to tax the quads, the legs press might have a place in your program. But if you think you’re working your glutes as well, think again. “Both the horizontal and vertical legs press fared pretty poorly compared to squats, lunges, and stepups for the glutes, in the ACE studies,” Matthews says. The seated body position prevents the hips from fully extending at the top of the movement, leaving the glutes largely left out.

Instead: Opt for squats, lunges, and stepups.