In bodybuilding there really are no “bad” exercises if executed properly. However, there are certainly some exercises that are overrated. Beware, because saying some of these exercises are overrated is going against the gospel preached by many great bodybuilders. But the truth is these movements may be more likely to lead to a breakdown in form and can result in injury while some are simply not nearly as effective or essential as many hold them to be. Most of these are likely even a staple of your routine, so we’ll provide a superior substitute to replace it with in order to get the most out of your training.
Chest- Dumbbell Flyes
That’s right ,we are going to call the favorite chest exercise of the greatest bodybuilder ever overrated. Arnold loved flyes and he would perform them by going extremely deep and then move the weights as if he were trying to bear hug a tree. He stopped before bringing the weights all the way together because he felt better activation from his pecs. The reason he felt better doing this partial range is because the resistance curve of a flye breaks down at the top.
When doing a flye motion there is no tension at the end range if using dumbbells. Also when you think about the main functions of the pecs, which are flexion, adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder the dumbbell flye is not particularly good at any of these. You get some flexion but a simple chest press is a better option for that. There’s no internal rotation so most people who do flyes are looking to isolate their pecs through adduction, but the delts and biceps get too involved for it to be effective.
Replace With: Cable Adduction Fly with Internal Rotation
If you truly want to isolate your pecs there may be no better move than this. You will get a much deeper range of motion and more activation vs the dumbbell flye. Set up high on a cable pulley. Grab the handles to the side with palms facing down at about ear level. Bring your arms to your sides and start internally rotating your shoulder by turning the thumbs in towards each other as you cross the cables in front of you as close as possible to your body. This will minimize shoulder involvement.
Triceps- Single Dumbbell French Press
This is one of the most commonly butchered exercises at the gym. Traps become over-involved and there is additional stress on the elbows because the palms are facing up and on top of each other while the weight is being lowered. It is an unnatural position that does not allow for a very large range of motion and most people feel much more comfortable if they can use a neutral grip.
Replace With: Rope Cable French Press
Using the rope will allow you keep tension on the long head of the triceps and prevent unnecessary shearing forces from hurting the elbows. Set up a seat with back support facing away from a cable. Grab a rope from a low pulley and start from the bottom. Palms should start out facing each other and can rotate up to the ceiling. Make sure shoulders are not elevated and raise the rope while keeping the elbows from flaring out excessively.
Biceps- Barbell Curls
Barbell curls are overrated as a mass builder; you are better off doing chin ups for size. Using a barbell for doing an upright curl movement is less optimal than dumbbells or cables because your range of motion is shortened. You can’t lengthen your arms with your elbows beneath your shoulders because you legs get in the way. Also you get the same resistance curve problem with barbell curls that you get with dumbbell flyes.
Replace With: One Arm Cable Curl
This is the best option to get the most out of a curl movement. Stand slightly in front of a low cable setup. Grip the handle with your elbow positioned behind the shoulder a palm facing up. Curl up the weight, allowing the elbow to move forward a couple inches in the process. This curl variation will effectively target both the long and short head of the biceps.
Hamstrings- Lying Leg Curl
The lying leg curl is many people’s favorite version of this exercise but it also the easiest to cheat with. It is very common for this movement to become a back exercise instead of a hamstring one. If your hip tilts forward as you initiate your lift it means your back is likely the prime mover. Even if you begin with minimal involvement low back extensors will start to kick in as you become fatigued. Try having someone push down on your tailbone to prevent your hips from helping next time you do a lying leg curl. It will become exponentially tougher without the help from your low back
Replace With: Glute Ham Raise
Many gyms have a setup for this but if they don’t you can usually rig one or just have a partner hold your feet in place. The benefit of the GHR vs the lying leg curl is that the hips are in full extension during a GHR. This keeps constant tension and provides the largest contraction possible. Contract your hamstrings hard to bring your body up keeping your hips in 180 degree extension over the course of the whole movement.
Okay, just give me a second to explain here. I know this goes against much of what you’ve been told but the truth is you don’t need to squat to build massive quads. In fact if big quads are your goal then squats may be better off left out. See while squats are a good exercise to learn as beginner, they lose some of their benefits as your become a more advanced lifter. They will teach you motor skills and help improve the endurance of your CNS while providing some nice gains in the beginning.
As you continue to increase in strength you will see that the quads can handle more of a load than the supporting system. Your core and spinal stabilizers start to get more of a workout and once you are squatting 4+ plates that’s a lot of spinal compression. Plus squats really put more of an emphasis on hips and butt if you are doing them with a full range of motion. But maybe you’re asking yourself “what about all the hormonal benefits of squats?”
You have probably heard that squats increase your body’s production of testosterone and growth hormone. Here’s the truth: intense workouts are going to boost your testosterone and growth hormone, it doesn’t have to be a squat. Leg presses would do the same thing with enough intensity. Besides things like getting the proper sleep, nutrition, and supplementation are going to boost your testosterone regardless of if you squat or not.
Replace With: Hack Squats
Hack squats will keep the emphasis on your quads while allowing you to go heavy and minimizing the injury risk associated with heavy squats. Make sure to keep the weight on the outside of your feet and that the knees do not travel far in front of the toes.
Back- Barbell Rows
Here’s another exercises often claimed as essential to mass building. But honestly you need to have one hell of a strong lumbo-pelvic hip complex to maintain the hinged position while rowing with heavy weight. Most people will experience fatigue in their forearms or low back before their pulling muscles.
Replace With: T-bar Rows
By using a t-bar setup you now have support that will keep you from wasting precious energy stabilizing yourself. Most t-bars also give you the option to use multiple grip positions as opposed to the pronated grip required when using a straight bar.
Shoulders- Barbell Upright Row
Shoulder injuries are the most common type to occur in the gym and the barbell upright row is responsible for many of them. Lifting up the arms while in internal rotation creates an impingement on many people and when repeated over time can cause damage to the rotator cuff if done recklessly.
Replace With: Dumbbell Upright Row with External Rotation
In order to get the benefits of the upright row without the risk of injury it just takes a minor tweak. First, instead of using a barbell, use two dumbbells. Start the motion the same as an upright row but as you bring your arms up, let your shoulders externally rotate by bringing the fists backwards at the end of the motion. This will prevent impingement while still targeting the front and medial head.
This is pretty much the only exercise that comes to mind for most when thinking about how to target the trap muscles. Unfortunately shrugs only emphasize the upper muscle fibers which are typically already overactive and tight in most people. If you wanna build meaty cobra traps you need to target all three sections of the trapezius.
Replace With: Trap Raises
The trap raise targets the upper, middle, and lower sections of the traps. The lower section is often completely ignored and underdeveloped which leads to many postural and movement dysfunctions. Lie on a low-incline bench and grab a pair of light dumbbells. With your hands facing each other at placed at about 10 and 2 o’clock, raise the weights to the ceiling with the thumbs facing up.
Abs- Decline Sit Ups
Any situp is bad, but decline situps are the biggest waste of time when trying to develop your six pack. They only target one section of your abs while overly involving your hip and back flexors. Many people have created or worsened back or neck problems because of situps. While the other exercises on this list can be safely implemented by most, this one should just be canned for good.
Replace With: Stability Ball Crunch
This is superior to a decline situp for a couple reasons. First, it allows you to start from a more neutral spinal position. When on a ball your hips are able to tilt more anteriorly as opposed to when on a flat surface. This will allow a greater involvement from the transverse abdominis which will partner with the rectus abdominis to bring your torso straight up. Don’t round the back or come forward. It also prevents you from using hip flexors to help which are likely already tight and overactive.
Give these movements a chance to replace some of the classics, but the important thing to remember is that while some exercises may be slightly more efficient than others, it’s the mind muscle connection you form and the intensity with which you work out that will help you grow the most. Taking Sheer Platinum Pre-X will help you to bring that intensity level up another notch in the gym. Also, even the best exercises lose their effectiveness over time so make sure to cycle through different exercises to prevent plateaus. Now that your entire workout paradigm has been shifted, implement some of these exercises into your program and let us know how it works for you!