Who wants to spend extra time at the gym? If you’re like most of us, you want to get in, get maximum results and get back to the rest of the things on your ‘to-do’ list. The health sciences are constantly evolving and while some things never change, there are some workouts that long ago proved to be not worth the effort. Some of these are such a staple of the fitness world, however, that they hold a steadfast claim on our routines for better or worse.
So here’s a list of five common workout components that are doing absolutely nothing for you—plus an exercise tutorial for what to do instead.
1. Sit-ups and crunches.
Sad news: no matter which way you bend, sit-ups and crunches won’t make a dent in your spare tire. People are often surprised to hear this, because it seems efficient to zero in on the area you want to tone. But compared with total body exercises that engage your entire core, crunches and sit-ups do little to define your midsection. And they do nothing to whittle away the fat, which is key to seeing that hard-won definition. There are tons of workouts that burn more fat much more efficiently.
2. Bicep curls.
Just like sit-ups and crunches, bicep curls are the scenic route to getting in shape. In the time it would take you to do 100 bicep curls, you can do 25 compound movements—say, deadlifts to bicep curls to an overhead press—and get twice the results. Not only are compound arm exercises an efficient way to beef up your biceps, but they’ll also work the surrounding muscle groups to keep you balanced (and keep your figure proportionate).
3. Lifting with Barbie weights.
Stoked that you can do 20 reps without breaking a sweat? Well, you shouldn’t be. If you aren’t lifting heavy enough to exhaust your muscles in two sets of 12-15 reps, you’re not making strides in the weight room. Women often pluck up 5-8lb weights to tone their back, arms and abs, and don’t realize that heavier weights (10lb and up) and bodyweight resistance exercises (pushups, pull-ups) will tone the muscles much quicker. Lifting heavier also builds more lean muscle mass, which helps the body burn fat. Next time you do chest presses, bent over rows or side rows, challenge yourself, even if you can only do a few reps. Trust us: you won’t bulk up from lifting heavy once a week.
4. Steady-state cardio.
Talk about walking for an hour and going nowhere—stationary machines like treadmills and ellipticals rarely produce results. While they do have options to vary your pace and resistance, most people push the ‘on’ button and tune out. Meanwhile, because the body adapts to a steady pace quickly, it tunes out too, and fat burning slows to a crawl. While a laid-back jaunt around the block is great for a ‘rest’ day, stick to interval workouts at the gym. Zumba, power yoga, P90X, tennis—even choosing a challenging terrain and varying your pace on your run or bike—are great ways to keep your body off balance and engaged in the workout.
5. Last month’s workout.
Even the best workout regimens stop working. The body is so efficient that it’s constantly adapting, and not only do you need to vary pace and intensity, but you need to completely change the type of activity from time to time in order to stay out of the comfort zone. There’s no fixed timeline for when it’s time to do something new. Some people change it up every 4 weeks, but here’s a better gauge: if it’s starting to get easy or comfortable, ramp it up or move on. If a trainer designed a program from you and you’re sticking to it because you don’t know what else to do, we’ve got lots of workout ideas on our blog, and don’t hesitate to ask us for tips!