If you work out and lift weights regularly, you may have fallen into a regular routine that covers the same moves time and time again. While it’s good for the body to participate in anything that raises the heart rate in a healthful way, there are some workout moves that can be more beneficial and efficient than others, especially if you’re short on time.
To make your workout work its hardest and be truly effective, it can be helpful to include moves that cover multiple body parts, meaning you’ll get more bang for your buck. Sarah Pelc Graca, owner and weight loss coach at Strong with Sarah, says, “By using multiple body parts during a single movement, you are going to get stronger quicker and burn more calories in a shorter amount of time.”
If that’s an idea that appeals to you (working out less and getting more of it…sign us up!), read on for popular moves that aren’t all that effective, according to trainers, and ones they’re recommending as highly-effective alternatives.
1. Popular Move: Burpees
When it comes to burpees, Joey Thurman, CES CPT FNS, kuudose Celebrity Fitness & Health Expert, has this to say: “Can we stop with the madness of thinking that feeling like something is hard means it’s good for you?”
All that jumping, hitting the ground with a push-up, and popping back up is actually, according to Thurman, “one of the worst exercises in the world for most people and can do much more harm than good with terrible form, jumping up and down and are a recipe for disaster.”
Alternative Move: Mountain Climbers
Instead, try mountain climbers, which Thurman says works the core and will burn some fat with reduced risk of injury. He explains, “Simply go into a hand plank position with your hands under your shoulders, brace your abs, and bring one knee in toward your chest, pause, and switch legs.” He adds that this can be done at a slow tempo or for speed.
2. Popular Move: Crunches
You may have done crunches ever since your high school gym class, but as it turns out, they’re not as effective as you think.
“Oftentimes, people who want the coveted ‘six pack’ spend time each week doing hundreds of crunches,” Pelc Graca points out. “However, the repeated flexion motion of crunches can cause additional stress on your spine. In addition, crunches only work one part of your abdominal muscles, the rectus abdominis.”
Alternative Move: Planks
Want something even better for your abs? Turn to planks, which is one of the toughest, but most effective, core exercises around.
To do it, Pelc Graca advises getting into a prone position on the floor while supporting your weight on your toes and your hands or forearms. Arms are slightly bent and directly below the shoulder. Engage your abdominal and gluteal muscles. Keep your body straight at all times.
“Planks are effective because they utilize different parts of your core musculature, including the various abdominal muscles, the gluteal muscles, and the shoulder muscles,” she says.
3. Popular Move: Bicep Curls
When one envisions “pumping iron,” they’re likely picturing a super-muscular person doing bicep curls. But this move isn’t all it’s made out to be.
Alternative Move: Chin-Ups
“The alternative to a bicep curl is a chin-up because this is a full-body exercise that targets your biceps, all of your back muscles, spinal stabilizer and even your core,” Zocchi says. “In doing this exercise, you can see how this is recruiting more muscle groups than just the biceps. Because chin-ups are hard, if you are a beginner, use exercise bands to assist you as you’re starting out and then build from there. Even though you would be assisted in this exercise, you are still activating all the same muscles.”
4. Popular Move: Shoulder Presses
Thurman says that since most people have shoulder issues from things like texting regularly and sitting with bad posture, it can lead to tight pectoral muscles and stiff shoulders. Simply put: shoulder presses work on an area that’s already woefully overworked, according to Thurman.
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Alternative Move: Rows
As an alternative, Thurman suggests doing “rows of any kind,” which can include dumbbell rows, cable rows or suspension rows, which strengthen the back muscles and help your posture instead of making it worse.
“Grab a dumbbell and have one knee up on a bench with your free hand supporting yourself,” Thurman says. “Keep a flat back and think about providing stability through your core. Now with the hand on the dumbbell and facing you, pull the dumbbell up so that your elbow comes straight up in line with your torso—no need to go higher than the torso. Pause at the top, and control down.”
5. Popular Move: Tricep Kickbacks
As Pelc Graca says, tricep kickbacks “don’t give you much bang for your buck” since they only work one muscle in the body—the triceps.
“Plus, they can easily cause injuries due to the fact that they are challenging to execute with proper form,” she observes.
Alternative Move: Tricep Push-Ups
Pelc Graca lays out the steps to complete the move:
Lie on the floor face-down and place your hands closer than shoulder-width for a close hand position. Make sure that you are holding your torso up at arm’s length. Lower yourself until your chest almost touches the floor as you inhale. Using your triceps and some of your pectoral muscles, press your upper body back up to the starting position and squeeze your chest. Breathe out as you perform this step. After a second pause at the contracted position, repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
6. Popular Move: Leg Extensions
Another move that Zocchi says isn’t as efficient as other moves? Leg extensions. “You don’t recruit many muscles and your body doesn’t have to work as hard, meaning you won’t burn as much from doing isolated movements,” he says.
Alternative Move: Squats
“Instead of leg extensions, I would suggest doing squats,” Zocchi says. “You still target the quads but also activate the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. As bigger movements make the body recruit more muscles, you tap into how the body was designed to move and end up getting more out of your workout.”
For a squat, stand with your feet hip-width apart, keep your back straight, and slowly send your hips back while keeping your heels planted and your arms out in front of you.
7. Popular Move: Vertical Upright Row
“Vertical rows place your shoulder in internal rotation with added resistance, which can cause shoulder impingements or can additionally stress your rotator cuff,” Pelc Graca says.
Alternative Move: Dumbbell Overhead Press
To avoid that needless stress on your rotator cuff, look to the dumbbell overhead press. They’re more effective than vertical rows since they place your shoulder joint in a safer position from the beginning to the end of the movement, Pelc Graca says.
While holding a dumbbell in each hand, raise the dumbbells to shoulder height so that your arms form two 90-degree angles (like a football goal post). Make sure to rotate your wrists so that the palms of your hands are facing forward. This is your starting position. Now, exhale and push the dumbbells upward until they touch at the top. Then, after a brief pause at the top contracted position, slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position while inhaling.
- Sarah Pelc Graca, owner and weight loss coach at Strong with Sarah.
- Joey Thurman, CES CPT FNS, Celebrity Fitness & Health Expert at kuudose.
- Luke Zocchi, Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer and Head Trainer at Centr.