We are at the very pinnacle of the fitness industry. The last decade has been flourishing with development, innovative training methodologies and the passion for what’s taking place in the health and wellness field is nothing short of splendid. However, this rapid growth has brought too many exercises and practices to the forefront that receive much more praise than they’re worth. All of the following exercises mentioned in this article are still great exercises for the fitness enthusiast. There are better choices, though.
TRX: I first used a TRX at the National Strength and Conditioning Associations headquarters back in 2007. I was amazed with its ability to help people learn one-legged squats, rowing and pushup variations, and endless core exercises. Even though the TRX allows the trainee a unique stimulus, it isn’t the end-all-be-all that some have made it out to be.
The majority of trainees rely too heavily on the handles for one-legged squats or elevate their upper body too much during pushups negating the benefits of suspension training in the first place.
Alternatives: For pushups, master the traditional pushup for several repetitions beforehand. The next progression is to try pushups wrapping a monster band (looks like an extremely large rubber band) across your mid-back holding the ends in your hands. With a heavy enough band, this becomes much more difficult than any pushup variation with a TRX.
Perform one-legged squats without the assistance of holding onto the TRX straps. If unassisted one-legged squats are too difficult, use an elevated bench or stool to squat down to. Decrease the height of the bench until it is low enough that you no longer need a crutch such as a TRX or bench at all.
Barbell back squats: I am a big advocate for barbell training, and I love the barbell back squat for the right applications. However, too many trainers are touting this lift as the “king.” Even though it is hard pressed to find a better mass building, athletic powerhouse of an exercise, how convenient is it for most exercisers to put a heavy bar on their back and squat deeply? This move is rather technical, can put undue stress on your back when performed incorrectly and requires a spotter.
Alternative: The Zercher squat. Take a loaded barbell racked at belly button height. Situate the barbell in the crux of your elbows. Brace your forearms against your chest as hard as possible. Unrack the weight, get as tight as possible and commence squatting. You don’t need a spotter and the barbell system operates through a shorter lever arm in relation to the core body sparing your spine and knees. If the bar hurts your elbows, wrap a towel around it or use the bar pad (most gyms have one) that goes around the bar in the first place.
Planks: Scratch that — most core exercises. There is a very important time and place in the trainee’s quest for fitness to specifically target the core muscles for rehab, injury prevention and to develop the proper torso stiffness to transfer ground reaction forces. Even for the advanced lifter, core exercises are great for warm-ups, cool-downs and compliment bigger end range goals such as working up to a monster set of pull-ups or deadlifts. But as a cornerstone for a training program? As Pavel Tsatsouline stated, “Stop majoring in the minors.”
Concept II Rower: Although this killer machine will flat-out smoke the heartiest fitness enthusiast, it leaves a lot to be desired. I used the rowing machine years ago when I practiced Crossfit. The problem with the rowing machine is that it can cause significant shear on the spine due to the unavoidable repeated lumbar spine flexion. Also, unless you are a competitive rower, what carryover does it really have to other functions in life and sport? It is a great way to burn off energy and breathe really hard nonetheless. Alternative: Running is a great work capacity builder — you don’t need equipment, can do it anywhere, anytime and it is the quintessential athletic movement that is prevalent in so many arenas of sport.
Bosu exercises: Anything performed on an unstable surface is an interesting concept. Why would you perform any exercise on an unstable surface when you cannot even perform it correctly on a stable surface? Unstable devices also limit force production because of the instability. They are good at promoting good balance techniques, coordination and core strength, but they must be used in context with more comprehensive strength training.
I am not suggesting that if you use these exercises that you are uninformed, unfit or otherwise foolish for doing so. You are not a bad trainer if you use these for your clients. From my experience, however, these exercises have more limitations that outweigh the benefits they provide.
Stay tuned; in next week’s discussion I will talk in detail about underrated movements and exercises that garner considerable appreciation and why they rightfully should.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, an athlete consulting and personal training company. Richards’ passion comes from overcoming childhood obesity and a T1-L3 spinal fusion. Contact him at r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.