The Most Overrated Exercises, According to Trainers


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We are constantly wondering: How to get the most bang for our buck. In other words, how much an exercise benefits our overall health. Which means we could, conversely, determine which exercises might be overrated, offering little in return for our efforts — or even being risky to our overall health. As Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons, points out, “Almost all exercises and workouts have a place in a balanced, well-designed training plan. What often gets lost in translation, though, is the balance. For example, squats are a great exercise, but only when done properly and appropriately.”

Still, we surveyed a few trainers for the exercises they feel are the most overrated. It turns out burpees, kettlebell swings and situps are especially unpopular with the training set. Think of this as what happens when trainers stop being polite and start getting real. “I might get pushback for my thoughts, but they are coming from a high-performance training stance and 33 years of practical experience,” admits Rich Hesketh, athletic development coach at DECAMAN Athletics.


“Burpees are a lazy way of beating down a client — and they’re often not coached right. It’s not guided workouts by a coach, it’s encouraged workouts with a cheerleader. Bring back real coaching, and bring back people who know their clients and really listen. Give them what they want while infusing what they need. My mentor Chris Frankel says this: ‘It’s not what you know that makes you valuable to your clients, it’s what you can coach.’”
– Marc Coronel, owner of Open Mind Fitness and master instructor for Trigger Point

“Burpees. Burpees are hard. But then again, so is shoveling the driveway or chopping down a tree if you push it hard enough. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s effective. I guess those who ‘hate’ doing burpees won’t be upset about my choice, but I would rather see an exercise or drill that simulates real-life or sport/athletic movements as long as it doesn’t compromise safe training and posture. At the end of the day anyone can work someone really hard. The real test is if those training programs produce high-performance results that are injury-free.”
– Hesketh

Seated leg extension

“What makes the leg extension machine a potential hazard? Because the load is on the far end of the leg near the ankles, it places a tremendous amount of torque on the knee, which can potentially cause injury to ligaments and cartilage in the knee.

“Instead, strengthen the quadriceps with squats. Not only do squats target the four muscles of the quadriceps safely and effectively, they recruit even more leg and core musculature than leg extensions. This aids in proper coordination and functional movement to protect the knees and hips for the long run. Plus, adding the double hip extension also works the glutes.”
– Shana Verstegen, fitness director at Supreme Health and Fitness


“Situps can place large amounts of stress on the lower spine and neck and do not target the deep abdominal muscles such as the transverse abdominis. In a study published in 1995, Stuart McGill, professor of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, found that bent- and straight-leg situps placed more than 674 pounds of strain on the lower spine, which can lead to herniated discs and nerve damage. McGill identified three exercises (known as the ‘Big Three’) that focus on core strength and stability, while putting a minimal load on the spine.

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