6 unnecessary popular exercises

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6 unnecessary popular exercises

If you follow my site you know that I believe there are 5 essential exercises you should be doing, no matter what your goal is, and you can find them here:

Related article: the 5 core exercises

On the other side of the coin I’ve been asked what I think are the least useful and unnecessary exercises.  Well, there are a lot, especially because new ones are being invented all the time by the fitness propaganda machine in search of more profits, but I’ve picked 6 of the most common ones below.

What do I mean by unnecessary?

It means that if you’re doing the 5 key lifts listed above the exercises below are essentially time-wasting, because doing them will not make any real difference to your results.

How do I know?

a) I’ve done them all religiously and with a lot of effort in the past.  Since I stopped there has been no difference.

b) I see and have observed a lot of people in a lot of gyms doing them for a long time, without making any development.

All of the exercises below will give you a ‘burn’ or a ‘pump’, but that’s not actually the barometer of whether it is actually beneficial in terms of building muscle, which is what lifting weights is all about (not toning, since you can’t tone a muscle)

99% of people you see in the gym will be doing one or all of these exercises.  It’s because contrary to people like me the fitness propaganda machine is considerably older, infinitely more resourced and therefore more persuasive than I am.

It doesn’t make them right.  For my part the information below has been hard-won from long experience and making mistakes: you can have it for free.

1) Lateral and Frontal Raises

I know: you read about the value of these in a ‘how to get capped boulder shoulders’ routine on bodybuilding.com.  Or you watched some celebrity workout video that told you these would ‘zone and tone’ the shoulder area.

They make sense, in that you can SEE the muscle working.  And they’re quite hard to do strict.  And they give you that Facebook status worthy burn.

However the truth is you are much better off sticking to doing presses for development, for the simple fact that you can use considerably more weight which will provide considerably more stimulus and therefore growth.

lateral raises

The lateral raise- you don’t need it. Photo credit: besttoneup.com

When it comes to the shoulder area in particular it’s important not to base your expectations on what you see in the magazines, simply because the shoulder area, along with the trapezius muscle (the triangle-shaped one at the base of your neck) is one of the best responding areas to steroids.

So natural people just simply can’t get ‘boulder-shoulders’, no matter how many lateral raises or presses you do.

The high mobility of the shoulder is both its strength and weakness, therefore you need to be careful with it.  Stick to the best-value and most effective exercise, the overhead barbell or dumbbell press and leave the raises out of it altogether.

2) Calf raises

As I say all the time, the one true determinant to how far you get in training is your genetics.  Everyone has physical genetic strengths and weaknesses, and the calf is maybe at the top of the list when it comes to genetic influence.

Basically if you see someone at the gym with huge calves, I pretty much guarantee he (or she) has never really trained them, they are just like that.

Muscles Used in the Stair Calf Raise Exercise:

The calf raise. Photo credit: directlyfitness.com

My brother is a bit taller than me, (about 5′ 11′), 70 kgs (about 15 kgs lighter than me) and an ultra-marathon runner who is actively trying to drop muscle weight by not doing any weight training at all.

His calves are still bigger than mine (and mine are not small). 

My brother's never trained calves in his life

My brother’s never trained calves in his life

That’s the power of genetics.  Skip the calf raises.  Unless you’re doing a bodybuilding show, who cares anyway?

3) Forearm curls

See above for calves, it’s the same principle.  Stick to pull-ups and heavy deadlifts to improve your grip which will in turn develop your forearms (grip strength = forearm strength).

For more detail on calves and forearms see the article below.

Related article: The hardest muscles to train

4) Dumbbell chest flys

I know: you’ve seen the Pumping Iron clip where Arnold squeezes out heavy dumbbell flys.  And I’m about to say they’re useless?!

Ok they’re not useless but you definitely don’t need to do them, and definitely NOT heavy.  They actually put a lot of strain on the small muscles of your shoulder, and your rotator cuff ligaments which for the value they add, is not worth it.

Again they used to be something I did all the time.  Every bodybuilding or fitness magazine has them there for a chest workout.

But like the lateral raises for shoulders, you’re better off just getting good at pressing and saving your shoulders. 

Since I stopped doing them about a year ago there has been no change to my chest size or strength, and my shoulders feel better.

5) Bicep curls and triceps pushdowns

Wait, so I’m saying that THE exercise, the one that gets you out of bed to do, the one that made Arnold famous, the one area that has more ink and online space devoted to it than any other, the one that you started all this training malarky for is USELESS?

Basically, yes.

DSC_0291 (3)

Arms are built through lifting heavy, not isolation curls

Isolation exercises for arms are unnecessary, because you actually develop muscles more fully by doing the big compound movements that allow you to put a lot more stress on those muscles because you can use more weight.

If you’re doing strict pull/chin-ups or bent over rows you’re using often 100%+ bodyweight.  Compare this to bicep curling a 15kg dumbbell which might be less than 20% of your bodyweight.

The best triceps development comes from doing stuff like bench press, dips and shoulder pressing where again you can be using 100%+ of your bodyweight.  Triceps pushdowns?  Less than half of that, depending how strong you are.

More force applied to the muscle = more development to its potential.

So why are there so many different isolation exercises for arms if all your need is some heavy compound movements?  I hope I’m not getting boring by now, but it’s because MONEY.

As long as people remain naive about the prevalence of drug use in the fitness industry they’ll always be looking to buy the next routine or ‘secret’ to big arms when they don’t get the results of these drugged-up so-called natural models and poster boys.

Sure you can sell a bunch of cheese production by-product (otherwise known as whey protein powder or as the industry likes to call it ‘the new atomic bomb anabolic secret that works like steroids’) but why not also make some more money and support the lie by showing the seven different angles you can work your biceps?

If you just want to get a pump, go crazy.  Just remember that the real work and results for your arms gets done on the pull-up bar or the bench press.

6) Sit-ups

I honestly think sit-ups may be the most over-exposed, over-rated exercise of all-time.  They deserve a full article which you can find below.

Related article: How many sit-ups should I do to lose fat around my waist?

Obviously, there’s nothing stopping you doing all of the above; it won’t hurt you.

But we want to get to our goals FAST.  The FASTEST route is by ignoring the above and doing, and getting good at, the 5 core exercises.

It’s as simple as that. 


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