Some Exercises are Just a Waste of Time

I try not to let things that bother me get to me.  In fact, for the most part I try to keep completely ambivalent about what other people are doing when those things would otherwise fire me up.  But at the gym, it’s a different story.  I’m not sure if it’s due to a chemical change around my brain from heavy weight lifting or if it’s maybe the confined spaces that the gym often presents, but I get my gitch all in a knot when I see someone exercising in a way that, IMHO, is a waste of time.

I am aware of the consequences, of course, for expressing my frustration to another individual - that he or she is spending their time at the gym wastefully.  Not everyone who does this is a skinny, off the bus freshman.  There are times when I watch an obviously serious muscle-head doing something that baffles my mind.  But let’s just say that I know how to pick my battles.

And I don’t only see in-gym time wasting by members.  Amazingly enough, these things happen quite often with an assumingly well equipped and experienced trainer at their side.  Good grief!  It’s no wonder why so many people get discouraged by their efforts. Yes, ladies and gents - it’s likely because what they are doing at the gym is simply wasting their time.

So which exercises cause my stomach to turn inside out?  Here are three exercises that I commonly see at the gym that are more or less completely worthless.

  1. Wrist Curls.  For the overwhelming majority of people, wrist curls are worthless.  Are you a professional arm wrestler?  Do you need to hold a dozen full beer steins in one hand?  Yes?  I’d first argue that you’d be better off with another exercise anyway, but it’s likely not the case, If you’re focus is in gaining overall mass, losing weight, getting ripped, etc… then spending 10 minutes of your precious hour at the gym on this is foolish.  Pullups, presses, cleans, kettle bell exercises - these are all things that provide a far more effective workout for a larger number of muscles, have significant;y more movement involved and also effect the same muscle groups,   I have never done a wrist curl in my life and when I setup in a false grip for a muscle-up, my forearms explode.
  2. Behind the back… anything.  I see people occasionally doing behind the back wrist curls or what I could possibly compare to deadlifts.  And I’m dumbfounded.  The same reasoning applies as in #1 above, but with the addition of even more criticism.  When holding a barbell behind the back, your body will get into an entirely funkified position - poor posture, inappropriate stress on some joints, and the amount of possible movement for a behind the back exercise is significantly diffused.  For those of you thinking you’re stepping it up a notch by performing your <insert exercise here> behind the back, just a heads up that there are probably some other people at the gym watching you and thinking, WTF?  Is there a substitute for a behind the back exercise?  Yes - and that is virtually anything else, including drinking beer.
  3. Shoulder shrugs.  Again - we’re looking at a very isolated, muscle specific exercise here.  If you’re doing shoulder shrugs, then I’m assuming you are a professional body builder, have completed every other exercise out there, it’s been a solid 4 hour workout and you have some extra time to kill.  If that category does not apply to you then here are some suggested substitutes: high pulls and cleans.  Those two exercises not only work the same muscles as the shoulder shrug, they require huge movement which works your entire body and provide some excellent cardiovascular stress at the same time.

The three above mentioned exercises all have the same thing in common - they are localized exercises and target very specific muscle groups.  The movement involved is minimal and the same muscle groups can be as effectively worked out during more compound exercises.

My take is simple - if an exercise involves a limited movement, constrained by body position or lack of leverage, it likely isn’t an exercise worth your time.  Concentrate on more compound exercises.  Not only will you see better results, but you will cut down the time it requires to get in a good workout.