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Diakadi Fitness Tips: Seven Deadly Gym Sins (and What to Do Instead)

By Billy Polson

In my last article I told you about the 12 things you should add to your workout routine to maximize its effectiveness. But to make your workouts all they can be, you also need to remove any inefficient, counterproductive, or dangerous exercises and activities you may be doing. Below I have listed seven of the most common gym activities that I feel should be removed from every workout routine, as well as my advice on how to replace them.

1. Reduced-Range Abdominal Work on Floor or with Abs Roller Machines
Your spine has a wide range of motion in both flexion (forward bending) and in extension (backwards arching). But when you do upper abdominal or oblique work on the floor, or situps using the flat bench-style abs roller machines, you are working your abs only in flexion. The floor and the machine both prevent you from training in extension. This amounts to a reduced range of motion that actually shortens the abs and makes you hold a hunched over posture. Of course, that's the opposite of what you want—you work your abdominals, after all, so that your stomach will be flatter, and it won't be if you're slumping forward all the time. To get a much better abdominal workout, get up off the floor and lie on a stability ball for a full range of motion for upper abs or obliques. Try stability ball center and oblique situps, or, for an even more intense challenge, medicine ball situps on a stability ball.

2. Shoulder Shrugs
Guys love their shoulder shrugs. But I have worked with multiple physical therapists and chiropractors who all agree that shrugs are one of the worst movements a bodybuilder can do for his or her neck. Your shoulders are a delicate balance of multiple muscles that work in tandem to stabilize each other. But shrugs throw an imbalance of tension into your neck and upper trapezius muscles, putting you at serious risk for injury. Instead, try working your upper trapezius as part of a program to train the shoulder as a whole. Replace your shrugs with full-extension dumbbell shoulder presses, handstand push-ups, dumbbell lateral raises, and reverse dumbbell flys on an incline bench. Each of these will help functionally strengthen the compound movement of your shoulders without over-stressing your neck and upper traps.

3. Leg Work on Machines
Your legs are designed to support your entire body weight in coordination with stabilization from your core, hips, and spine. Every time you sit down in a leg press machine you strengthen only the large muscles in the legs—the core, spine, and hips are completely left out. Keep that up for very long and you will start to lose overall strength. If you work your legs only on machines, you are also only doing isolated muscle work—which doesn't help your body learn to use your leg muscles in a coordinated fashion. That will mean that, though you may have big leg muscles, you won't actually be able to use them very effectively in life. Instead of the machines, do compound standing leg work, such as barbell squats, drop-down lunges, barbell Russian dead lifts, and BOSU balancing exercises. Even if you have to work with less weight, in the long run you will make your legs and body much stronger as a unit.

4. Chest Work without Shoulder Stabilization
Push-ups and chest presses are intended to work your pecs primarily. Unfortunately, I find that the majority of my clients rely too heavily on their front deltoids for these exercises. It's hard to keep your shoulders retracted when doing push-ups and bench presses—and when your shoulders round forward, your chest will turn off at the top of each flexion. That leaves your deltoids to support your weight and degree of flexion. To keep that shoulder retraction and get the most out of your push-ups and chest presses, you need to strengthen the muscles that allow you to stabilize your shoulders in retraction. Working your rear deltoids through exercises like reverse flys is the best way to strengthen these retraction muscles.

5. More Push Movements than Pull Movements
Many men focus too much on working their "push" muscles. That's no surprise, since these are the muscles you can see on the front of your body—your pecs, for instance. But half the time people see you walking away—and you don't want to neglect the big "pull" muscles of your back. Bear in mind that, if you spend most of your day sitting at a computer in a forward, rounded position, you will have even tighter pecs and deltoids than you would otherwise. You'll need to work even harder to correct that posture by working on your back. Think of your "pull" work as counteracting the negative effects of the day. So, depending on how tight your chest and shoulders are and how poor your forward posture is, you should do at least as much pull work as push work in your program. And, if you are extremely tight in the chest and front of the shoulders, and have forward posture, you should do two days of pull work for every day of push work.

6. Steady Pace Cardio
The body will quickly adapt to your workout program, so the more you can mix up your workout styles and exercises, the better. Many people work on this in their lifting programs8212;but it applies to your cardio as well. If you do the same, medium-pace cardio workouts every day, your body's muscular and nervous systems will get zero new stimulation with each workout. That seriously limits the positive effects from your hard work. To change things up, mix in a week of speed intervals (three minutes at a steady pace followed by a one-minute sprint) or incline variations at least once every four weeks.

7. Seated Upper Body Exercises without Using Core and Lower Body Stabilizers
Just as the leg machines isolate your leg muscles in a way that won't help you much in real life, ask yourself how often you need upper body strength from a seated position? For example, very few sports have you sitting down as you dig into your upper body push. (Guys who drive race cars or jump horses, you get an exception here.) Outside of the gym, the times you will really need your upper body strength will involve yard work, snow shoveling, furniture moving—all things you will most likely do from a standing position. So, in order to fully strengthen the muscles of your upper body, do your arm and shoulder work from standing positions. This will let you get some crucial core and spine stabilization work even as you hit the "pretty" muscles in your arms and shoulders. That means standing bicep curls, standing cable chest flys, and standing dumbbell shoulder presses, among others.

About Diakadi Fitness Tips: Diakadi Fitness Tips is a series of weekly features and interviews with Billy Polson and Mike Clausen, founders of the award-winning Diakadi Body personal training gym and creators of RealJock's 12-week Workout Programs. Have burning questions about your fitness that you want them to answer? Send an email to