These days, everything is a “throwback.” From the music played at your favorite watering hole to the trendiest fashion finds. But there are certain things that will just never, ever, come back into style. And there are a plethora of workouts that fit the bill.
In fact, some exercises are so retro that many fitness aficionados stay away from them. Personal trainers across the board have pin-pointed outdated exercises that they simply won’t put into their clients’ workout regimens. From machine-centric exercises to stand-alone stretches, some workouts are widely left on the shelf.
Yes, you will see plenty of these machines occupied at your local gym. And yes, that person working out next to you is probably doing one of these exercises. But chances are, a trainer didn’t recommend any of them. So, what are the old-school exercises that trainers wouldn’t dream of doing? Let’s find out.
1. Abductor/adductor machines
You know those bizarre-looking machines that remind you of a dentist chair with stirrups? Those are the abductor and adductor machines, a retro pair of equipment meant to work your hips and thighs. With decades of assessing the success of these exercise machines, it has been found they don’t generate many results.
Naturally, many trainers are not fans of the abductor-adductor combo. “It’s not super-effective to just target those smaller muscle groups,” author and fitness expert Chris Freytag told The Huffington Post. She also added, “Quite frankly, most people I see on that machine are talking with a friend or reading a book… not really paying attention.”
Freytag recommends a series of lunges to properly work your leg muscles. To work all sides of your legs, consider a lower-body repertoire that mixes forward plié lunges, speed-skater lunges, and reverse lunges. Start at 10 reps per leg per exercise — you are sure to feel a deeper burn than any abductor machine will ever give you. In addition, a lunge series will get you on your feet and breaking a sweat, as opposed to sitting comfortably at a machine.
2. Abdominal crunches
Oh crunches, we have such a complicated relationship with thee. This decades-old exercise is usually one of the first people learn from the wide world of fitness. Yet, despite its widespread familiarity, most trainers won’t add this core workout to your routine. It’s way too easy to mess up the form and put unnecessary stress on your neck and back (which is bad). Plus, crunches regularly get mistaken as a means of losing belly fat (which they aren’t).
“Because the ab muscles are so fine,” Active.com explains, “proper form will result in long lean muscle — improper form can actually build them to be ‘puffed out.’ Many people do crunches wrong and end up actually developing a bigger belly.”
If your abdominal area is your main focus, a trainer is more than likely going to give you a variety of exercises that will work everything from your torso to your hips. Exercises starting in the plank position are surefire flab-killers, like the sliding plank and the knee-to-elbow plank. Many of these exercises also add extra punch because of their difficulty level, so you will also be breaking a sweat. (And, let’s be real, when’s the last time crunches made you sweat?)
The first mental image that comes to mind when talking about bicep curls is usually of a bodybuilder with arms the size of small animals. (It also reminds many of us of that annoying guy at the gym who does his workout right in front of the weight stand. But that’s another story.) And as far as outdated exercises go, many trainers put this one somewhere on that list. Sure, curls can sculpt your arms, but it’s passé to think they’re an all-encompassing arm workout.
An all-around upper-body workout that works your shoulders, chest, and back, as well as your arms, is the way to go. Rows are particularly great, as they target all of these muscles. AskTheTrainer.com has a full arm regimen that adds curls to a list including tricep extensions, dumbbell rows, and diamond push-ups, just to name a few. (The page says that the regimen is for women, but the exercises are actually great for everyone.)
4. Leg curl/extension machines
Those retro leg curl and extension machines piled with weights are going help create the world’s most muscular set of legs, right? Not so fast, fitness nut — these two are nowhere near as effective as many think. The curling machine, which is supposed to strengthen the hamstrings, puts the body in an unnatural sitting position. It’s partner, the extension machine, is a culprit for gym-induced knee pain.
Alfonso Moretti of The Angry Trainers writes, “Bodybuilders will load up on this exercise trying to target the inner knee ‘teardrop’ muscle. But I think its use can potentially cause injury.”
Moretti’s solution: “Nowadays I prefer to use a bike to warm-up my knee joint and focus on squats, lunges, step-ups and calisthenics for leg strength.” This mix is great for anyone’s workout plan since it targets the legs all the way up to your glutious muscles. (Which can’t be said about the leg curl or extension machines, since they put you into a lounge-y seated position.) This list of squat-and-lunge variations from Self is a great breakdown of superior leg workouts.
5. Behind-the-neck pull-downs
The lateral pull-down machine has been gracing gym floors for years. But its long existence hasn’t stopped workout warriors from using it improperly — and pulling the bar behind their heads. Many trainers stray away from this machine altogether, and if it’s the only option, there is no way they will be instructing clients to pull the bar to the backs of their necks.
“The lat pull-down places a lot of stress on the anterior joint capsule of the shoulder, and can eventually lead to impingement or even rotator cuff tears,” Jessica Malpelli, a therapist at the Florida Orthopedic Institute, told Life by Daily Burn.
Your trainer is more likely to assign a free weight exercise that will work the same muscles without risking your shoulders. Livestrong.com suggests a long list of alternatives, including barbell pull-overs which have you lie down on a weight bench, stabilizing you and taking the stress off both your shoulders and neck. The lists puts pull-ups at the top of the list of alternatives, although a couple alternate versions of that exercise are more likely to be recommended by a trainer if you are a beginner.
6. Exercises using a Smith machine
In theory, the Smith machine is a multipurpose exercise tool. But in reality, it isn’t helping your workout as much as you think. The rigidness of the machinery doesn’t allow proper form. Naturally, trainers across the board aren’t too fond of it. The Smith machine leads to unnatural movements that can hurt during the move and also contribute to injury, says Shape.
Not surprisingly, a trainer will likely have you perform a series of free-weight and machine-less exercises that work all the same muscles, but without the awkward nature of the Smith machine. Postema Performance explains that while “many are comforted by being able to use a machine to perform squats, trying something new comes with a whole host of strength and fitness benefits.”
7. Strictly cardio workouts
It’s become common knowledge over the years that a mixed workout — with cardio and resistance training — plus a good diet is the best recipe for weight loss. Yet when it comes to dropping pounds, there are always those who attempt to get away with just doing cardio. Trainer Nick Mitchell writes for Daily Mail Online, “What we commonly see is cardio being prescribed as the only way to lose fat, and consequently, men and women spending all their time spinning their wheels on the treadmill.”
This should be a no-brainer: A trainer is going to give you a workout plan mixed with cardio and resistance training to help you reach your goals. Mitchell continues by saying that “cardio should be used as a tool to add an extra edge. When used, a mix of high intensity interval training (or HIIT) and steady state cardio works great to create an additional calorie deficit.”
If this trainer is dispelling the old-school idea of sticking to the treadmill, there is a good chance many others share the same philosophy.