5 exercises you should stop doing now — and what to do instead

5 exercises you shouldn't be doing
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

No pain, no gain, right? But if you’ve spent hours slogging away at the gym or on your yoga mat at home and you’re still not getting the results you desire, it might be time to re-think your workout. While there are plenty of workout apps on the market that can act like a personal trainer in your pocket, getting clued up on the exercises that just don’t do much can help streamline your training. 

To help, we’ve rounded up five exercises that you really should ditch and suggested what to swap them out for. While we’re at it, we’ve also got workout advice on how to ditch belly fat, the best resistance band workouts you can do from just about anywhere, and the best Tabata workouts to try.

5 exercises that aren’t doing anything 

exercises you shouldn't do

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

1. Crunches 

If only getting a six-pack was this easy. According to a study published in the American Council on Exercise, traditional crunches are one of the least effective abdominal exercises you can do. When you crunch, you’re only targeting a very small section of the abdominal wall, plus you’re putting a lot of stress on your neck and spine while doing so. 

Instead, swap your crunches for dead bugs, bicycle crunches, or planks. That said, if you’re a huge fan of the crunch, do them on an exercise ball for a far more efficient workout. 

How to do a dead bug: Start with your back and shoulders flat and heavy on the floor. Lift your arms straight above your shoulders and your legs in tabletop position, your knees directly over your hips. Take a breath in and as you exhale, slowly lower and straighten your left leg and your right arm until just above the floor. As you inhale, bring them back into the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side and you've completed one rep. Watch a video of the exercise here

exercises you shouldn't do

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2.  Using the adductor machine 

Thanks to trends like the “thigh gap,” many gym-goers have become obsessed with toning their thigh muscles and have spent hours using the thigh machine at the gym. If you’re nodding your head, we’ve got some bad news: Unless you’re into mixed martial arts, you’ve probably been wasting your time. 

Experts agree that the best way to strengthen the thigh muscles is for the inner and outer thigh muscles to work together like they do in bodyweight squats or lunges. Unfortunately, the adductor machine you’ve been slogging away on at the gym is isolating the inner and outer muscles, and therefore not really doing much in the process. 

How to do a bodyweight squat: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, feet turned slightly outwards. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor, pause, and return to the starting position. Watch a video of a bodyweight squat here

exercises you shouldn't do

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. Leg curls 

Not only is the leg curling machine at the gym tricky to maneuver into, but it’s also not doing all too much for your workout routine. The leg curl machine’s main purpose is to work the hamstrings by requiring you to flex your knees against resistance. However, this isolating movement forgets the hamstring’s other main job — to extend at the hip. The leg curl machine is also not working your core muscles and if the weight is too heavy, it can put a strain on your hips and lower back.

Instead, trainers recommend you do leg curls using a Swiss exercise ball, which requires both knee flexion and hip extension, while also engaging the hips, glutes, abs, and lower back. 

How to do a leg curl on a Swiss ball: To perform this move correctly, get into a hip raise with your feet on the Swiss ball, and roll the ball in towards your body, raising your hips as you do. Watch a video of a Swiss ball leg curl here. Alternatively, try standing leg curls using a resistance band

exercises you shouldn't do

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. Behind-the-neck lateral pull-downs 

If you’ve ever tried this exercise and thought “this can’t be right?” you’re not alone. Not only are behind-the-neck lateral pull downs difficult, but they’re also not actually doing much for your latissimus dorsi muscles and instead, they’re putting your neck under a whole lot of strain. 

Instead, keep the bar in front of your head when performing pull-downs, or opt for single-arm rows instead. 

How to do a single-arm row: Holding a dumbbell in your right hand, put your left hand and left knee on a bench so that you're bent over. Keep your core engaged and your back straight as you pull the dumbbell upwards, bending at the elbow, then lower the dumbbell down to its starting position. Watch a video of a single-arm row here

exercises you shouldn't do

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Using an ab rocker 

Another crazy piece of gym equipment that looks like something from an 80’s workout video: the ab rocker. An ab rocker requires you to engage your abs as you rock the rocker’s bar down towards your bent knees; in turn, the rocker will raise your head and upper body off the floor. However, we’ve already mentioned that traditional crunches aren’t actually doing much when it comes to working your core and researchers have found ab rockers to be even less effective. 

But the ab rocker supports my neck, we hear you cry! Wrong again: by supporting your head, the ab rocker isn’t working your neck muscles at all, making them weaker and over time, probably causing you more pain. Ditch the rocker and try dead bugs, toe taps, or planks instead. 

How to do a plank: Place your hands directly below your shoulders and ground your feet into the floor, like you are about to do a press-up. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes to hold the position. Watch a video of a plank here

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.