There are so many people doing so many things wrong in the gym that I hardly know where to start when it comes to trying to get them to change their ways. The fitness field is unlike any other that I can think of, in that there has been little change in the mainstream public’s approach to exercise over the past 35 years. Every time I workout in a gym (not my own) I see an amazing array of ridiculousness.

So here is a list of seven things that people have to stop doing in the gym, in no particular order. Oh, and I’ll say “please,” because you really need to change.

1) Please stop doing all of the lateral, front and bent-over raises. You aren’t helping your shoulders, you aren’t building muscles or strength in any meaningful way, and you are wasting your time. As a matter of fact, you are hurting yourself. The deltoids are small muscles and do not need to be pounded with three different variations of high-volume training. If you want to build strong shoulders and give yourself the best chance to add muscle and improve function limit your shoulder training to military/overhead presses with dumbbells and barbells. Please.

2) For the love of Jack LaLanne please stop with all of the machine-based cardiovascular exercise. I understand the allure of the new fangled treadmills, stair climbers, elliptical trainers and all of their variations. But all that glitters isn’t gold, and won’t improve your fitness level either. Here’s a tidbit of info: Your hamstrings work in a completely opposite manner on the treadmill as they do on Terra Firma, so you really are teaching your body to move incorrectly if you do treadmill training. Try calisthenics, the rowing machine (the only good cardio machine), and movement-based exercises. And if you insist on doing the treadmill, stop holding on to the rails while leaning back, and don’t hold dumbbells, while walking. Pretty please…

3) Eliminate “Abs and Arm” days from your training regimen. Pretty please, with sugar on top. This kind of workout is probably the biggest waste of people’s time, along with “Number 2,” from above. Your biceps and triceps are tiny muscle groups and act as support to the larger muscle groups that are the prime movers in pushing and pulling. So if you are doing the right kind of training, your little biceps and triceps are getting more than enough stimulus to promote growth. Aside from those who are using steroids and other illegal muscle building drugs, doing a lot of arm training will actually keep your guns from growing. Show me someone who is awesome at doing push-ups and pull-ups and I’ll show you someone with great arms. And great abs, for that matter. If you spend a lot of time, actually any time, doing abs while lying down or seated in a machine you are wasting your time. Here is a homework assignment; research improving the strength of your abdominals and eliminate everything you find that has you horizontal or relies on a piece of equipment.

4) Don’t fall prey to the CrossFit/Boot Camp mentality, that says you can beat yourself into submission as a way to make you stronger, por favor. So not true. Every workout shouldn’t be about how much punishment you can take. If you ever watch the television show, “The Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel you will see how putting the body in crushing physical situations only serves to break the body down over the long haul. 35-year old guys look like 55-year old guys and have a litany of permanent physical problems. The setting is different, but constantly beating yourself up in the gym is not a winning long-term strategy to improve performance or health and fitness.

5) Please stop sitting down during your workouts, both while exercising and while resting. You are in the gym to exercise and, except for rowing, there isn’t a physical activity worthwhile that is performed in the seated position. Staying on your feet during your training sessions one of the simplest ways to improve your workouts. And recent research shows that sitting can be as detrimental to your health as smoking. My sense is that this is a bit of hyperbole, but it has been shown that too much sitting has a negative effect on health and fitness even for people who get the recommended amount of exercise.

6) Use aerobics and spinning classes as the occasional change of pace to your routine, and not the backbone of it. Not to be too harsh, but next time you’re in a class, look around you and assess the state of your fellow class-goers. If these classes were so great, more people would be satisfied with the way they look and feel.

7) I’m begging you to stop working with any personal trainer who has you doing any of the following: using machines; has you exercising while lying down for more than 10% of your session; starts your workout by doing abs and/or arms; has you lunging or squatting with weights of any kind before you can properly perform these exercises while standing; watches while you are on a piece of cardio equipment (unless you are doing intervals during circuit training); pushes you to the point of nausea or exhaustion. There are more items I could add to the list, but I’ve gone on long enough.

So stop doing these things. Please.


  1. I’d love a discussion on how to develop strong abdominals without ever being horizontal or sitting on the ground. I can think of only a few effective “vertical” ab moves that work great, and limiting oneself to only a few exercises would, if I don’t miss my guess, not be the most sufficient way to build definition.

  2. Besides vertical leg crunches in any variety, um, no I’m not kidding, there are not many. EVERY professional ab workout worth doing (Insanity cardio abs, P90X Ab Ripper, ABS 10, etc) consists 95% of horizontal ab work. All I’m saying is horizontal ab exercise works great and I’d love some evidence to the contrary rather than just stating it.

  3. Hey Nate,
    I will jump here and presume to answer for Sal. What I think he means is that doing your abs lying down is a part of what for want of a better term might be called old school body building theory. You know , isolate a muscle , smash it , grow it and all the bits come together to make a stronger whole.
    Theories of functionality however say work a muscle in the way it operates in real life in conjunction with all the other muscles used in a given movement. Abs (and many other core muscles)are not dynamic , they operate as a postural stabiliser in the kinetic chain to enable dynamic movement. Big difference in practical terms. If all you want is good looking abs and to get really good at crunches and leg lifts by all means go right ahead. If however you are looking for functional strength and power and a whole lot more variety and fun in your workouts,stand up and be counted!! Heres just a short list of the top of my head , the torsonator, kettlebells, sledge hammer training, all of the strong man lifts,pretty much any form of rope training, those ball thingies with rope on them , need I go on? All of these things have been around since Noah was a lad and they all make for strong, functional abs

    • Neil
      Great job and thanks for jumping in. You are correct. There is a saying that some of the best coaches use; “All proper training is core training.” Gravity is the major factor in the effectiveness of an exercise, so performing a horizontal exercise will only improve function when the body is in the horizontal position. And there are plenty of exercises in addition to what Neil mentions, that will strengthen the abdominal region.

  4. Neil, thank you for the suggestions, and all of those exercises look very fun and appealing, although they all seem like full body workouts (which is great, but not isolating the abs as much as horizontal ab work). Kettlebells are a type of weight and not an exercise (unless I miss my guess) and the torsonator is $250 (ouch). Sledgehammer training looks very effective as a full body workout. These are all great suggestions, but I was asking more about isolated abs work.
    Sal, I think it stands to reason that doing abs work horizontally strengthens your abs in general, not just in a horizontal position. All I’m saying is, after doing millions of crunches, your abs are gonna be pretty tough whether you are horizontal, standing, running, jumping, etc. It’s not like all the work you’ve done is useless unless you lie down.

  5. Sigh!!! Ok Nate what we have here is a failure to communicate. I repeat , if isolation of a muscle is your main goal then situps etc. are as good a way as any. No argument. The question then becomes is isolation a good way to produce safe /effective/functional/ dynamic movement.
    Whenever we are physically challenged for heavy lifting or dynamic movement we instinctively know to spread the load throughout the kinetic chain. Body builders call this cheating. Every physical movement we do uses a unique combination of muscle fibres and that is controlled by the mind. Motor patterns get imprinted by simple repitition. The number, size and type of fibres recruited all affect our ability to perform at the required level.Repeatedly overemphasising one isolated muscle group means we do not get better at using the neural pathways we need for functional movement.Its called specificity and its why the guy who is strongest at the bench press or can do the most situps is rarely the guy who can produce the most power with the most precision on the sports field. Its why the guy with the best looking abs or the biggest biceps isnt necessarily the one who gets to walk out of the cage.
    Yes kettlebells are a type of weight but the vast majority of kettlebell exercises stress the core heavily in the most functional way possible.That is one of the reasons they have come back in such a big way.
    Athletes have been sticking an olympic bar in the nearest corner for aeons and swinging,twisting and thrusting for decades and it is a serious core challenge. In the last few years somebody decided to call it a torsonator and charge more for it. Thats marketing for you.
    Dont take my word for it , google Stuart Mcgill,the Canadian back rehab expert and trainer of world class power athletes. See what he has to say about isolation of muscles and core training in particular. Oh alright I will save you the bother , he says that body building theory and isolation of any group of muscles is toxic to safe and effective motor patterns.
    So why is this mindset about ab training still so predominant in the publics mind. Funny creatures human beings!!!

  6. Why would you say that we shouldn’t work with fitness trainers that starts the workout routine with some abs workout? Almost everyone I know starts either starts with abs or ends with it.


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