If You're Doing These 4 Exercises, Your Workouts Are Worth Nothing


Every day, it seems like there's a new workout routine plastered across our television screens, guaranteeing us ripped abs in time for beach season. The fitness industry hauled in $21.8 billion in 2012, so it's only to be expected that an ever increasing number of startups are attempting to claim a piece of this lucrative pie.

The unglamorous truth is that fitness today is as simple as it was 20 years ago, 100 years ago, and since the beginning of the human race. There are only so many ways to spin the same story, so new workout regimes are becoming increasingly weird and wacky in a bid to capture attention and gain market share.

From time to time, a new workout is able to present solid fitness principles in a unique package that appeals to people (think P90x). Most new workouts and gadgets, however, are not very effective. And those are the workouts we're focusing on today.

1. Low-Intensity Cardio Routines

We all go to the gym for different reasons. For those seeking purely to burn fat, it's very common to see the same routine over and over. Individual walks into the gym, mounts the treadmill, plods slowly and steadily for 30-45 mins, and then leaves.

Unfortunately, this is about the least effective workout you can do when weight loss is your goal. It's not your fault for being misguided, however. Scientists have established that our bodies burn the most fat, minute for minute, when we are exercising at a lower percentage of our maximum heart rate. Marketing companies have used this research to sell treadmills the world over. What they failed to tell you, however, is that higher intensity workouts actually result in significantly more weight loss overall, it just occurs in the aftermath of the workout, rather than minute for minute during the routine.

If you want to make good use of your treadmill as a fat burner, use it for interval training or the cardio portion of a weight lifting routine.

2. Shake Weight and Other Novelty Product Routines

Novelty products are popular because they sell. Whether it's the pet rock of 1975 or the Snuggie of 2008, people just can't get enough of this stuff. The fitness industry is no different. With over 2 million units sold, the Shake Weight has been one of the most successfull, but it's simply another of hundreds of novelty fitness products to hit the market.

One of the selling points included with each of these novelties is a product-specific exercise program offering a purported "full body workout." Anyone with even a basic understanding of fitness principles, or biology for that matter, can discern that these routines are as useless as the products themselves.

If you want a full body workout, the answer is simple: Do a full body workout. (See also: The 6 Best Workouts for Building Muscle Fast)

3. Vibration and Electricity Based Workouts

Vibration exercise "technology" first appeared in the 1880's. Claims have evolved over the last century, but the basic premise is that vibrations within the musculoskeletal system increase some combination of hormones, speed, agility, muscle mass, etc, The exact claims vary with each marketing scheme, but the important takeaway is that all positive effects of this "technology" have been repeatedly disproven time and time again.

In a similar vein, electric current fitness "technology" is the grandbaby of discoveries made as early as 1791. Unlike vibration, electric stimulus does have verifiable evidence to support its effects on muscle development. Physical therapists even use it for athlete rehabilitation. Unfortunately for those of you with Electric Ab Belts, electric stimulation results in lower-force contractions when compared to voluntary muscle contraction. Furthermore, a slight toning of the abs is ineffective at producing a six pack for the same reason situps and crunches aren't. None of these exercises affect your body fat content.

4. Weight Machine Workouts

People tend to like weight machines. They're simple. You walk up, read the diagram, and begin the back-and-forth motion. No energy is lost perfecting form. You can very easily change the weight, usually by adjusting a lightweight pin. You don't have to lug around heavy barbells or weight plates. It's great!

Unfortunately, everything you love about weight machines is precisely what makes them so ineffective. Free weights are incredibly effective because they use bigger muscle groups. Your smaller stabilizer muscles are worked out as well, simply by balancing the weight and keeping it on course through each repetition. With weight machines, you are isolating a single muscle group and engaging with a very limited range of motion, making the workout incredibly ineffective in comparison.

Weight machines should really only be used by experienced lifters looking to catch-up a specific muscle group, lifters with restrictive injuries, and total beginners with no one to instruct them on free weight form. Skip the machines and learn how to lift free weights.

Have you discovered any workout routines that just don't work? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

You don't lose weight through exercise, you lose weight through nutrition. Stop spreading incorrect information. Low-intensity cardio workouts (e.g. Zone 2 or MAF) improve aerobic capacity and build fitness, so please DO NOT suggest it's worth nothing.

Guest's picture
Ahou To

I agree with Guest. Low intensity cardio gives you the benefit of stress relief, and does improve overall cardio health. Sure, you may not lose quite as much, but the more you do this, the faster you may be able to go, and then at some point, you'll be going fast enough to burn more calories and lose weight. And of course, the diet is very important.