When it comes to exercising, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. We watch other people, we assume they know what they’re doing, we copy them … and then we wonder why it doesn’t work. So, it pays to remember that just because it feels like exercise, and it looks like exercise, doesn’t mean it really is exercise.

Take the time to learn the right moves, and if in doubt ask a qualified trainer. In the meantime, here are five of the worst things I see people doing at the gym all the time.

The “dumbbell in each hand and bend from side to side” move.
The nature of resistance training is that you need resistance! If you put a dumbbell in each hand they cancel each other out – there is no resistance! You are just squashing your spine and grinding your intervertebral discs from left to right. If you want to work your side flexors put a dumbbell in ONE hand – bend toward that side and come back up to a straight position.

The “lat pulldown behind your head” move.
Your latissimus dorsi muscles don’t work that way – and neither does your shoulder, by the way. The burn you get from that exercise is your rotator cuff slowly pulling away from the bone. We’ve all seen these people – their head is pushed forward trying to get out of the way and the effort on their face is due to the fact their muscles have no idea what to do. We are designed to climb trees – who tries to climb a tree with the branch behind their head? This is plain silly, so stop it! Pull to the front like everyone else.

The “holding dumbbells with your elbows bent and rotating your arms in and out” move.
I’m guessing the objective here is to train the rotator cuff muscles which protect the shoulder. The resistance is going straight down (it’s a gravity thing) and you’re wanting it to go sideways – so you’re 90 degrees off target. If you’re after an isometric elbow flexor exercise, then great. All the effort is going into keeping your elbows bent. Otherwise, lie on your side or grab a cable and repeat the same action – your rotator cuff will thank you.

The “ab exercises to lose fat from your stomach” move.
Ah yes, the old spot reduction theory – it’s great for carpets but hopeless for fat. Newsflash: we all have a six-pack; most of us just have stuff in the way. If you want to burn that stuff away, do something that will expend some energy. High-Intensity Interval Training, laying off the cake – both are way better for finding your six pack than the odd crunch.

And finally, handstand push-ups.
One word – why?! When did we decide lifting something heavy while upside down was a good idea? People even describe this as “functional” – it’s more just a party trick. Grab some weights, get your balance mechanisms working correctly by standing upright, and press above your head like we’ve evolved to.

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