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Training & Nutrition

5 Useless Gym Exercises to Stop Doing Now and What to do Instead

Replace all pain, no gain moves with functional exercises for full body strength

Do you ever find yourself in the gym repeating an exercise that you’ve done a hundred times before, ‘just because’? There are so many fitness myths out there, it is sometimes hard to tell the good from the bad.

A stronger body means you’ll be more efficient on the bike, and more resilient to injury.  However, there are loads of popular gym machines and strength and conditioning exercises that are really popular, but simply aren’t the most effective route to the goal of a fitter, faster you.

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Some of the ‘culprits’ are machines which can actually be very effective – but only if performed with perfect form. Strapping yourself into a machine means you can end up using a heavy weight with poor form, doing damage that you’d find simply impossible if you were using a free weight (for example, dumbbell or kettlebell) that required you to stabalise yourself.

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We’ve picked out 5 common gym culprits that can be replaced with much more effective moves that will allow you to reap greater, full body gains.

Hip Abduction / Adduction Machine

Yes, the machine in the corner of the gym that reminds you of petrifying birth-giving scenes from movies that could well be covert horror films.

There’s usually one machine where you push out, working your hips and quads, and another where you pull in, using your hips and abductor muscles. Cyclists should definitely target these powerful muscles, which can go a long way to improving your riding.

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However, using the machine, you’re seated, training these very important muscles in a way that isn’t functional. Usually when working your hips and glutes, your core will also be engaged, but here it’s allowed to relax – thus applying unnatural strain to the body areas you’re aiming to strengthen, and also making the exercise less effective for all over conditioning.

Swap it for: Crab walks (Lateral Band Walks – if we’re being technical)

These force you to use your hips and glutes in a functional way, whilst stabilizing your body at the same time.

Loop a resistance band around your legs, just below your knees – then step sideways, crouching into a slight squat, taking steps in one direction, like a crab. Aim for 12 steps each way (you might need a long room!).

Check out this video for an animated guide. 

If you want to add weight, you can use a cable machine, loop a band around your ankle and perform hip abduction (pictured below), extension and glute exercises  – doing this you’ll need to use your core muscles to stabalise yourself throughout.

Hip abduction. Image: top.me

Leg Extension Machine

Image: imgkid.com

The leg extension machine is often seen as a good way to target the quads and thus provide support for the knees. You can certainly feel a strain when you perform these – but in this case, it might well be an ‘all pain, no gain’ situation.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recommend the machine is avoided because the exercise puts the resistance near the ankles, leading to high amounts of torque at the knee joint. Not only that, but this movement doesn’t mimic any ‘real world’ activity.

Swap it for: Jump squats

Plyometric exercises, where you make explosive movements, provide a cardiovascular benefit as well as strengthening muscles, and they get your whole body moving in a natural pattern.

To perform this exercise, squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor, ensuring that your knees do not fold in, and then jump as high as you can. When you land, repeat the whole exercise again. You can do this with dumbells in your hands to make it more difficult.

Another great exercise for the quads, hamstrings and glutes is the lunge – so you could always intersperse your jump squats with some stationary lunges. Think of it as ‘recovery’ from the cardio effort…

Crunches

You can make a plank tougher, by varying your hand posititon, as demonstrated by Julia of juliabuckley.co.uk

Sit ups have always been a popular exercise – and you’ll certainly feel the burn if you decide to get down and knock out 100 of them. However, they only really use your mid-section – upper and lower ab muscles are un-worked.

Swap for: Planks

Planks work your entire core – deep abdominal muscles, lower back, as well as your shoulders and arms. These muscles support you on the bike, so they’re important in reducing injury caused by allowing smaller muscles to take the strain, and in reducing fatigue when you spend hours in the same position in the saddle.

We’ve got a full guide on how to plank here – in short, lie flat on a mat, and come up into your elbows or hands.

Keep your back straight and tuck your toes under you, lifting your hips and legs so that your body is a flat line. Hold this until you start to wobble all over – if your hips start to drop, rest, and repeat after a break.

Seated Shoulder Press

Medicine ball throws: so fun, it’s almost child’s play. Image: crossfitkids.typepad.com

Cyclists tend to focus on their legs, which does obviously make sense, but shoulders and arms are important, too. When you climb, you place a lot of pressure on them – stronger arms will cope with the strain much better.

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Seated shoulder presses are designed to work your shoulders and triceps, but again they target individual muscles, not allowing your hips or core to take some of the strain, as they will do in real life – for example on the bike.

 Swap it for: Medicine Ball Throws

Grab a medicine ball, and bounce it off the wall, around four feet above your head, then squat down to catch it. This movement uses your arms in a functional manner, as well as engaging your core, and forcing you to use your quads and glutes on the catch. And, to be honest, it’s a whole lot more fun.

If you don’t have a spot of wall you can throw a ball at, go for humble press ups and tricep dips (not as much fun, but still good).

Seated Leg Press Machine

The leg press machine can make you feel super good about yourself as you push away from the pad with a healthy amount of weight. It works your quads, glutes and hamstrings and you’ll certainly feel it.

However, again, only the ‘key’ muscles are targeted, stabilizing muscles in your hips, and lower back, are neglected. Not only that, but it’s easy to cheat – you’ll find the amount you can ‘lift’ and the effort it takes is dramatically affected by how close you place the chair to the foot pad. Start further away, and you’ll put most of the effort through your quads – if you push the chair closer to the pad you’ll have to use your glutes more and it’s a lot harder to do.

Swap it for: Squats

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again – squats are great because they build functional strength, as muscles work in unison, the same way they do in ‘real life’ activities. They also improve hip mobility, which you won’t get from a  seated exercise.

To start, practice squats in front of a low chair. Stand just in front of it, with your knees hip width apart, and squat down as though you’re about to sit on the chair. Hold for a few seconds, then rise up and repeat. Don’t actually sit down – that’s cheating!

Once you’re comfortable, you can add a barbell, or hold weights in each hand. If you get bored of standard squats – there are plenty more styles you can try here.

Looking to build an effective strength training programme to complement your cycling? Check out this article for advice on how to create a plan that works for you. 

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