Exercises that Waste Time and What to Do Instead

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 17, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

If you aren’t getting the results you want from your workout, you might be tempted to do more reps for each exercise. But the problem might not be how many times you do the exercise. The problem could be the exercises themselves. 

Some exercises aren’t as useful as you may think. Some may even put you at risk for injuries.

Learn about four exercises that may be wasting your time and what you can do instead.

Don't Do Crunches

Crunches aren’t as great as they may seem. They could put you at risk for neck or back strain when you curve your spine as you lift your torso. They also only target a few muscles in your core. The movement of crunches is overly isolated, so you don’t work all the torso muscles together.

Try Planks Instead

Planks are a functional fitness staple. They cause all your muscle groups to work together. Planking brings together your back, shoulder, abdominal, and oblique muscles in the same way many everyday motions do. You can use a modified plank when you start and work up to a full plank as you get stronger.

How to do planks:‌

  1. Lie facedown with your forearms on the floor. ‌
  2. Extend your legs and keep your feet together. 
  3. Raise your upper body and rest your weight on your forearms. 
  4. Use your toes to raise your legs. Your body should form a straight line from your head and neck to your feet.
  5. Hold this position while you engage your abdominal muscles.
  6. Try to hold the position for up to 30 seconds.
  7. Lower your body and rest.

Don’t Use the Leg Extension Machine

The seated leg extension machine at the gym is supposed to work your quadriceps. It can work out your thigh muscles, but it is not a complete leg workout. It isolates the quads and leaves out the other major muscle groups in your legs.

This machine puts your knees at risk. The motion of pushing up on the leg bar stresses your knee joints and your ACL tendon. There are other ways to work your quads that are better for your knees.

Try Box Step-ups Instead

Stepping up onto a raised surface like a box or a step works your quads out effectively. You are also using your other leg muscles to provide support. The action of stepping is a natural one that uses your knees and hips appropriately.

‌How to do step-ups:‌

  1. Set a raised box or step in front of you.‌
  2. Step up with one foot. Allow the other foot to follow as if climbing stairs.
  3. Step back down and repeat as many times as you can.

Don’t Do Tricep Dips

With tricep dips, you reach behind you to hold a surface, then lower and raise your arms. The problem is that you twist your shoulder backward into an unnatural position. The strain can cause joint problems over time.

Try Dumbbell Tricep Extensions Instead

To target the triceps more naturally, try dumbbells presses instead. This activates your triceps to get the arm toning effects you want. It keeps your shoulder in a safer position.

‌How to do tricep extensions with dumbbells:‌

  1. Lie on your back with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Bend your elbows up to a 90-degree angle.
  3. Raise your arms in a slow, controlled motion until they are fully extended above you.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Try 1-3 sets of 5-10 presses.

Don’t Do Bench Presses on a Smith Machine

The Smith machine is a big rack that holds a barbell. The machine lets the weight move up and down without the risk of it falling. You can use a Smith machine to lift heavy weights without a spotter. 

However, the fixed angle of the machine means you need to adjust your body position to fit the machine. That can cause stress on your joints.

A Smith machine isn’t as effective as lifting free weights. In one study, researchers looked at muscle activation during bench presses with free weights and with a Smith machine. They found that people used their muscles at a higher intensity when using free weights.

Do Free Weight Chest Presses Instead

You can use dumbbells or a barbell to do upward presses. You can do this at a gym or at home if you use safety precautions. You may need a spotter to protect you from the risk of dropping weights.

How to do free weight bench presses:

  1. Lie on the floor or a weight bench.
  2. Hold dumbbells in each hand or use a barbell.
  3. Start with your elbows bent with your forearms perpendicular to your body.
  4. Slowly raise your arms straight up until your elbows are extended.
  5. Return to the starting position.
  6. Try to do 12-15 reps.

Before starting any new exercise routine, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide on the right workout routine.

Show Sources


Harvard Health Publishing: "Straight talk on planking," "Want a stronger core? Skip the sit-ups."

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press."

Mayo Clinic: "Video: Chest press with dumbbell," "Video: Step-up exercise," “Video: Triceps extension with dumbbell."

National Council on Strength & Fitness: "8 EXERCISES THAT WASTE TIME AND WHAT TO DO INSTEAD."

West Virginia University Campus Recreation: "The Pros and Cons of Smith Machines."

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