Exercises to Avoid in the Weight Room

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Here are some Exercises that research shows are not effective or are not an efficient use of time.

1. Tricep Kick-Backs

I’ve never understood how this exercise became so popular. In theory, it sounds good. In practice, however, we quickly realize its inherent flaws.

The angle of tension in relation to body position is simply inefficient to thoroughly fatigue the bulk of the triceps. As with many isolation exercises, Tricep Kick-Backs show an ascending tension curve (the exercise becomes exponentially harder as you near the peak.) So, a weight might feel extremely light at the bottom of the rep and  impossible to hold in the peak position. This is due to the increasing horizontal distance from the axis of rotation during the movement. In short, this exercise leaves you with two options: use a weight that’s too light for full range of motion or too heavy for a limited range of motion.

The simple fix: If you have enough cable machines to rotate your players through quickly, using cables allows more evenly distributed torque at the elbow throughout the movement. Cables allow you to adjust the angle of tension and manipulate your body position, all while keeping constant tension on the target muscle group.   I have always got rid of all cable machines because I needed the space.  Also, I don’t have time in a 45minute workout to isolate a muscle.  So we feel that our twice a week attention to pushups/shoulder presses adequately work Triceps.  If I can use it as an auxillary, I like Overhead Tricep Extensions using a heavy DB or KB being lifted from behind the head to above the head.

2. Abduction/Adduction Machines for Aesthetics

This exercise is important for specific situations such as rehabilitation or muscular deficiencies. That said, the exercise machines we see at franchise gyms seem terribly misused by trainees who simply don’t know what else to do with their time.

This exercise works the muscles in charge of tracking the femur and knee stability. It does not produce large amounts of force or hypertrophy. Think of these muscles as guides that channel direction rather than motors that produce movement.

The simple fix: Perform multi-planar movements at the hip joint. Think “Crossovers,” “Side Shuffles,” etc. Not only are these movements more challenging metabolically, they also present real-world scenarios that the muscles are meant to encounter. If you use these exercises for other purposes, such as corrective exercise, consider similar movements that also engage the core for pelvic stability (as seen in Standing and Side-Plank variations.)

3. Leg Lifts for Glute Development

Leg Lifts (hip extension) from the prone or kneeling position are meant as a corrective modality for spine-hip-thigh integration or overcoming a muscular deficiency. You cannot reach mechanical overload or metabolic stress (two necessary factors for increasing size and/or strength) at the glute with this exercise. The movement can be a solid addition to an effective warm-up, but it’s simply not effective at furthering glute development.

The simple fix: to train your glutes, use high force and/or weight-bearing exercises. Step-Ups, Hip Thrusts, Lunges, Squats and Uphill Sprints are all solid exercises for glute development.  The S.S.X. Program does Steps Ups & Lunges twice per week, in addition to Straight Leg Dead Lifts.

4. Dumb bell Flys

I know I’ll catch a lot of negative comments for this one, but my professional practice is to prescribe other exercises in place of Dumbbell Flys. Many lifters justify this exercise for a number of reasons, none of which holds up when we consider more effective and safer alternatives. Much like with Tricep Kick-Backs, the angle of tension and range of motion are simply inefficient for challenging the target muscle (unless you have extremely weak chest muscles).

The simple fix: Stick with Chest Presses. Fly variations with cables and machines do a much better job than this biomechanically unsound exercise.

5. Leg Extensions

Leg extensions are popular among bodybuilders, because they are a great way to increase quad size. However, they offer no benefit to athletes. In fact, Leg Extensions can decrease athletic performance and put you at risk for a knee injury. They also fail to engage the hamstrings, glutes or lower back, which are active in most athletic movements.  I like to have one Leg Extension/ Leg Curl machine, along with a Seated Leg Press machine so players with ankle injuries can still work the leg muscles.

The simple fix: Lunges
Lunges are an excellent way to improve hip stability, overcome muscular imbalances and strengthen the quads to run faster and jump higher. Lunges are extremely versatile—the S.S.X. Program performs them forward, reverse & sideways, and we progressively add Dumb bells at our sides, and then with barbells on our backs.   A key coaching point is to have players watch themselves in the mirror to ensure that the kneecap does not extend beyond the toe.

6. Leg Curls

Leg Curls are commonly used to develop the hamstrings. The problem is that the hamstrings are never isolated when playing sports. They are designed to work with the glutes, quads and lower back when jumping, sprinting, cutting and performing most other athletic movements.

The simple fixUse Glute Ham Machines if available. I could never justify spending money on these machines and would need a minimum of 5 to maximize time, so alternatives are Straight Leg Dead Lifts  We also have our players lay on the bench, belly button just over the edge, with hands behind their head so that the forehead can touch the ground.  A partner holds ankles and player violently rises up as far as possible.  A very challenging alternative is to kneel on ground so toes and knees are touching the ground while torso is in upright position and hands behind the head.  A partner holds ankles as athlete tries to lower chest towards the ground.  The thigh, hips, & torso remain stiff and prone as athlete cannot bend at the hips.  These alternatives the best ways to strengthen the backside of your body, particularly the hamstrings and glutes. They will help you run faster, jump higher and prevent injuries associated with weak hamstrings.

Glute Exercises
Glute Exercises

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7. Smith Machine Squats

Smith Machine Squats should be avoided, because they obviate the need to stabilize your joints and core—a must for athletes. The fixed plane of motion also puts your body in an unnatural position, which can cause joint issues.

The simple fixYou’ve heard it a million times: “Squats are the king of all lower-body exercises.” No need to sugarcoat this—no other lower-body exercise will develop your hamstrings, quads, glutes and lower back like the Squat.


Building lower-body strength is of paramount importance for athletes. However, you have to do it with methods that are safe and effective and that demonstrably improve sports performance. The problem is that many commonly-performed lower-body exercises don’t meet those criteria.

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About Me

Coach Stewart has coached football for 27 years, winning championships with 6th graders, 8th graders, high school freshman, and high school varsity. He coached 9 years at the youth and freshman level, always serving as head coach. After completing his college at age of 28 he has coached 21 years at the varsity level, 13 as the varsity head coach.

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