There’s no such thing as bad, only different levels of good…


When speaking to friends on the subject of pizza, I am always quick to say,

“Pizza is like sex and music; there is no such thing as bad, only different levels of good”.

Exercise can be part of that equation as well…

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The tail of two friends…

Two friends from the Midwest, both of them very fitness minded, each sent me two separate articles this week, each unaware of the other.

One friend, VDB, sent me this one titled, The Five Most Overrated Exercises You Can’t Stop Doing.

The other friend, TJ, sent me this one titled, Worthless Exercises You Probably Do.

As far as the overratedness or worthlessness of exercises go, these are relative statements, and always cause me to cringe when I read such blind assertions.

I argue for thinking…

Through several decades of reading on the subject of exercise, I have seen many articles like these.  I have never seen such articles make strong arguments against the exercises they list.  They usually go into very little detail to support their argument, and never do they consider the peripheral utility of such exercises, or consider the values these exercises may offer on a more visceral level.

It’s sort of like saying, “I hate that candidate.”  Fair enough.  Now tell me why, and support your argument…

I can make an argument, and often do, that there are no worthless exercises if they are done properly — that there is utility, on some level, in all mindful movement performed by a capable body.

Some exercises have more utility than others for a particular outcome, say, functional fitness vs. aesthetic fitness.  Even those terms though, functional fitness, and aesthetic fitness aren’t necessarily exclusive from one-another.

Exercises done in the name of functional fitness may have more of an aesthetic application, but that doesn’t mean there is not a functional value.  Conversely, many exercises I suggest for functional strength can provide an aesthetic benefit as well.

There’s a fine line between an exercise being worthless, and it simply lacking efficiency relative to one’s objective.

That is where the real answers rest in exercise anyway; when we choose which exercises to include in our regimen based upon what we are trying to accomplish.

The usual suspects…

The case I use most often is the leg extension.

I will state my opinion, clearly, that leg extensions, first and foremost, offer an aesthetic application.  Among the many benefits leg extensions offer is that they help create lines of separation between the quadriceps.  To a bodybuilder, this is useful.  To a golfer, not so much.

Often maligned by functional fitness proponents, I’ve heard leg extensions referred to as knee wreckers, useless, and dangerous.  This is nonsense.  Though leg extensions are an isolation exercise, they are not knee wreckers, and done properly, they are far from dangerous.  They can, in fact, be knee supporters – even for golfers.

Though leg extensions do isolate the quadriceps muscles, they also isolate the quadriceps tendons which fuse those muscles to the knee joints.  Doing leg extensions properly, and with an appropriate weight, will strengthen those tendons, offering better support for the knee joints of anyone, be they an athlete, weekend warrior, or assisted living resident.  Leg extensions, done properly, make the knees stronger.

Both articles advocated against the bench press as a functional fitness exercise.  One stating,

“The bench press is overrated mainly because too many beginners stick to this chest exercise thinking that it’s the only thing they need”.

Well that’s not the fault of the bench press.  That’s the fault of the uniformed user over-depending on the bench press.

The other article claimed,

“Some fitness experts have deemed bench press unsafe.”

Again, this is a relative statement.  I will argue that the bench press, done with proper form and an appropriate weight, is useful in developing upper body strength for all levels of fitness including my oldest client, 88, who does them regularly.  There is also a peripheral core element which comes with doing bench presses properly.

Irony out the wrinkles…

I find it interesting that of the two articles linked above, one advocated for the plank as a good alternative to the crunch, and the other vice-versa.

My take on either of these exercises does not change; there is value in either one, but the value is only disclosed by the way the exercise is performed, relative to what the goal of the user might be.  I published my own thoughts on this here last month.

Look, I’m not even an expert on Roy Cohen, so I won’t claim to be an expert on exercise.  I have been at this a while though.  I have seen many trends in exercise which have come and which have gone.  One trend though, that remains and probably always will, is the trend of “experts” trying to provide your common sense to you, because they don’t want you to cultivate it on your own – there’s just not as much profit in that…  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and if you have 30 minutes of time, please check out Oklahoma’s JD McPherson.  Enjoy…

13 responses

  1. When I did my weight training certification, one of the things that stuck with me most was a comment my instructor made about there being no right or wrong exercises. Just exercises that were more relevant, safer and more efficient ways of achieving a particular fitness goal. I like to remind myself of that when I’m programming for my clients. Each is unique, with unique goals and capabilities (not to mention comfort levels in the gym). Each gets exercises that are best FOR THEM!
    Thanks for this fantastic response to this common blog post topic!

    • Thanks for taking the time Tamara. This has everything to do with context and perspective, and little to do with physiology and hard science.

      Becoming intimate though, with one’s own self, often trumps science and hard numbers. Personalization is a free-form art ongoing…

  2. It’s very similar to how I view the choices people make while losing weight. Someone may lose it using boxed foods while someone else loses weight using only whole foods. I’m not going to judge but rather support.

    You bring up such a good point about exercise/fitness articles. Read 10 articles, see 10 viewpoints. We all have to do our research and rely on people that we trust and respect based on their experience.

  3. I love you, Roy. Another great article. I appreciate the response. Moving weights around, done properly, HAS to be better than not doing it at all. I think a great deal about your articles when I am lifting. Working to keep my form correct, movements slow and purposeful, and working the muscle to fatigue. It does not skyways happen that I do all that with each exercise, but I am getting better. I am not going to be a body builder, but I am in better shape than I ever have been in my life. 54 years old and I have gone from a 43 waist to a 33 over the course of a year. My mindset is determined and focused. The weight will stay off and the exercise will continue. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Really nice reply VDB, thank you. I told you this privately and I’ll said it here publicly you have been an inspiration to me as well. What you have accomplished is fantastic. What I like best is that you have still managed to have some fun, enjoy some good times, and keep it moderate. Love you like Jack Hawk loves guns!,

  4. I think the authors of such articles (the five most overrated exercises etc.) are primarily trying to stir up web traffic and establish themselves as counter-authorities: “You thought you knew how to exercise—well, you can’t trust what you know, and only I have the answers.”

    One of my favorite doses of BS, along these lines, is the notion that we must constantly “change up” what we do in the weight room in order to make progress. And if that *were* true, we would need a steady stream of fabulous new exercises from these counter-authorities. (Tell that to Dave Draper.)

    That school of thought is designed to make people dependent on their trainers forever rather than to equip them with the principles they need to take charge of their own bodies.

    Love your perspective, Roy!

    • ALWAYS love your thoughts Mary, thank you!

      Read through any blog or magazines and you’ll see a seemingly infinite variety of training styles. Of course, when you look at them a little more generally, you find that they tend to be variations on a theme.

      Each writer will argue that their system is the only right way to train but this is obviously incorrect. If there was a single right way to train, then nobody who trained by any other method would be successful and that simply isn’t the case.

  5. I read these articles but I never worry about ones that I am doing that they do not like. I have read about leg extensions, Smith machine, upright rows & more – I do them all & I do with proper form & they work form. It is all about what is right for me in my book & if you are a trainer, what yo think is right for the clients goals as long as it is done safely & correctly. :)

  6. When I first began running I had a patellar tracking problem (PF syndrome) early on. Leg extensions with low weight and high reps cured it very quickly, and now I recommend them to runners who face that same issue!

    My only concern with “bad” exercises are ones where they are an injury waiting to happen where other much safer ways to address the same area can be done. I’ve seen this with machine exercise equipment especially when the person has to adapt their body size to a machine that is too large for them.

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