Monday, March 31, 2014

Exercises I Never Do (Lower Body)

Several weeks ago I put up a post about upper body exercises I would never do with my clients. It was fairly well received and I promised a lower body follow up. It took a little longer because I had other topics I wanted to address first. Additionally my posts have been less frequent because work has been a little busier lately. However I had some time and motivation this week to sit down and write part 2 of the exercises I never do series (lower body edition). As with the upper body post there is always a time and a place for every exercise but this handful have very little application and have no place in 99% of training programs

Leg Extension Machine



The leg extension machine is commonly used to achieve hypertrophy of the quadriceps muscles. Hypertrophy can be achieved by any exercise that applies tension so long as rest periods provide the proper environment in the muscle. So why utilize an exercise with so many drawbacks?

For instance, look at the recruitment patterns in the leg extension vs. the squat. The leg extension machine preferentially recruits the rectus femoris to a greater degree while squat variations recruit more of the larger more powerful vastus group of the quadriceps. Rectus femoris is also a hip flexor and often over active in people who sit during the day. The vastus medialis is commonly the weakest of the quadriceps group and needs more strength to prevent knee collapse, but actually fires the least of all of the quadriceps muscles during the leg extension exercise.

Because of the location of the load in the exercise in relation to the knee, strain is placed on the passive restraints throughout the movement. We ideally want an exercises to load the muscles but the leg extension places higher loads on the ACL and other ligaments.

Lastly there is the simple fact that this exercise has no carryover to daily tasks or sporting activities, and therefore offers very poor training economy. If you want bigger quads, front squats and forward lunges will be very effective in developing the muscles in a safer and more practical manner.

Ab/adductor machine (aka the good girl/ bad girl machine)

This is actually two different exercises but they pose the same problems and look equally ridiculous so I lumped them together.

The adductor machine:
pushing the load in
The abductor machine:
pushing the load out, or away
The adductor muscles (adductor brevis, magnus and longus) are responsible not only for adduction of the thigh but also act as a secondary hip flexor and extensor (depending on joint angle). The abductor muscles (glute medius, minimus, tensor fascia latae) are responsible for abduction as well as hip external rotation and pelvic stabilization, particularly in the frontal plane.

In daily function these muscles rarely operate in isolation. Typically the ab/adductor muscles work in unison to prevent sway of the knees during gait patterns (or during sprinting or heavy lunges if you are into that sort of thing) and to allow for greater efficiency in lateral movement or change of direction.

If your goal is hypertrophy you can achieve a greater hypertrophic effect through sumo deadlifts, barbell lateral lunges or even basic back squatting. If you are looking to "tone up" your inner thighs then you should eat less crap.

Seated Calf Raise

The seated calf raise is commonly implemented into programs to increase either strength or hypertrophy (size) of the calf muscles. Unfortunately it doesn't really do either of those things. The problem is the anatomy of the calf muscles.


The calf is composed of two muscles: The soleus, and the gastrocnemius. The soleus is the smaller of the two muscles, sits deeper and is primarily composed of type 1 muscle fibers. Those are the high endurance, smaller and weaker fibers. The gastrocnemius,  is the larger and more powerful calf muscle . It sits closer to the surface and crosses both the ankle and the knee joint. For this reason when the knee is flexed, as in a seated calf raise, the gastroc is shortened and largely taken out of the movement, leaving the soleus to do all off the work.

As mentioned before the soleus is composed of primarily type 1 muscle fibers. The muscles job is to be on a low level of tension throughout the day to keep you standing up right. The muscles of the soleus are extremely resistant to growth and strength development. You want bigger calves? Gain weight. By having to plantarflex against a greater load with each step the calves will respond by increasing cross sectional area. So as usual squatting and deadlifting will help tremendously.

Bonus bad exercise: I originally was just going to do the three listed above but I saw someone doing this in the gym today and I had to include it, because it's not the first time I've seen this done. Sadly I've even seen it done by personal trainers charging over $100 an hour. The problems should be obvious in this one. Holy crap look at his back. It's worth mentioning that this isn't simply a problem of bad form. The movement is flawed and the combination of static hip flexion with load and velocity in multiple planes makes it nearly impossible to execute in a safe manner.


I realized that most of my selections were machine based, which feels like taking the easy way out. I guess I just like most closed chain exercises for the lower body. If you have any you dislike let me know.















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