5 Exercises That Don’t Do What You Think They Do

Monday August 11, 2014

Kettlebell Swings
Kettlebell swings seem like they should be a great shoulder workout— you are swinging a weight around, but kettlebell swings are actually all about the hips, with the power coming from the forward thrust of your glutes and hamstrings. Basically, your arms are just along for the ride. If your aim is to train your upper body, use that kettlebell for overhead presses or bent-over rows.

Modified Pushups
The modified pushup is the on-your-knees version of the original. You’d think this would work the exact same muscles as a regular pushup, but not exactly.  While you’re still working your chest, triceps and shoulders, you are not targeting your core like you would in a regular pushup, especially if you let your hips creep up. If your goal is to work up to a regular pushup or just reap the same benefits, start with an elevated pushup instead; you can even start by leaning into a wall. Work your way down to lower surfaces, like a bench. Remember, performing just a few reps with perfect form is way better than cranking out a bunch of imperfect ones.

Supine Leg Lifts
There is no doubt that supine leg lifts are a challenge, ostensibly for your lower abs. But here’s a crazy reality check: There’s no such thing as “lower abs”! Anatomically, your rectus abdominus (that’s the six-pack muscle) is one long muscle, so if you’re working it, you’re working the whole thing. But here’s the thing: This move may put added stress on your hip flexors (you will know it if you feel pinching in your hip creases during the exercise). If that’s the case, you can still work your whole core with exercises like planks, bridges, chops, and flutter kicks.

Whether done with full bodyweight or supported by a band, pull-ups are phenomenal exercises for your… back muscles. Surprised? It’s not that your arms and shoulders aren’t working (they are) but the bulk of that pulling action comes from the large latissimus dorsi muscles that wing out from your mid-back to your waist. In fact, if you just focus your attention on the lats when you are doing the exercise, you might find you can bang out a few extra reps. Looking for more arm-focused work, too? Add some standing cable bicep curls and tricep extensions to your routine.

Ball Slams
Hurling a heavy ball at the ground may seem like a challenge for your arms and shoulders, but it’s actually all about your back and core. In this extremely satisfying move (I dare you not to grin that first time the ball smacks the floor) the effort is coming from your lats (yes, those again), while your ab muscles work hard to stabilize against the force of the action. If your goal is a shoulder workout, a more effective move would be alternating front and side arm raises.

By: Anna Dill, CPT