Recognizing Bad Training #2

Posted on February 17, 2012. Filed under: Exercise | Tags: , , , , , |

Recently I saw a trainer with a client. And had her doing side leg lifts with a weight. My first mental though was “what a complete and total waste of time.”  However since I did not know the goal of the client I rationalized that I could be wrong.


In my chosen focus of fat loss however, such an exercise would be a total waste of time. In my opinion, practically 90% of the time, exercises like this are a colossal waste of time.


Any exercise designed to isolate a muscle or done over a single joint is usually a waste of time for my clientele.


This includes bicep curls, tricep extensions, most machines like the hip abductor, adductor, etc. Certain exercises need to go away forever.


Like Dumbbell Tricep kickbacks, there is no reason to ever due this exercise unless you are posing for a photo. Other than that, skip it.


Leg Extensions.




I try not to speak in absolutes because very few things are 100% guaranteed. That said, if you are a trainer by profession. Meaning people pay you to get in shape, lose fat, get stronger, and you are still using leg extensions with your client…


You suck as a trainer.


And I know several physical therapists who think you suck as a human being.  Mainly because you are teaching your client’s body to fire muscles out of synch with each other. Leading them down a path to injury which due to the limitations of insurance they usually don’t have enough time to fix to prevent further injury(1).


I see it more as a poor use of a tool.  As an analogy think of coaching, training, as painters back in the Renaissance age.  A trainer using leg extensions is like a painter deciding to try to paint the Mona Lisa with a hammer.  A hammer is a good tool for building your picture frame.  But not for painting the actual picture.  Leg extensions more often than not, are the wrong tool.


There are only 2 situations I can think of in which a person would ever use leg extensions.

  1. Physical Therapy. Where they need to isolate a specific area. And even then the Physical therapists I know hate using the exercise.  But until they can find another way to do it outside of a TENS machine.  it’s a necessary evil
  2. Body builders. The goal of bodybuilding is to develop the body based on certain aesthetic. This is a purely cosmetic approach. And has nothing to do with living an active lifestyle. Maybe in the past where the displaying of a physique was considered a bonus not the specific goal.   Not any more. (side note: if you are a tall person, over 6’2″, this may help with chicken-leg phenomenon.  Use sparingly though)


A good example of this is the story of pro bodybuilders Gary Strydom and Samir Bannout.(2).


  • Two of the speakers, top Olympia competitor Gary Strydom and past Olympia winner Samir Bannout, began a debate concerning their training methods. Both bodybuilders boasted proudly about their athletic abilities and eventually a $2,000 bet was placed over which pro could win a 100-yard dash. The crowd (which included Robby Robinson, Bob Paris and Albert Beckles) filed out to an open area outside of the gym in which the seminar was being held. A distance (which upon later examination turned out to be only 60-yards) was measured off. The always-confident Bannout even agreed to give Strydom a five-yard head start. Mathas described what happened next:
  • Gary’s long and thunderous stride and an extra five yards gave him the early lead which he held until about the forty-yard mark where the speedy Lion of Lebanon [Bannout] had almost closed the gap.
  • “I could see I would catch him and win,” said Samir, “But about the 50 yard mark I felt something in my hamstrings and before I knew it five yards later I pulled up lame and hobbled to the ground.” Samir ran into bad luck on the way to the finish line but as fate would have it Gary Equalized Samir’s fall with a collapse of his own. Both men had something to prove and were willing to put their bodies on the line to back it up. However, both paid the price and had to go to the hospital to have their hamstrings examined

Don't worry, he can only chase you for 50 yards

Now I understand the attraction of isolating exercises.   After all, every body has areas they want to get a bit leaner or tighter. But it is the trainer’s job as a professional to understand this and explain why this path does not lead to results. Not go along with their delusion of spot reduction to keep the client paying them.


Most attempts at spot reducing are ineffective (3).  I’m not going to say it’s impossible. Like I said, I don’t believe in many absolutes.  However the amount of time (30 minutes minimum) that you would have to put in for a small result makes it a waste of your time (4). Especially, if only you have a few hours to put in toward your goal at the gym.


A great author to read to better understand this topic is Gray Cook. There are other books but his is more applicable in my opinion. You could read Shirley Sahrmann as well. But she is pretty heavy duty, much more clinical text.


Going back to my business analogy. How would you feel if the person responsible for handling your retirement fund, made investments in companies based on how the business did in your home town only? Or based on how the business did during only one week or month?


The same rule for using your financial resources is for using your physical resources. You can’t make an approach based on isolating one moment or area. It must be based on how business has done over the past and reacts with it’s connecting environment of competition, suppliers. Just as every muscle works in a connected network with the other muscles.


Professional coaches get this, Physical therapists get this. Yogis, CrossFitters, Pilates instructors, KettleBell Instructors all recognize the body must be worked as a connected network.


And with that, you must use the right type of tools accordingly.

Mario knows you have to use the right tool for the job.. even when saving princesses

Keep Fitness Groovy

Coach W


  1. Stensdotter AK, Hodges PW, Mellor R, Sundelin G, Hager-Ross C. Quadriceps activation in closed and in open kinetic chain exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Dec;35(12):2043-7.
  2. Mathas J, Modern Bodybuilding newsletter, August 1990
  3. Vispute, Sachin et al, J of Str & Cond Research, September 2011 (25) ;9: 2559-2564
  4. Stallknecht et al, Amer J of Physiology, Endocrinology & Metabolism, 11 September 2006.



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4 Responses to “Recognizing Bad Training #2”

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I am a functional based trainer who up till about one year ago would have completely agreed with you. However, about a year ago I started experimenting with fatiguing smaller muscle groups through isolation exercises prior to major muscle groups in multi joint motions. An example would be fatiguing biceps through basic curls prior to pull downs. We have been noticing greater strength improvement, muscular endurance increase, improved activation through major muscle groups and increased fat loss.

This is in complete contrast to what recent trends have been telling us. We are working minor muscle groups first and using isolated single joint motions for functional improvements.

We decided to try this because with all the recent talk about interval training working better for weight loss than steady state cardio (as long believed to be best) we wanted to find out what other ‘common knowledge’ could be wrong. So we tackled the long standing theory of working major muscles before minor.

I guess what I am trying to say is. Everything has its place and sometimes what we are told over the years can be wrong. Never be afraid to have your world turned upside down.

Don’t misunderstand. I see leg extensions as merely a tool. Pre-exhaustion has been a common technique used by bodybuilders by years.

And more often than not, when I see a trainer applying this tool. They are not trying to do what you are talking about.

I do stand by my judgement call in regards to most trainers. Granted it is biased by my experiences with those who have done knee surgeries, have sciatica, fibromyalgia, etc.

I appreciate you keeping me on my toes though. 🙂

Something to consider as food for thought. Are your clients improving due to pre-exhaustion of the muscle or has their ability to utilize the muscle through their Central Nervous System been limited prior to this? you know, mind/muscle connection

I don’t get to in depth on this aspect as I use this blog to share general philosophies. But it is really exciting some of the venues of study in relation to the Central Nervous System in relation to muscle activation and metabolic function. 🙂

Ever consider the effects of stress hyperglycemia and it’s contributions to fat gain?

oops, sorry, geeking out again 😀

Back to my point. I always appreciate a contrasting view to make me think. In this case though I will stand by my judgement call. Outside of PT or aesthetic development there are countless other exercises one can use, and machine leg extensions need to be removed from gyms as well as a trainers tool box.

thank you again, for your insight

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It seems harder and harder to have a mature discussion on fitness and health without people attacking or being closed minded so I appreciate the response. I’d love to talk more about training. If you want to discuss findings further feel free to email me at

Sure, I can’t say when though. As I’m starting to get mentally pulled in a few directions. If ever you are going to be at an NSCA, ISSN, or Perform Better seminar in the South West are let me know. 🙂

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