Muscle for life

10 Exercises That Suck and What to Do Instead

10 Exercises That Suck and What to Do Instead

There are some exercises you should just never do.


If you want to be really bad at working out, all you have to do is follow the lead of the average gymbro.

Wander with them from machine to machine, drop set the entire rack of dumbbells, reserve five stations for your supersets, and only use the squat rack for curling (girls don’t care about legs anyway).

If you’re lucky enough to be mentored by someone who really knows how to do it wrong, you’re going to do a lot of terrible exercises as well, including many of the ones I’m going to talk about in this post.

So, here are the 10 best exercises for failing in the gym, and what to do instead if you want to actually make some gainz.

1. Weighted Side Bend

Getting shredded.

If I had to guess why so many people do this exercise, it’s because they’re trying to spot reduce their love handles.

Well, the irony is that side bends build up your oblique muscles, which simply makes their problem worse. The bigger your obliques are, the fatter you look.

That said, developed obliques are definitely an important visual part of a great core when you’re lean. And fortunately, the easiest way to develop them is to simply do heavy, compound lifts like squats and deadlifts every week. Your entire core will develop, obliques included.

If you’re already doing that and feel your oblique development is still lacking, then I recommend adding twists to your ab routine, such as twisting cable crunches or air bikes.

2. Anything on the Smith Machine

Okay this is actually pretty awesome.

The Smith Machine is a bromagnet. It lets them load up more weight than they can actually handle and really make the other weaklings jelly.

Well, the Smith Machine sucks. Period.

It’s bad for squatting.

It’s bad for benching.

It’s just bad for everything. It completely removes the stabilizer muscles from lifts and forces an unnatural range of motion. The result is sub-par gains in both size and strength, which becomes VERY obvious if you try to switch to free weights.

So do yourself a favor and stick to the free weights. Your muscles will thank me later.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

3. Hyperextension

Don’t be this guy.

For whatever reason, this exercise is often done by people that also do side bends. And again I wonder why they’re doing it.

Want a stronger lower back? It’s time to deadlift. End of story.

The only people that should be doing hyperextensions are those that are rehabilitating their lower backs. Well, and girls with killer bodies and skin-tight workout outfits. They should do these a lot.

4. Yates Row

Do you even range of motion?

What the hell kind of ego exercise is this? It’s like a half-rep cross between a shrug and reverse barbell curl.

It violates the simplest weightlifting principle there is:

The greater the range of motion in an exercise, the more work your muscles have to do. More work=more growth.

That’s why partial reps suck, and why this exercise sucks.

Instead, make me proud and do your rows like this. The weight starts and ends on the ground, the back remains parallel, and the bar touches your stomach every rep.

5. Pec Deck

Gotta get that sick pump before the club.

There’s usually a line of bros waiting to use the Pec Deck machine, talking about how it really brings out the striations.

They’re wrong. This exercise sucks.

It doesn’t allow for enough weight to properly overload your pecs, and it increases the risk of hyper-extending your shoulders as you lower the weight backward.

The bottom line in building a big, strong chest is a lot of heavy pressing, both with the barbell and dumbbells. And incline pressing in particular.

Every chest workout should contain at least 6-9 heavy pressing sets, and if your physique and goals call for isolation work, that’s done last.

Want a workout program and flexible diet plan that will help you build muscle and get strong? Download my free no-BS “crash course” now and learn exactly how to build the body of your dreams.

6. Anything Done on the BOSU Ball

Did he learn that in his Crossfit class?

The BOSU Ball is used by trainers everywhere to trick their clients into thinking they know what the hell they’re doing.

It’s usually claimed that using the BOSU to add the element of instability to exercises improves the activation of core muscles.

Well, it doesn’t. Performing exercises on unstable surfaces actually just makes them less effective.

So, leave the BOSU and Swiss balls to the “professionals,” and keep your feet and back on stable surfaces.

7. Partial Squat


That’s the kind of guy that will hobble around at 50, whining about how squatting ruined his knees. No, half-squatting stupid amounts of weight did it.

There’s nothing impressive about half squats. Like the half bench press, it’s just the mark of an amateur or idiot.

The reality is squatting properly (deep) actually strengthens your knees, and is often used to rehabilitate injuries.

So, read my article on how to squat properly and do it right. Your knees will thank you, and your legs will grow much quicker.

8. The Behind-the-Neck Pulldown and Press

It’s all about the muscle confusion.

Unless you have crazy shoulder flexibility that allows for full range of motion, behind-the-neck exercises are at best a waste of time, and at worst a shoulder injury waiting to happen.

They were popularized by powerlifters and strongmen, but that doesn’t mean we should all be doing them. You need to have incredible shoulder flexibility to even hope to do them right, and even then they put the shoulders in very unnatural positions, and can put a ton of strain on the neck as well.

Play it safe and just stick to the traditional pulldowns and presses. You won’t be missing out on anything.

9. Ab Machines–All of Them

Ooo youz fancy.

The standard crunch sucks enough as it is. Do we really need to add machines to make it even worse?

My biggest gripe with ab machines is that they reduce the involvement of the lower back, which is meant to flex and tense along with the abs. This can increase the risk of injury.

Instead, here are the best exercises for building great abs:

1. Heavy squats and deadlifts. Both of these exercises are incredibly effective ways to train your entire core, and will do a lot for your ab development.

2. Weighted Cable Crunch. I believe weighted ab training is very important because most of us, even when we’re lean, don’t have defined, rippling abs that really pop. Weighted training is the most effective way to fix this, and the weighted cable crunch is, hands down, my favorite weighted ab exercise.

3. Captain’s Chair Leg Raise. This is one of my favorite core exercises. It works the abs and obliques, and you can even add weight by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.

4. Air Bicycles. This is another great exercise for training both the abs and obliques. What I like to do is include it last in an ab circuit, and go to burnout.

10. Triceps Kickback

Worst exercise ever.

This is probably the worst triceps exercise you can do. It’s just too easy.

The triceps really only feel like they’re doing anything at the very end of the lift, and you can’t use any amount of weight and still maintain proper form. Even if you’re a woman, this exercise isn’t for you.

Instead, I recommend you focus on the following exercises for your triceps.

1. Close-grip bench press

2. Overhead triceps press

3. Skullcrushers

4. Triceps pushdowns

What do you think about these sucky exercises? What should also go on the list? Let me know in the comments below!

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Leave a Comment!
  • Jim

    Funny article man! Still laughing! I can’t afford a gym membership so a ton of my work is done on a Smith. I feel really dumb now for using it. I’ve seen some really nice gains in the mirror though so the Smith cant be all that bad 🙂 I do wish there was some free weights though.

    • Thanks! If it’s at all possible, you’d be better off ditching the Smith and using a power cage or multi-press rack instead. I would go for a cage.

  • LD

    There is actually a trainer and his buddy at my gym that predominately use machines and do really fast high reps of half reps. They do all kinds of strange lifts – drives me nuts!

  • GlassMoon

    you know not of John98’s power

  • Super entertaining and funny, damn guilty of 4. Thank you for the heads up Mike!

  • I do none of these lol

  • Jamieyz

    Hey Mike,

    I have been using your book Bigger Leaner Stronger since October. Since I do not have the equipment to do the cable crunch I have been doing inclined weighted crunches or using bands to simulate a cable crunch but the resistance is not continuous. Any recommendation?

    Overall I am getting some good results as far as strength gains go but have plateaued a bit. Weight gain has been minimal. I think I have just dumped the fat and replaced it with muscle. If I could cram on another 15-20 lbs of muscle I would look awsome. I really have a tough time eating enough.

    I thought the hyperextension one was funny!

    • Incline weighted crunches aren’t bad. I like weighted leg raises on the captain’s chair or flat bench, and weighted hanging leg raises are good as well. (You weight them by snatching a dumbbell in between your feet.)

      Regarding your weight, if strength is going up but weight is staying the same, it’s almost always a simple issue of not eating enough. Either that or you’ve lost fat and built muscle, which happens pretty often as well. If it’s the latter, you should see clear progress in the mirror and calipers (body fat %)–you should look bigger and leaner. If that’s the case then just roll with it. If you don’t really look any leaner, though, we just need to increase your calories…

  • Nooooo I used the Smith machine this Thursday!!! I started phase 2 so even though I have free weights and a weight bench I have to go the gym on leg day to do leg presses. But my gym doesn’t let you do Romanian deadlifts without the Smith machine(something about weights on the floor). Should I do squats and leg presses at the gym then go home and deadlift? It’s around a 30min drive so I don’t know what impact that will have…

    • suba

      Seems like you need to look for a new gym:)…

    • What the hell kind of gym is that? Haha nah driving home to RDL would be annoying. You can do something else instead of the RDL. How about barbell lunges?

      • I know right?! It’s a Planet Fitness gym, I just joined one thinking any gym is as good as the next >,< But barbell lunges could work.I will miss the deadlifts though, so gooooodd

        • Ah you fell into the PF trap! 😛 Yes lunges are good, but will they really say anything if you RDL? It’s not like you’re going to be slamming around a ton of weight…

  • The only thing I disagree with having on this list is Yates Rows! I love doing those at the end of back day (by no means as a substitute for standard rows) because they hit my upper back better than any other exercise I have found. The middle area of my traps are still sore from doing them (granted, I do them with dumbells and row them higher than the guy in the video did). Either way I think they are a great finisher for back day.

    • True if you like them for traps then that works. Unfortunately most people that I’ve seen doing these use them as the barbell row of their routine.

  • suba

    Thank you, it is so important to know what sucks. I have put all these stupidity in gym in the past, hopefully.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked the article and have risen to a new level of gym consciousness. 😉

  • Austin

    Haha! So crazy that i put one of those into my questionnaire saying i keep it away from my workouts. Now i know the reason. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Dom Verity

    good work Mike, and love BLS – totally revolutionised my gains. I’d love to do my squats free in a cage, but I only have access to a smith machine (non counter balanced), which I do in preference to a machine leg press. What’s a good alternative in your opinion? Can you do something better with dumbbells? Is leg press better after all? cheers! /dom

    • Thanks Dom! Really glad you like my work and are doing well on the program.

      Hmm well what you can do is move your feet 12-18 inches in front of you on the Smith and that helps make the range of motion less awkward. Nothing you can do with dumbbells will be better. I’d recommend just using the Smith with your feet adjusted, and then doing leg press. Or finding another gym. 🙂

  • what about weighted bench dips?

    • Really not a fan because it gets awkward when you try to go heavy. I MUCH prefer the chest variation of the dip for both chest and tris (weighted if you can).

  • I’ve been using a Powertec multistation levergym for squats, bench, and lats. I do mix it up with the dumbells but feel safer with heavy weight on the lever system. I’m considering a power-rack after reading your article. You think that would be a good move?

    • Whoa that thing looks crazy.

      Yeah it would absolutely be a good move. You really can’t beat the free weight squat, and when you stay strict on form and use a rack, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get hurt.

  • Steve

    Great article Mike. It’s really helpful because I’m currently doing P90X (I know, I know! You can beat me up later!) but knowing which exercises are a waste of space is good and I can focus on the ones that are good. The triceps kickback is now gone!

    • Thanks Steve! I’m really glad you liked it. Actually I don’t hate on P90X–it’s a decent home-based fitness program. Their marketing is misleading but hey, it’s the industry I guess. Nice on kicking the kickback. 😉

      • Steve

        Your email has been forwarded. Thank you.

  • Steve

    Random question Mike… Is it okay to break a work out up during the day? More specifically, I live in a house share where my room opens to the living room – where my house-mates congregate. I’m too self conscious to do the pull-up bar stuff while they are there (it’s one of those doorway ones), so I do it very early morning, and do the rest of the workout in the evening where I’ve read it’s better for your body. As long as I’m eating right will it make much of a difference?

  • Jake

    Thanks for the article Mike! I completely agree on the Triceps Kickback. I was doing these the other day and noticed exactly what you said – that it didn’t feel like I was doing anything until the very end of the movement. I kept going heavier but by the time I felt like I was doing something, I couldn’t keep good form… I just thought I was doing something wrong.

    • Thanks Jake! Glad you liked the article. Yeah, the tris kickback is terrible.

  • Corentin

    Michael what do you think then about decline push ups with feet on a big swiss ball ? I found this very useful for my core.

    • Really not a fan of push ups because they’re basically worthless for your chest. And for core I just deadlift and squat heavy, and do an abs circuit several times per week to squeeze a little more size into my abs so they pop more.

      • Sean

        Where do you get your info. You seriously just said pushups are worthless for your chest…? You gotta be kidding me, Your exactly who you’re claiming to protect people from.

        • Michael Matthews

          Yes, they are. You will not build any type of chest to speak of doing push-ups. You can build a little muscle over time, and some muscle endurance, but no real size or strength.

          • Sean

            So you will build muscle over time… but not real muscle. please explain the difference. Dude pushups are awesome and one of the best exercises for your chest and tris. Are you frickin kidding me?!

          • Michael Matthews

            A LITTLE muscle. As in, you can go from no chest to…kind of a little bit of a chest…

            They’re a good body weight exercise, but again, they’re not good for building any real chest size and strength.

          • Preston Ray

            ^ this is something I’ve noticed about those guys coming out of “Insanity” and workouts like that… Sure, they’re lean, but since all the exercises are body-weight they really have no chest at all: it looks kinda funny in my opinion. I mean, I love DOING push ups, but typically I just do them in my off time to wake myself up between college classes. The problem with push ups is that anything that you can do a hundred of, rest a few minutes, and then do it again is that it obviously isn’t breaking down muscle, just fatiguing them xD

          • Michael Matthews


  • Mike, since I read and began using BLS I don’t touch the machines anymore. I’m a trainer and get asked by other trainers why I never teach the use of machines (except cables for certain movements); I tell them because I don’t half ass my clients. 🙂 I agree with one of the other posts; I actually really like Yates Rows for trap/upper back work. Keep up the good work; it’s leg day, time to go squat.

    • That’s great Todd. You’re doing your clients right. Unfortunately I rarely see it.

      True on the Yates Rows for the traps–they are good for that. Not sure if they’re any better than shrugs though, and unfortunately many people do Yates Rows for back instead of a proper barbell row.

      Hope you have a good legs day! 🙂

  • Simon Bradley

    Hi Mike. What do you think about doing shrugs on the Smith Machine?

    • Hey Simon I think it’s actually fine. Probably the one thing the Smith is okay for, haha. That and Military Press if your gym doesn’t have any way for you to do it with a free bar (utility bench and cage or MP station).

  • Betley

    Great article Mike. Totally agree with you. I only have power rack with 100kg weight at my home. I do Military Press, Deadlift, Squat, Shrug, and some curling movement. Is that enough for me? Do you have any advise basic equipment for my home gym? Thank you. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks! I’m really glad you liked it.

      Yup, that’s definitely plenty. If you want to improve your setup, just get a set of Powerblock adjustable dumbbells.

  • CL

    damn— i had to stop doing the sidebend and the kickback
    I’ve always thought they weren’t doing sh*t and now i can clean up my routine…

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha nice! Glad we cleared that up. 😉

  • Nancy Campion

    Can kickbacks using a smith machine be added to the list? Never done them myself but always thought they looked kinda pointless.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm not sure how that they would as kickbacks are done with dumbbells…

  • Rob

    Hi Mike,

    I would actually support “extensions” but think of them more of a “back raise,” which can be done in conjunction with deadlifts. The folks at California Strength do them weighted a lot and put up some incredible numbers in Oly lifting. Video instruction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZJp4Eo1sos

    • Michael Matthews

      I agree that they are useful for supporting your deads, but are never a good replacement as you know.

  • Larry Norby

    Thanks for the info..what is your opinion on the Total gym for workouts at home??

    • Michael Matthews

      Honestly I’m not a fan of those types of machines (BowFlex, TotalGym, etc.), but that’s just because they’re not nearly the most efficient way to build muscle and strength. They’re not USELESS, though, if that’s all you have. You CAN make gains with them, but not anywhere near the gains you can make with traditional weightlifting…

      • Larry Norby

        thank you Michael..I use both free weights and total gym..I’m not trying at this age to bulk up like you..but I have found the total gym does produce lean muscle..and the free weights, low weight/high reps help pronounce muscle groups for the lean muscle look. I do agree with you that nothing builds strength and muscle like a gym but this recession has hit many of us.. I always believe something is always better than sitting in an easy chair munching on a bag or two of chips…just sayin.. thank you for your info and encouragement….Larry Retired Military..

        • Michael Matthews

          Great, I’m glad you’re doing well. Keep up the good work and let me know if I can answer any questions!

  • Andy

    Thank you Mike for hyperextension thing! It was bothering me since you don’t have it in your books however every trainer in our gym loves to put his clients on it. There are 2 h/ext benches and there’s always a queue to them! Now me and my g/f can just forget about it 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      YW! Yeah I don’t know why so many trainers have their clients do them. The hyperextension is useful if you have a lower back injury that you’re nursing, but otherwise you should just deadlift.

  • janice

    I do decline push-ups with a Bosu. Why is this so bad, feels pretty challenging, he he, especially if I raise one foot slightly off the step while performing. Don’t you see any value in them whatsoever? Interesting that you comment they do nothing to engage your core and that working on a stable surface is superior. I’ll have to look for evidence on that (said totally non-judgmental just curious now!) 🙂 Thanks Mike, I always enjoy your articles!

    • Michael Matthews

      Lol for women, actually yes. Push-ups are useful because they effectively overload the muscles until you can do 12+, which usually takes a bit for women to work up to.

      Once you can bang out 12-15+ regular push-ups at once, though, it’s time to move on to weights if you want to continue building muscle definition and strength. That’s all. 🙂

      Check out the studies I link on the stability issue. It’s been thoroughly researched…

      Really glad you like my work! 🙂

  • Wei

    agreed! 😀 Thanks!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!! 🙂

  • ajay_brown

    Hi, Mike! Your web has been very useful for me since I started working out.I am now applying the tips and techniques you give in most articles.
    My queries are the following:
    1. Is bench press really passe? I’ve been reading a lot of articles saying that for chest muscles to REALLY build up, free weights is the way to go!

    2. Is planking really effective for the abs?

    Would appreciate your reply. A million thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m glad you’re liking the website.

      The bench press is a free weight exercise? Sorry I’m confused.

      Planks aren’t worth doing IMO because there are just way better exercises, such as leg raises (Cap’s chair, hanging, lying on a bench), cable crunches (weighted), and air bikes.

      • Preston Ray

        I really like doing weighted planks to end out my abs routine. It typically goes something like Tabletop crunches (3 sets to fail), weighted hanging leg raises (3 sets of 6-10), and then just bodyweight Cap’s chair ’till failure. Then I go on to do three sets of air-bicycle crunches ’till failure, and finish off by putting a 45lb plate on my back and holding a plank for a minute. I’ve found that just tensing my abs, glutes, and legs up until breathing is a bit of a challenge really gets my abs burning, and I definitely notice a difference in how my abs look when I include them into my routine. Idk, it may be minimal, but I always feel that as long as I do them “right”, instead of just supporting the weight, and actually squeeze for a burn, I notice improvement 😀 thoughts?

        • Michael Matthews

          I’m not a fan of planks but if you like them keep them in. It wont’ hurt.

  • Alicia

    Great article, 100% agree. Good job 🙂

    • Michael Matthews


  • Quan Tung Duong

    Hi Mike, this is a great article. Does the thing about pecdeck also hold true for inclined dumbbell pectoral fly ? Should I replace it with something else ? Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Flys are an advanced movement in my opinion. Meaning they’re useful if you have a big, solid foundation and want to nitpick and develop your inner chest more.

      If you’re still trying to build that foundation though you’re MUCH better off doing presses. You could do flys as well, but I would get in 9 heavy press sets per workout and then you could finish with 3 sets of flys if you’d like.

  • Illysa Hamlin

    I used to feel a little guilty for mocking all the guys at the gym doing a lot of this stupid stuff. This very morning, in fact, I witnessed the horrendous behind-the-head pulldown and thought “WTF, has this guy not read anything about fitness in the past decade?” But now I know – I may still be a righteous a-hole, but at least I’m not going to injure myself or my clients. Great summary article, really fascinated with the Bosu research!

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha I understand. I used to do everything wrong myself, so I can’t hate too much. 😉

  • sean

    There is nothing wrong with the smith machine. I don’t think any one just uses the smith machine. So when you say its one of the worst 10 excersises ever, that just doesn’t add up. Your hating on the bosu ball? Really… What about females who don’t have arm strength so when they get extra muscle recruitment it would be beneficial. For example core stabilizers. Peck deck? Don’t tell me you just go crank out 4 sets of flat bench 4 sets on incline and some pushups. And hyper extensions? No one thinks that those are gunna make up for dead lifts, so when people read this that are uneducated; they are probably never gunna use those again. Bad article, stop bashin.

    • Michael Matthews

      Read the studies I cited on the Smith Machine. It’s been scientifically proven to suck.

      Same with the Bosu Ball. It doesn’t help you “recruit extra muscle.”

      Pec deck is only good for getting a pump, so if that’s your thing, go for it.

      I’ve actually never seen someone that deadlifts do hyperextensions. They just do them as a part of their back workout, which is useful if you have lower back issues and need to strengthen the muscles, but otherwise useless.

      • sean

        Where is the study that proves the smith machine “sucks”. I would never recommend the smith machine as an alternative to the basics of weight training, but I would never say it just plain sucks and is unbeneficial in any way… which is exactly how you are coming across in your article.
        NASM must be lying to me about the BOSU ball then. So, I would love to see where that research came from and how credible they are.
        By “pec dec” I’m assuming you mean the fly machine? so you’ve read research the proves all it does is give you a pump? so getting a pump must have absolutely no muscle benefits? Except tear you muscle down and fill it with more blood. Which, needs to heal and when it heals grows back stronger… therefore you are wrong.
        WHY in the hell would you not want to do another exercise to maximize your deadlift. It works your hamstrings and lower back witch is certainly not a “sucky” exercise. Why would almost all sports training regiments incorporate a bad exercise for you?

        • Michael Matthews

          Do you not see the links in the article?



          Studies on BOSU:



          Lol pretty sure you’re just trolling me at this point, but pec dec is crap for building a chest, and hypers do not help you deadlift, and they don’t work your hams effectively.

          • Preston Ray

            ^ I’ve got to stick with Mike on this one. My “professional” weight lifting coaches in 8th grade and high school (two had bachelor’s degrees in fitness-related topics, one was a certified personal trainer) had me doing the Fly Machine and other isolation movements, along with using that damn Smith machine, for about half of my total workout volume. In 5 years, I only went from 150 pounds to 185 pounds, with around 12% bodyfat: not exactly killer results from 5 straight years of working out. Especially considering that in the last 8 months, following Mike’s routines and making heavy, compound lifts with nothing but free-weights account for at least 2/3 of my (I already had the dieting nailed, have been counting calories to a “T” for years), I’ve gone from 185 at 14% to 205 at 9%… My profile picture is from about 3 months into following his advice. Now, considering that I only stand at 6 ft tall, and I’m not quite 19 years old yet: I’d say that Mike’s got a leg up on the majority of the fitness industry these days.

          • Michael Matthews

            Damn those are fucking awesome gains Preston. Have we put you up in the successes yet? If not, let’s do it!

        • Bridget

          With the BOSU and Stability balls it really depends on who you are training and what you are training them for. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24790489

          • Michael Matthews

            I suppose they could have a place in training the elderly…

          • nastynoose

            But, the pec deck is soooo popular at my gym! Along with that the cable crossover, you gotta take a number and stand in line for it. The pec deck is so awesome, guys hang out on it, talk away for a good 3-5 minutes between sets, and even laugh and joke with each other while they use it, so it must have some great potential!

          • Michael Matthews


  • ross byrne

    brilliant stuff, but how is a smith machine bad ?:)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Check out the studies I cite in the article.

  • nice article but you broke my heart with “5. Pec Deck” 🙁

    • Michael Matthews

      Lol you’re a fan eh? 🙂

      • I could actually feel it on my upper chest, every time I do

        • Michael Matthews

          Well yeah you’ll feel it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good exercise for building strength and size.

  • Guest

    Great article!! I have been training with heavy weights for about 2 years now and i will never look back!


    Love this article! I started training with heavy weights about 2 years ago and i never looked back!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks and wow, you look great! Keep it up!


        thank you! keep the great articles coming!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW! I will! 🙂

  • Mina Romany KoMi

    Nice article and keep it up 😀

    • Michael Matthews


  • Louise

    I’ve been doing the TLS workout for a few weeks now, and I’ve been having some trouble with the captain’s chair leg raises. My gym doesn’t have a captain’s chair, and the pull up and dips machines don’t have any padding, are there any alternatives you could recommend? Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      Sure! Try hanging leg raises or lying leg raises instead (the lying raises are done on a bench).

      Hope this helps! Lemme know how it goes!

      • Louise

        I tried the lying leg raises today, it went well! Thanks!

        • Michael Matthews

          Great! 🙂

  • halevi

    Here are my observations:
    1. Doing weight exercises while standing on that ball looks like a major injury waiting to happen.
    2. I see guys doing half squats in my gym ALL THE TIME! I gave one guy advice once and told him that he should do the full squat and he said he can’t b/c he has problems with his knees. NO WONDER! By the way, the guy in the video is doing LESS THAN a half squat. It looks ridiculous.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah yeah go check out that guy’s channel. I actually don’t even know what to think…

  • michael veltri

    good piece. made me laugh hard on all but 1. I dont agree on the smith machine though. I agree whatever the hell she was doing was ridiculous, and leg presses on a smith are stupid. But its been a life saver when working with beginners or injured athletes for me. Ive been training athletes in the weight room for 33 years. I can teach a beginner how to sit back when squatting on a smith if they keep wanting to lean forward when squatting. Also, with very tall athletes, basketball and volleyball especially, they will lean forward too much on the squat when heavier loads are used. I rather not keep using light weights while squatting with a barbell and develop some leg strength on the smith with heavier weights. Working with athletes with shoulder injuries, either rehab or chronic, doing different presses on a smith has enabled them to stay strong and keep lifting with their shoulder problems. I happen to be one of them, old football injuries and past lifting injuries have made using a smith machine the only way to do heavy presses for me. And most people should know or be told a bar on most smith machines is only 15 pounds because of the counter weights inside the columns, not 45 lbs of a barbell alone. So, as u know already its not a heavier load than whats on the bar. Are the people worried that someone doesnt think they’re stronger with their loaded up barbells. Weight is weight, barbell, machine, dumbell, sandbag, whatever, put heavy weight of any manner on an exercise and progress to a heavier weight when you can lift what you’ve been lifting for whatever rep range your using, the muscle will get bigger and stronger. Period.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike!

      Good points, but Smith has been proven to deliver inferior results to free barbell lifting.

    • Jesse Levasseur

      The bar on a Smith machine is 20 lbs.Also there were 2 studies in 2009 and it said the Smith benchpress stimulated affected muscles 3% less than a barbell and concentrated more on triceps.With the squat though, muscle activation was 43% less than a barbell..I use to use the Smith machine for all my big lifts.But after extensive research and great articles by Mike Matthews, there are no longer a part of my workouts.

  • Brandon Roberts

    i mostly do basic push ups and sit ups not very good at that stuff i need to be better at exercise

    • Michael Matthews

      Get in the gym! 🙂

      • Brandon Roberts

        ok i’ll try to find some free time to do that

        • Michael Matthews

          Cool 🙂

          • DG

            Do or do not. There is no try.

  • Nani

    Dear Mike,
    I disagree with your comment about women not caring about mens’ legs. An “X” shape is so much more attractive than the unbalanced “V” shape on a man. Nice calves on a man are really hot! Not a fan of chicken legs.

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice! I’m glad you appreciate the hard work it takes to build a nice set of legs. 🙂

  • Renier Pérez

    Mike, you should consider to do a second part of this dude, I’m agree with this article 100%

    • Michael Matthews

      True, I could do another! Thanks!

  • goodfella311

    yeah i disagree with several of the things on your suck list. I mean I get it, but some of these have a distinct purpose and for that purpose they are excellent exercises.

    • Michael Matthews

      It’s okay to disagree. 🙂

  • Carl

    Back extensions suck?
    I’ll have to call bullshit on this one. Obviously bodyweight extensions are not going to pack much muscle on your back but hold 60kg of plates in your hands and hey presto. I think I’d trust Pete Rubish, who has deadlifted over 800lbs, over this information.

    • Michael Matthews

      If you’re including them as a part of a deadlifting routine, that’s fine, but that’s rare. Everyone that I see doing them doesn’t deadlift.

    • Nara

      Uhh…you do know that Pete Rubish has done a lot of steroids…right?

  • Zach

    Real quick question. I agree with all of these. But will using a belt with squats and deadlifts take away some of the core work? Thanks!

  • vrk1975

    How can you be a fan of leg press and leg pulls for hamstrings? Both of them are isolation exercises.

    • Michael Matthews

      Leg Press isn’t an isolate exercise and Leg Curls are one of the few isolation exercises worth including IMO.

  • Chris

    So Mike, do you not think there is a place or benefit to using a bosu ball? I agree that doing the exercises in the study have no extra benefit compared to stable ground, however I do believe certain exercises on it can add intensity to your workout! I enjoy doing plate twists for my core on them, push ups and will add certain dumbbell exercises at the end of my workout to finish up strong. What’s your take on it? Thanks, and enjoy everything you bring to the fitness industry!

    • Michael Matthews

      IMO the only valid use is for the elderly and maybe certain types of injury rehab.

      If you want a strong core I recommend heavy deadlifting and squatting.

      Thanks man! Hope this helps!

  • Kca

    Omg your yr makin it tough on me!! I own a smith machine and yr right I cannot get great form and do not pull my stabilizers in!!! I gotta buy a almost whole new gym set up!! I do have free wts also & not the barbie ones!! Lol!!!! Really if u do smith machine wk-outs then do total free weights Big F…. Difference & I’m a chic!! I can tell the diff Thanks 4 all yr research & helping teach the factual shit!! New to TLS but believer in yr teachings and research. I have about 5yrs of weight training smith machine & free wts & food/nutrition learnings under my belt. Free is better, Smith is for scared folk. Always learning sumthn new from u!!! Looking forward to me in 2015 with TLS!!!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for reading my book and writing! I really appreciate it.

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

  • nastynoose

    Mike, you got me cracking up! But I totally agree with you. I used to be drawn in with all the fancy machines when I was younger, now it seems that 90-95% of my workout is based on free weights. Working your back, can’t go wrong with deadlifts, barbell rows, one-arm DB rows and pull-ups!

  • brothermoo

    The BOSU ball is a great bit of kit! …For only one move though, because it the perfect shape for myotatic crunches! Over 500% more effective than standard crunches and works the full lenght of the core.
    Apart from that Mike I agree with your post. Although I think people should be able to move their body before moving weights.. muscles are no good without tendon & ligament strength to fire them.. after that overload and recover and repeat 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for sharing!!

  • Stephen

    My gym only has the Smith machine for squats and I really don’t want to use it. What do you think about bulgarian split squats with dumbells? Any other alternatives you would recommend?
    Thanks as always!

    • Stephen

      Mike, just saw your other response to someone else that there basically are no alternatives (e.g., dumbells) and to just move feet 12-18 inches in front of bar… thanks,

      • Michael Matthews

        Yeah that’s a way to make it work.

    • Michael Matthews

      Bulg splits are okay but they’re not really a replacement for heavy barbell squatting. Same with goblet and pistol squats.

  • Amanda

    This is great! I always get a kick out of what I see in the gym – I’m a newbie so I sometimes have a hard time differentiating between what’s legit and what’s a waste of time. Thanks to this article I graduated from the Smith Machine to big girls squats! Love your articles (and your TLS book) Mike! Always so well researched and articulated, thank you for helping me along in my journey to get shredded! 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha nice! Keep up the good work and keep me posted!

  • Morgen

    Well….totally unsubscribing to Shape magazine! lol :p all their ‘workout’ suggestions involve either the BOSU or the smith machine. I’ll stick with my TLS workout…

    What do you think of back extensions and sit-ups done on the GHD?

    • Michael Matthews

      Lol good call.

      Back extensions are pointless unless you’re rehabbing your lower back or specifically trying to build more lower back strong for stuff like heavy squatting and deadlifting.

      Not a big fan of any type of sit-up, really.

  • Tj Short

    whoever wrote this article is seriously not bright.. smith machine lets you focus more on pressing the weight wich is the goal in the first place. yes it takes away from the stabilizer muscles but thats why you supplement with db presses.. like me i have a bad wrist and the smith machine is safer when by myself. ALSO the hyperextensions. they definitley strengthen the lower back if done right and they HELP make your deadlift stronger. again another supplementing exercise like the db press.. AND the peck deck isnt to build a bigger chest its to get the line down the middle and cut it out. i personally think db flyes are better but to say you should NEVER do peck deck is silly.. if you look like this hguy maybe you dont need these exercises but for 90% of the population theres nothing wrong with them #Rant over

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Blackfin

    I can’t think of a list of exercises that belong more on this list. Spot on!

  • Jon Xavier

    One fully stretches doing a Yates Row. If it were a chest exercise, it’d be the dip. Sure, you may prefer the bodybuilder type bench press, but the powerlifter bench will build you just as well – and make you stronger. The same is true of the Yates Row vs ordinary barbell rows. And besides, the Pendlay is more for strength than size. But who in the hell picks things up in that position? So, the Yates is not only more power oriented than the conventional BB row (you can move more weight), it’s more functional than the Pendlay. And a much better compliment to the dip and deadlift. I would suggest a pronated grip and a 45 degree angle as per the dip.

    • I don’t disagree but do prefer the Pendlay. Remember that with strength comes size if you’re also eating right.

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  • Jim

    I find barbell roll outs on the knees excellent for abbs,the lower you go the better,and if you really want to push it do roll outs from standing,they are realy cruel but get results.

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  • Zauderer

    I always had a feeling those weighted side-bends are no good. My backbone feels weird after I do a couple repetitions of those. This is a good read, thanks for sharing this.

  • Darren

    That wasn’t a half squat – that was a knee bend. A half squat is 90 degree’s, with the hip crease just below line of knee – and is a perfectly acceptable squat. Squatting A2G is fine if you are mobile enough, some people aren’t and never will be, regardless of the amount of time spent doing mobility exercises, stretching and trying to address muscle imbalances. Depth is unimportant to a large extent, as all squats are quad dominant exercises anyway – marry them with an RDL and you’ll work both anterior and posterior chain.

    Cable crunches? Abs/obliques are really fixators and anti-rotators. Squats, deads and a well performed single arm DB row all engage the abs as they should. Any kind of sprint work or jump training will also really work the whole of your core – and I’m not just talking abs here.

    • Haha in gym lingo a half squat is the quarter squat if you want to be technical.

      I’ve found people can work into A2G with a proper high-bar position. Is it worth spending a bunch of time to do? Not really.

      Squats involve the hams quite a bit more than they’re given credit for. They get you out the hole.

      Not really on the abs (the rectus ab in particular). I talk about it here:


  • stfu

    The sexism in this article was incredibly insulting

  • James

    I liked the article but maybe next time not including “Well, and girls with killer bodies and skin-tight workout outfits. They should do these a lot.” This article is about exercise not the objectification of women. By you writing this it gives the impression to other men it is okay to include this irrelevant inforamtion.

    • Thanks for the comment James. It was a joke.

      • zylstra

        I don’t objectify women, and I do in general find them beautiful. I think the comment is fine. Most people should understand where you are coming from.

      • Sam Dunham

        We live in a world where jokes are no longer allowed. 😞

    • Jesse Levasseur

      Wow lighten up guy!Mike’s sense of you humor and the way he puts these articles together are the reasons he’s my “got to” fitness guy.Keep up the great work Mike.I’m a big fan!

      • Jesse Levasseur

        Sorry for the crappy spell check

  • Phillip

    When you do captains chair leg raises, are you raising your feet with straight legs or are you bringing knees to your chest?

    • You want a slight bend at the knee. If you’re not able to do that, the easier gradient is fully bending at the knee so your legs are at a 90 degree angle.

  • User283

    Whats your take on trap development?

    • Most people get enough trap development with the heavy military pressing.

      However, if you find your traps lagging, I recommend 2-3 sets of heavy barbell shrugs at the end of your back day to help catch them up.

      • Sri

        One should add the elliptical trainer to this… no that one outta be in another level of useless altogether.

  • Sri

    I think the one useful thing you could use the Smith Machine for would be the inverted row.

  • James

    Mike, hello once again
    The exercises mentioned above are not part of my routine. I removed the side-to-side element and replaced with side lateral raise. However, I do use the Roman chair for crunches.
    What are your thoughts on reverse flies?

    • The rear lateral raise is a great way to build your rear delts. Definitely have them in your regular routine.

  • Paul McIntyre


    Unfortunately my gym does not have a captains chair. Can you please suggest an alternative exercise for this?


    • Paul, you do can hanging leg raises from the pullup bar.

  • Renato

    >>There’s nothing impressive about half squats. Like the half bench press, it’s just the mark of an amateur or idiot.<<

    It's actually much safer for the shoulders when the elbows are not dropping below the shoulders when doing the bench press. As is done in the floor press.
    Also, many of the champions in bench press have their elbows not come below the shoulders due to their built. When having long arms and not a barrel chest it is as bad fot the shoulders to let the bar touch the chest as are neck presses and upright rows bad for the shoulders.

    Don't assume people to be idiots that quickly.

  • Brooks Ploskina

    So are dumbell flyes a complete waste of time for natural lifters?

    • The time and effort would be better spent on another exercise that’ll load up your chest a lot more heh

    • Not a complete waste of time, but can’t take the place of compound exercises that you can really load up…

  • Anna Maria Kaminska

    My gym doesn’t have a captain’s chair with the straight back, instead the back part is a half ball (Bosu ball I guess). Will leg raises on this be just as effective or less so?

  • Jenjencasey

    I thought the Smith machine was useless until I saw how to use it for hip thrusts. I can do a fair amount of weight on a hip thrust but it’s more weight than I can easily get into place for the exercise using a barbell. The Smith machine seems to be a reasonable solution, can you comment on the efficacy of using it this way?

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