There are plenty of exercises we have love-hate relationships with. Walking lunges shape our legs and glutes so dang well—but man are they dreadful. And we’d be lying if we said deadlifting doesn’t give us some pre-workout anxiety.
As godly as they may seem in the gym, even trainers have moves that cramp their style—but not necessarily for the same reasons as us regular folk.
We asked three trainers to share their least favorite exercises—whether it’s because they’re not worth the time, are bad for your joints, or are always done improperly—and how to fill the void.
1. Single-Leg Deadlifts
The deadlift is one of our go-to strength-training moves—and for good reason. The move lights up pretty much all the muscles on the backside of your body. But the single-leg deadlift is so often done incorrectly that it doesn’t offer much benefit, says Rebecca Gahan, C.P.T., founder and owner of Kick@55 in Chicago.
The common issues with the single-leg deadlift? First: not enough weight. “A single 10-pound dumbbell does not create enough resistance,” Gahan says. Your legs and glutes are some of your largest muscles, so they need serious weight to benefit from resistance training. (Like a minimum of 45 pounds, not 20, according to Gahan.) Beyond that, there’s improper form. “Most people bend all of the way over, pulling at their lower back and potentially increasing their risk of injury,” she says.
To work those posterior muscles as effectively as possible, Gahan’s go-to is a Romanian deadlift with a barbell. “Plant both feet on the ground, and grasp the barbell with shoulders back and chest out,” she says. With legs straight, push back through your hips and lower barbell to mid-shin so your back is parallel with the floor. Then drive your hips forward to lift the bar back up into starting position. Gahan recommends using a weight you can perform a maximum of three to four sets of 15 reps with. If you get through those 15 reps easily, up your weight.
2. Tricep Kickbacks
Here’s the thing: Defined arms are coveted by guys and gals alike—but that doesn’t mean your gym time needs to be dedicated to sets and sets of isolated arm moves.
Gahan isn’t a fan of tricep kickbacks for two reasons: Most people don’t use enough weight to seriously work their triceps, and even when done effectively, the move only hits that one muscle group.
Turn up the burn of your workout by focusing on moves that work multiple muscle groups—including your triceps. Take the pushup, for example. This classic move engages your chest, triceps, and shoulders.
Make the most of your pushup by perfecting your form. Start in a plank position with your core tight. Look at the floor about a foot in front of you and bend at the elbows to lower your chest toward the ground. Focus on using your upper body—not hips and pelvis—to push back up from the floor, Gahan says.
Related: 9 Moves To Step Up Your Pushup Game
To really turn up the intensity for your triceps, modify your usual pushup for a tricep pushup. In this variation, position your hands directly under, or just wider than your shoulders (instead of the wider hand placement you’d use in regular pushups). As you lower down and push back up, keep your elbows tucked straight back and in toward the sides of your body, says Gahan. “The closer [your elbows] remain to your body, the greater resistance applied to the triceps,” she explains.
3. Front Lunges
No one can deny that lunges deserve a spot in your workout routine. But the front lunge can be hard on your knees—and not to mention monotonous. But one simple change—swapping front lunges for reverse lunges—can change up your routine and challenge your legs and butt in a different way, says celebrity trainer Adam Rosante, C.P.T., C.S.N. Plus, it develops the gluteus maximus (the biggest muscle in your butt), your quads, inner thighs, and calves. And, since the reverse lunge is more of an up-and-down movement, it tends to be easier on your joints (and easier to do), Rosante says.
Stand with feet hips-width apart, bend your right knee, and step your left foot back behind you. (Your torso can lean slightly forward toward your right thigh.) Keep the weight in your front heel as you bend your back knee to hover just above the ground. Then drive back up through your front heel to return to start.
4. Bicep Curls
While barbell bicep curls can build upper-body strength (particularly in those biceps), they’re done incorrectly all the time, says Chris DiVecchio, C.P.T., founder of Premier Mind and Body. And that can affect your results—and your range of motion.
Most people tuck their elbows into their sides and don’t extend their arms beyond a 90-degree angle—so they only really work the upper half of the bicep, he says. Plus, tons of people let their upper arms and elbows swing backward and forward as they curl and uncurl. (That’s cheating!)
If you’re going to do barbell curls, keep your arms extended out in front of your body and keep your upper arms in the same position throughout the entire movement, bending only at the elbows, DiVecchio says. (Or use dumbbells to make sure you’re using each arm equally.)
Or, try a compound move that’ll challenge your biceps, along with a few other muscle groups—like the slam ball squat throw. “The slam ball squat throw is a full-body move that not only works the biceps, but also works the core and legs,” says DiVecchio. This move is a power-conditioning combo that gets your heart rate up while benefiting your muscles.
Make sure you have enough room to throw a weighted ball straight in the air. Place the slam ball between your feet and squat down with your feet wide, toes pointed out, and butt low to the ground. Grab the ball so that your hands are close to the ground. Push through your glutes and legs to extend out of the squat and launch the ball straight up into the air. Catch the ball and drop back down into your squat.
Quit crunching your life away. When it comes to building a strong core, crunches will only get you so far, says Rosante.
Rosante suggests trading in those crunches for something better “Focus on strengthening your core with anti-rotational moves like the plank, which prevent any pulling on the back of the neck, as is common with crunches,” he says.
Related: The 5 Most Effective Abs Moves
To get your plank on, start on the ground on your hands and knees. Step your feet back to the top of a pushup position, then lower your forearms to the floor so your elbows are under your shoulders. Pull your belly button in and squeeze your abs tight, maintaining a straight line from your head to your heels. Set a timer and hold until your form breaks. That’s your time to beat.
6. Flat-Ground Sprints
Any sprint is hard work, so we’re not here to hate on regular ol’ sprints—but if you’re going to go all out, you might as well get the biggest ROI possible, right?
To do that, try swapping flat sprints for hill sprints, says Rosante. “When you run hill sprints, your body is naturally placed at an angle which decreases impact and lessens your risk of injuring your hamstrings, Achilles’ tendons or knees,” he says. What’s more, they also do more to build muscle while burning fat, he adds.
Trade the treadmill for a hill (or just crank up the incline) and perform your sprints in the following pattern: Go hard for one minute, then recover until your heart rate is about 60 percent of your max. (Your max heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age.) Then repeat.