5 exercises that actually suck and what you should do instead split squat

5 Exercises You Don’t Really Need

Building muscle is a relatively easy procedure.

Step 1. Go to gym.

Step 2. Crush workout.

Step 3. Eat Like a king.

Step 4. Sleep.

Step 5. Repeat Step 1-4.

Not too crazy, eh?

Sorry. My Canadian is showing.

Unfortunately we seem to make it harder on ourselves than it needs to be, especially for our workouts. It seems like when we go to the gym, we choose exercises we love, or that will puff up our ego instead of what we actually need.

There are exercises that are chosen that seem like obvious choices. Either they have been done forever by our childhood heroes, or it just seems like a great choice.

Turns out, if your aim is to build muscle, certain exercises look cool, but they aren’t actually great muscle builders. You can work all you want with these certain exercises, but they won’t get you your goal of building slabs of muscle bodybuilders would be jealous of.

When you are trying to build muscle, there is one goal you have: Create the most tension in a muscle over the greatest range of motion.

This is why adding weight to the bar in exercises is so important. It allows you to gain more muscle. But the exercises I’m about to list are all focused on getting more weight on the bar.

Getting stronger is important. But get stronger in exercises which move your goal forward as easily, and pain free as possible.


The barbell bench press is heralded as one of the best exercises in the world. For developing raw pressing strength, sure. But for developing pecs that cut diamonds, and shoulders that more resemble bowling balls, you’re looking at one of the worst exercises you can do.

When you look at the barbell bench press, one of it’s biggest limiting factors is the fact that the bar is the biggest determinant of what your range of motion will be. If you have the shoulder range of motion to get the bar to your chest, that’s the maximum you will go.

Second, with the bar being straight, you have to put your hands in a straight position, when most of the time your hands and shoulders want to open up and externally rotate to try and get more strength. By having your hands flat on the bar, your shoulders will naturally want to follow, with a shoulder flair that makes a scarecrow take notes, leaving your shoulders in a world of hurt. You can talk about “breaking the bar” all you want, but unless you compete in powerlifting, it’s not going to give you the best chest result in the end.

INSTEAD, the exercise you want is the incline dumbbell bench press.

The dumbbells provide the opportunity to stretch the muscles further than the barbell bench, which as we talked about before is one of the big drivers of building muscles.

You’re also able to put your hands into a more favourable position. If your shoulders prefer being at a 45 degree angle, and we know your shoulders will follow the position of your hands. And when pressing, shoulders prefer a 45 degree angle as opposed to 90. There is less chance of your shoulders getting all inflamed because the subacromial space, where the attachment of your medial deltoid and supraspinatus meet, doesn’t get all irritated. 

Lastly, the since the dumbbells are independent of one another, you can’t use your dominant hand to lift the non-dominant hand’s weight. Meaning your left hand has to lift the same amount as your right hand.
It’s going to iron out any differences you have between your dominant and non-dominant sides, as well as keep the weight down so you can focus on good quality movement.


Before you get your pitchforks ready, listen to me. This is a fine muscle building exercise. It’s essential in all of the programs I write, and I do them every day.

But the squat is not the best exercise for your quad development.

There is one major focus for building muscle: Increasing mechanical tension.

For squats, you can use a very heavy weight in most cases, but oftentimes you will sacrifice the range of motion you can achieve with a back squat.

To get the range of motion needed for the back squat, majority of people need to spend a long time on ankle dorsiflexion and hip flexion so you feel it in your quads and legs instead of your lower back.

This isn’t saying you shouldn’t work on your mobility. Instead, improve your mobility and use the exercise mentioned below.

But most important, the back squat allows you to compensate with your strong leg in place of your weak leg. THis feeds into potential dysfunction, leading to injury and a long wait time before you can train again.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Bulgarian Split Squat.

Split Squat are loved and hated in this neck of the woods. It’s as effective as it is soreness inducing.

By doing a single Leg squat, you have just put all the tension on one leg. You are now able to use half as much (or less) weight as you could for back squat, in turn having less of a chance of feeling it through your joints. As long as you focus on keeping your foot flat and the pressure even from the front to the back of your foot, you’re going to get really, really strong, muscular legs.

Second, most people have more mobility when one leg is behind them in a lunge position or split squat position. By increasing your range of motion, you’re able to use more tension to build even MORE muscle.

Add in the balance component, you have the best lower body muscle building exercise.

OVERRATED EXERCISE 3: The conventional (and sumo) Deadlift

Again. Don’t get your pitchforks out just yet.

While heavy deadlifts are fantastic at getting you strong, and making you look like a badass, they aren’t so great at getting your hamstrings and glutes bigger and more muscular. The main reason for this is the lack of eccentric loading.

The deadlift is a very strong lift, but it’s mostly about forcing the leg muscles to shorten. And when people deadlift, The focus is to get the weight up, but not using the hamstrings to slowly lower the weight down.

This is great at increasing the weight you can lift, but not for developing hypertrophy. The highest mechanical tension that we talked about before comes when we have a strong eccentric movement, aka controlling the lowering portion of the lift. If you’re not doing this, you’re not going to develop muscular hamstrings and glutes.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Romanian Deadlifts.

Romanian Deadlifts! Good luck making it through this exercise without being sore tomorrow.

Everything conventional deadlifts were not great at, these excel in. With romanian deadlifts, the movement starts at the top. So you already focus on controlling the lowering phase. By doing this, you’re creating a giant amount of tension on the hamstrings.

Second, you don’t need a absurd amount of weight to make these challenging. At 50% of your conventional deadlift, these will still make your hamstrings scream and feel the burn of muscle building. Since you don’t use huge weight, injury risk is minimal

OVERRATED EXERCISE 4: Bent over rows

Building a rock solid back is much more impressive than a big chest. The V Taper has been shown to increase your likelihood that a woman will think you’re a suitable mate (AKA want to date you/marry you/other fun things).

But too many times you’ll hear of dudes tweaking their back trying to do these. The reason is because you need really good hip strength and hamstring strength.

Also, this ends up turning into a bent over shrug-fest because as you get tired, you’ll naturally stand up, decreasing the angle that affects your back. To have a strong training effect for your back, you need to be almost parallel with the ground… Without a rounded back.

DO THIS INSTEAD… Chest supported Rows.

THis is the exercise that allows you to go heavy, but focus on what matters: Squeezing your shoulders and getting a solid activation out of your rhomboids, lats, and traps.

You don’t have to worry about your legs getting tired, meaning you can put more energy into your back training. With higher focus, you’ll be able to see your back grow more than you could with bent over rows.

OVERRATED EXERCISE 5: Barbell Skull crushers

I’m willing to guess that whne you do barbell skullcrushers, you feel it in your elbows?

Between slowly morphing into Quasimodo from smashing a keyboard all day, to the amount of grip intensive exercises you do in the gym, you might not have the best wrist mobility. Mainly, you’re probably lacking the ability  to pronate and supinate your wrists well.

If you don’t care about anatomy terms, that just means turning your hands up and down.  

Doing barbell skullcrushers actually requires a large amount of wrist mobility, and not only that, it’s not a great position for your elbows anyways. Your palms naturally want to lay in the same direction as your elbows.

DO THIS INSTEAD: Rolling Tricep Extension.

Oh boy. If you love doing tricep work, man oh man have I got an exercise for you! After you do this, email me if you have soreness for a week.

The reason why this works so well is due to how the tricep works.

While everyone knows that the tricep extends the elbow, did you also know it also acts on the shoulder?

That’s right. The scapula is directly affected by the tricep, and if you’re not focusing on that part of the tricep as well, you’re missing out.

This exercise not only  strengthens the crap out of your tricep connection at the elbow, but it also strengthens your tricep closer to where it originates at your shoulder.

Also, with the rolling tricep extension, you’re using dumbbells so your hands are put in a better position in relation to your elbows, keeping them happy and healthy. Just don’t use too much weight like a dummy. Focus on feeling it in your triceps, and nothing else.


If you’re smart, you’ll notice that all of these exercises are barbell exercises. While these may not be directly the best for building muscle, they indirectly help because they are able to get you STRONG. Being strong allows you to build muscle because you’re able to use heavier weight in your hypertrophy phase than you previously would be able to.

So if you were to have an 8-12 week plan for building muscle, put these exercises in for a 4 week block of strength focus before your block of hypertrophy.

That 4 week block can be simple, but using exercises like your squat, bench and deadlifts. Focus on set and rep ranges of 3×5 and 5×5 to get a serious strength and muscle building effect.

Get those extra smedium t-shirts ready. After getting rid of your overrated exercises, along with a new focus for these exercises you’ll be building more muscle than ever before. Now get to the gym to build that fresh muscle.

About the Author

Linden Ellefson is a personal trainer and online coach from Calgary, Canada. When he's not drinking coffee or playing with his dog, Taco, he's helping 30-40 year old guys get in better shape than they were in college. Find out more at lindenellefson.com