Remove Redundancies, Start Growing
Avoiding redundant exercises is an overlooked programming strategy for improving the productivity and efficiency of your workouts. Here are five common redundant exercises, along with exercises you should do instead to make the most of your training time.
1 – Bicep Curls
Many popular curl exercises are just variations of the same theme. For example, let's compare the lying cable curl to any standing curl variation (dumbbell curls, EZ-bar curls, or barbell curls).
Sure, the lying cable curl is performed with a cable instead of a free weight, and it's also performed while lying supine on the floor instead of standing upright. However, when you look at how the lying cable curl places force across the biceps and elbow joints, it becomes obvious that they're not much different.
During all standing free-weight curls, you have the most mechanical tension on the biceps – provided you don't cheat by allowing your elbows to drift forward – when your elbow is bent at 90 degrees. The trouble is, we see the very SAME thing happening when you do lying cable curls.
What this means in practical terms is that not only are lying cable curls redundant to standing free weight curls, but unless you're using different grips, standing free-weight curls are redundant to one another. Although these exercises may appear different, they basically load the biceps in the very same way.
If you've already gotten everything you can from a barbell curl, there's no reason to add lying cable curls or other standing curl variations. You just aren't stimulating the muscles any differently.
You'd be far better off using less redundant exercises like preacher curls, for example.
During preacher curls, the forearm is perpendicular to the load vector (gravity), but at a different angle, thus loading your biceps in a different manner.
2 – Dumbbell Flyes and Dumbbell Bench Presses
Not only do dumbbell flyes and dumbbell bench presses both involve horizontal shoulder adduction, they also create the most tension on the pecs when the humerus (biceps bone) is parallel to the ground, which is 90-degrees to the force vector. So they're basically the same exercise when it comes to how they load your pecs, thus making them redundant to one another.
The reason you can use much more weight when doing a dumbbell bench press is because it allows the triceps to contribute. The weight is also much closer to your shoulder joints, which gives your pecs and front delts a much better mechanical advantage.
That said, CABLE flyes aren't redundant to dumbbell bench presses because they load the pecs in a different manner than flyes with dumbbells.
Dumbbell flyes provide little to no force on your pecs when your wrists are directly above your shoulders. However, since cable flyes involve working against 45-degree force vector (the cables themselves), your pecs end up dealing with a great deal of load when your hands are directly in front of your shoulders.
3 – Push-Ups and Planks
Abdominal elbow planks make sense in the early stages of injury rehab. They're also great for helping entry-level folks build awareness of optimal body alignment in a static position. However, the plank becomes less useful when it's continually done without progressing to more dynamic and challenging exercises.
That said, the plank is essentially a push-up without the arm action. So, if you're able to perform 15 push-ups at a 1:1 tempo (one second up and one second down), you've just done a 30-second plank. In other words, if you're able to do push-ups with good spinal alignment, basic planks are redundant.
If that describes you, it's time stop boring yourself with basic planks and progress to more advanced plank versions, like the cross-body plank:
4 – Front Delt Raises, Incline Presses, Overhead Presses
Research on muscle activation shows that the front delts are stimulated during horizontal presses; stimulated to a higher degree during incline presses; and stimulated to an even higher degree during vertical presses.
In practical terms, you don't need to do exercises like dumbbell front raises if you've already been doing a few compound pressing exercises of different angles, especially exercises like incline presses and overhead presses.
That said, you'll make your chest and shoulders workout less redundant if you complement your compound pressing exercises with additional shoulder exercises that target the middle and rear-delts, like seated lateral raises and seated, bent-over lateral raises.
5. Squats/Deadlifts and Back Extensions
Many lifters mistakenly believe that squats and deadlifts create more abdominal activation than exercises directed at those specific (anterior core) muscles. They don't.
It is true, however, that squats and deadlifts elicit high levels of activation in the posterior core muscles (the back extensors) when compared to other exercises that target those same muscles. (More info: Core Confusion)
That means you don't need to do exercises like Supermans, stability-ball back extensions, or machine back extensions because they're highly redundant to squats and deadlifts.