The 10 Most Overrated Workouts and Diets

Don't Fall For the Hype

The Question

What's the most overrated training method or diet?

Chris Shugart – T Nation CCO

Paleo, at least for lifters and athletes.

The idea behind paleo is pretty solid. To get leaner and healthier, drop the junk food, colas, fast food, and sugar. Nothing new there. But the idea was packaged nicely: eat like a caveman because your physiology is basically the same as your Paleolithic ancestors and your body can't handle modern foods.

Besides getting rid of the obvious "no duh" stuff that makes us fat, most paleo eaters also upped their protein intakes, lowered their carb intakes, and dropped their overall calories. And the quality of their foods certainly improved since things like sugar and even wheat were off the ingredient list.

That limits choices, which of course limits daily calories. Same reason most vegans lose weight initially – there ain't much left to eat! Paleo dieters also replaced their corn and vegetable oils with coconut oil and other quality choices. Good move.

But then things got wacky. Paleo became sort of a snooty food-religion, much like veganism. Most paleo promoters frowned on beans, rice, oatmeal, potatoes, any type of dairy including good-for-ya yogurt and kefir, and an array of healthy supplements. All because these things aren't "paleo."

Of course, neither is an apple. The apple as we know it didn't exist in edible form during the Flintstones era. It took some agricultural evolution to make it red and delicious. (Oh no, agriculture!)

For some, paleo just became another low-carb diet wrapped in a new organic-hemp package. Thing is, low-carb diets don't do squat for building muscle. And here's where the problem comes in.

I tried paleo for almost a year. I didn't go full paleo, keeping workout nutrition supplements in the mix, but I bought into some of it. I lost a little fat at first, then gained it back. Why? Because my weight-trained muscles were screaming for carbs. I ignored them and packed in more paleo fats and proteins. Then my workouts suffered and my gains stagnated.

The cure? Beans, rice, potatoes, oats. You know, the non-paleo stuff that has never made a single person fat in the history of fat people. A lot of former paleo people seem to be doing this, calling it "hybrid paleo." But why the label? It's just healthy eating. That doesn't require a brand, a T-shirt line, or a smug attitude. You're just eating beans, asshole.

Besides, these days the paleo marketplace is full of foods that are just as junky as candy bars. High-calorie paleo flours, honey and date infused food bars etc. Oh, they're "paleo-ish" but the original idea has been lost.

Listen, if my very overweight aunt was excited about doing paleo, I'd encourage her. It's a fine plan for obese couch jockeys and people who have no desire to build muscle. For the rest of us, not so much. – Chris Shugart

Lee Boyce – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

Get ready for this one: strength training and PR's. I have a reason, so hear me out.

The strength and conditioning community does its due diligence in showing the importance of improving strength for improved fitness, bone density, and better quality of life. Beginners and intermediates alike should develop and maintain a foundation of strength in order to benefit from other kinds of training, see results in the gym, and have better performance outside of it.

The problem comes when we look at the flip side of the coin. Oftentimes, people who are already in great shape don't seem to realize that they've surpassed the point where training to improve strength PR's is a dire necessity, and has rather become a hobby or recreational pursuit.

Lifters have become so closed-minded to anything outside of finding ways to improve our PR's that we've forgotten to acknowledge that fitness is comprised of eleven components – strength being only one of them. Granted, improving strength will spill over into a number of those other ones, but your life doesn't depend on whether or not you can pull 650 any more than being able to do reps with, say, 300 pounds.

Many of us have snapped, cracked, tweaked, broken, fractured, and torn our way to "elite" numbers without considering what value this provides to things we do in daily life, or our safety in the weight room as an average Joe who doesn't compete.

Nervous systems get fried, injuries are racked up, and once recovered, the typical behavior is to go right back to the lifts, rep ranges, and variations that caused the injury in the first place. What's the sense in trying to push strength PR's if it continues to leave you in a weakened, less capable, or hurt state?

Strength is THE most important thing most people can focus on in the gym. But it doesn't mean training for other goals should be viewed as unimportant once you've gotten strong by general standards. Being strong doesn't necessarily mean you're in shape. – Lee Boyce


Dr. Jade Teta – Integrative Physician, Naturopath, Coach

This changes over time.

As humans our natural tendency is to think anything new is better than anything old. Truth is, the opposite is almost always the case. When it comes to training for body change, what tends to work sticks around for the long run and what's new and trendy comes and goes.

With that in mind, the most overhyped training practices of the past few years have been varied and many. Balance training, metabolic conditioning, interval training, Orange Theory, CrossFit, Soul Cycle, even my own workouts from Metabolic Effect.

You might wonder what makes me say this since some of these things are highly beneficial. It's simple. Exercise is not as complex as we want to make it, and at the same time it can bump into each person's metabolic tendencies, psychological sensitivities, and personal preferences.

The smallest things that work are the place to start: walking, running, and lifting. These in combination have been around the longest and work the best, period and end of story. Now certainly depending on your goals you can make these things more efficient. Running can turn into intervals. Lifting and cardio can merge into metabolic conditioning, etc.

We have to be careful not to lose the big picture though. Taken to their extremes, these modalities turn into something that moves so far away from effective training I don't even know what we're doing anymore.

Here's an example of recent workout I stumbled into at a new "workout box." First, do 5 power cleans. Now run over here and to 5 pull-ups. Next throw a ball on the wall. Then juggle this rope for a minute. Here's a kettlebell that we haven't used yet... do something with that. Now jump on this a few times. Now do these three other things to keep you entertained and get you breathing hard. Maybe we'll repeat some things but maybe we won't.

Overload? What's that? Progressive resistance? What's that? This workout was more like a circus act.

Contrast that with the following workout:

Do some push-ups, do some pull-ups, do some more push-ups, do some more pull-ups. Getting bored? Do some more pull-ups and do some more push-ups. Oh, it's not exciting enough? Do some more push-ups and do some more pull-ups. Oh, you've almost had enough? Your chest is pumped and your back is about to explode? Your muscles are burning and you're breathless? Do some more pull-ups and do some more push-ups. Done. Oh and now do this same workout next week, increasing the volume.

Effective training doesn't change. And the stuff that actually works will be integrated in the long run. That's why new workout programs are rarely where you want to spend your time. Stick with the tried and true. Should I standby for the hate mail? – Jade Teta

Dr. John Rusin – Strength Training Specialist and Performance Expert

Deadlifts, actually.

One of the single most overrated training methods is the conventional barbell deadlift from the floor. But the conventional deadlift is in no way a mandatory part of strength and performance training unless you aspire to step onto a competitive powerlifting platform or flail around on the pull-up bar at the CrossFit Games.

The conventional deadlift is simply a variation of the loaded hip hinge that has gained monumental popularity through sport. What does that mean for everyone else? You'd be better suited picking your lifts according to your current skill level and long term goals.

Ripping an ugly deadlift off the floor from an arbitrary 8-inch bar elevation is great, if it's required for your sport. And hey, it's even fine to have a goal to work towards a pristine barbell deadlift which places metrics like mobility, motor control, and skill capacity at the forefront to make you a better deadlifter and a better mover in general.

But if you're one of those people who didn't win the genetic lottery of body type and anthropometric structure, the goal is to find the hinge variation that fits you perfectly so that you can train this pattern without looking like a shitting dog. One of my favorite variations is the trap bar deadlift along with a rack pull:

Both variations are better tolerated among athletes and lifters who've battled lower back pain and injuries. And hell, you can combine them if it fits your goals. – Dr. John Rusin

Christian Thibaudeau – Strength Coach and Performance Expert

The dynamic effort method.

Louie Simmons is one of the smartest men in training, but the dynamic effort method (as used at Westside) is the most overrated. It's not that it doesn't work, but it's not nearly as effective as a lot of people think. And the way most people do it is completely ineffective.

First you have to understand the population dynamic effort was designed for: super strong people. It was made for those who are efficient at producing a high level of force with their muscles and have good motor control. It's much easier for someone like that to be able to accelerate an external resistance than someone who's not as skilled at producing force.

Those who are genetically gifted to build a lot of strength are born either with a very high ratio of fast twitch fibers or an efficient nervous system. They also often have a good background in sports like football, requiring explosiveness.

These people can accelerate the hell out of 50%, moving at 0.9 to 1.1 meters per second. In their case, typical speed work might actually move too fast for what they want to train. But put the same 50% on someone who's not as gifted and the lift won't look explosive. It'll look a bit faster than a heavier weight, but not explosive.

I've seen people claiming to do speed work while the lift looks almost like a grind. Listen, a dynamic effort rep should look violent, not just less slow. Heck, I remember watching a video where the guy claimed "a 260kg speed deadlift" and it moved slower than my 90-95% max efforts (and I'm not a good deadlifter).

Usually people who suck at exploding won't be able to produce enough speed with a barbell when doing dynamic effort work. They'd need to use about 30% to be able to be somewhat explosive, but then the force production will be too slow to be of any benefit to strength. Those people need to learn to be explosive first by doing jumps and throws. Once they're better at exploding and have gained strength, then they might think about doing dynamic effort work.

To clarify, the dynamic effort method works if you have a good foundation of strength and some experience with explosive movements. They're prerequisites. If you don't have those, you'd be better off building a foundation of strength through work in the 3-6 rep range and learning how to explode via jumps and throws (and Olympic lifts if you have a competent coach).

The main benefit of dynamic effort work for strong lifters is that they get to practice their competition lift at a higher frequency without burning out the CNS. It's not so much the explosion work, but rather the technical practice with low neurological impact that's the main benefit.

But the same can be accomplished by using a more traditional Russian approach of doing 5 sets of 3 reps with 75-80% using the normal lifting speed. Since the speed is more similar to a competition lift, it will transfer better.

Louie is a genius and has done more than anybody for strength training knowledge, and I love training explosively. But I don't believe that the traditional dynamic effort method is the best way for most people to do that. Also note that many former Westside guys have dropped the dynamic effort method themselves. – Christian Thibaudeau


Paul Carter – Strength and Bodybuilding Coach

Trying to lose weight while eating crap.

I'm not sure "overrated" is the right term here, but "dumbest" comes to mind. Any time someone sets out to prove that it's possible to lose weight eating only processed garbage, or fast food, or dog manure, or whatever, they're doing the world a disservice.

We already know what it takes to lose weight: a calorie deficit. Weight Watchers has been helping fat ladies lose pounds and inches for decades using their point system (creating a calorie deficit). But at least they set up that system so that people had a variety of food in their diets and were eating mostly quality choices.

Setting out to prove a point that you can lose weight only eating peanut butter cups or cat food doesn't impress me, and I think it sends the wrong message. Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you should. I can probably get your girlfriend to cheat on you with me but that wouldn't be very cool. And knowing my luck, she'd probably be a total pain in the ass and tell me she's on one of these diets and all she's eating right now is Lucky Charms.

It's irresponsible because the people trying to lose fat see this crap and rationalize that they don't have to make a lifestyle change in regards to their eating. If you want to do your diet, fine, but stop making a show out of it.

The message from the dietary experts should be one of teaching people how to eat healthfully and in a way they can sustain, not telling them that it's perfectly fine to have a diet that consists of a Little Debbie Snack cake for breakfast, an ice cream cone at lunch, and trail mix for hamsters at dinner.

And stop saying, "So long as you're in a calorie deficit, you'll lose weight." Stop ignoring digestive health, inflammation, metabolism, and the affects these foods have on the brain, which is similar to cocaine.

We got it. You can lose weight eating virtually any food so long as there's a calorie deficit. But to quote Tommy Boy, "I can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking my head up a bull's ass..." You know the rest. – Paul Carter

Tony Gentilcore – Strength Coach

Altitude training masks.

If I had to rank "things that are the most moronic" it would look like this:

  1. Sticking your finger in an electrical socket.
  2. Training with an altitude mask.
  3. Challenging Jason Bourne to a fist fight.

The idea is that wearing an altitude training mask – you know, those Bane looking masks some dipshits wear at the gym – will emulate a high-altitude environment. There actually is science to back up the efficacy of high-altitude or hypoxic training. In short it's the practice of exercising, living in, or otherwise limiting relative oxygen availability to enhance athletic performance or acclimate to altitude prior to an athletic event taking place at high-altitude (elevation above 5,000 feet above sea level). In response, the body adapts by increasing erythropoietin production, thus increasing RBC levels (Hematocrit). This allows for better muscle oxygenation.

The science is there, as is the anecdotal evidence. Plenty of athletes have used this approach to enhance their athletic performance. The difference, however, between that and placing a mask over your mouth and nose to decrease oxygen intake (in an effort to mimic altitude training) is that you're not at altitude!

Sure, it may feel like you're working harder by using the mask, but perceived exertion doesn't equate to optimization. I'd argue you're making your workouts LESS effective by using the mask. And you look stupid. – Tony Gentilcore

Charles Staley – Strength Coach

So-called "functional patterns."

It's headed up by a guy named Naudi Aguilar. It's virtually impossible to describe this method in print, but if L. Ron Hubbard had gone the exercise route instead of inventing Scientology, you'd be off to a pretty good start.

Functional patterns involves the use of unusual movement combinations (none of which even come close to something you'd ever do in real life), often using more than one type of equipment at the same time. If I had to give you a sense of what it looks like, think modern dance on an LSD trip while using weight-training equipment.

When you watch the videos, it's impossible to determine what fitness trait is being targeted. It clearly wouldn't improve strength, speed, power, hypertrophy, or any other fitness trait that you might care about. So if you're looking to get stronger or have better body composition, you'd be better off learning how to do origami.

Despite this, their Instagram account has more than 60,000 followers, and its YouTube channel has over 163,000 subscribers. Even if you've never heard of it, the fact that some people have any interest in it at all makes it overrated. – Charles Staley


TC Luoma – T Nation Editor

The paleo diet.

I was torn between calling out the gluten-free diet, the "sugar is an addictive poison" thing, and the paleo diet, but I went with paleo because it's also vehemently against gluten and sugar, so it gives me a three-for-one grab bag of dietary extremism.

Besides, its adherents are all so damnably cute, kind of like food versions of Scientologists who, instead of fearing the evil alien ruler Xenu, fear legumes. And cereal. And yogurt. And salt. And potatoes. Especially potatoes.

You almost want to brave the onslaught of their beeswax and arrowroot deodorant to hug them and reassure them that the average kitchen or restaurant isn't quite as scary as they make it out to be.

My main problem is that paleo people eschew, and consequently not chew, such a wide variety of nutritional foods, for mostly half-baked reasons, that deficiencies are inevitable.

They even avoid entire categories of foods – dairy among them – with the oft-heard argument that humans shouldn't drink milk because no other mammal in the animal kingdom drinks milk beyond infancy. Well, try telling that to Mr. Jammers, Lulu-Bell, and my other kitty friends.

This milk thing – especially the argument against it – is ridiculous for so many reasons, but suffice it to say making milk is a costly endeavor for most female mammals, and making enough for anything but an infant would be detrimental to the mother's survival, along with being impractical in the extreme. That's why most mammals don't drink milk as adults, in addition to the fact that the average lemur, warthog, or poodle hasn't mastered dairy science and refrigeration.

As far as us humans avoiding milk and dairy, except for those who are truly lactose intolerant or allergic to other constituents of milk, is an unnecessary and sometimes unwise dietary choice.

Avoiding most grains is daft, too. There are grain silos of research that show whole grain consumption is associated with a lower BMI. Cutting out grains also cheats you on fiber, which is something most Americans are already deficient in. In order to make up for this paleo-diet caused dearth of fiber, you'd have to eat roughly 2.5 pounds of fruit and vegetables a day, and that would only get you to the bottom range of recommended dietary fiber intake.

Tragically, paleo people also avoid legumes, which can prevent obesity, in addition to helping manage diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

This isn't all just theorizing on my part, either; the paleo diet can and probably will lead to chronic dietary deficiencies. To cite just a bit of evidence, Australian scientists at Edith Cowan University had 22 women follow a strict paleo diet to see what would happen. In just four lousy weeks, despite eating however much they wanted, the women manifested as moderately deficient in Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B2 (riboflavin) and woefully deficient in calcium and iodine.

The paleo diet is as primitive an idea as the geologic age it's named after. It has plenty of good ideas, but it needs to come out of the cave and evolve. – TC Luoma

Mark Dugdale – IFBB Pro Bodybuilder

Steady state cardio.

First, depending on the piece of cardio equipment you use, you're only doing one movement pattern over-and-over for 30-45 minutes. Talk about boring, not to mention the potential overuse of certain joints and muscles, albeit in a low intensity format. Over time, without rotation, it can create problems.

Second, the repetitiveness doesn't really translate well into the real world. I remember prepping to compete in a series of competitions in 2005 – the IronMan Pro, Arnold Classic and San Francisco Pro – using only a stair stepper for cardio. A week after the San Fran I entered the Big Climb – a charity event established by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in which participants climbed the 69 floors and 1,311 steps of the Columbia Tower in Seattle. Needless to say, all my steady state cardio on a stepper did little to no good as I nearly went into cardiac arrest going up all those flights of stairs.

Lastly, steady state cardio often leads to elevated cortisol levels which are catabolic and counterproductive in the pursuit of building a muscular physique. I prefer an hour of hot yoga to 30 minutes on an elliptical because yoga elevates the heart rate, challenges stabilization muscles in ways foreign to most bodybuilding or powerlifting movements, increases blood flow and otherwise aids recovery so you can be a beast in the gym. – Mark Dugdale