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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

5 exercises we hate, and why you should do them anyway



A plank done in a push-up position, on hands and toes, but that can also be done in a standing position, in Amsterdam, March 3, 2024. Trainers share tips on how to make some of the most dreaded moves work for you. (Melissa Schriek/The New York Times)

By Anna Maltby


Some exercise moves are easy, others are tough but manageable. But there are always a few that we truly abhor. Some are so reviled that they have their own merch with phrases like “Burpees Hate You Too.” If you’re not the “no pain, no gain” type, is it OK to just skip the burpee, or any of your other least favorite moves?


“There are some movements that some people are never going to want to do, and that’s OK. But most people underestimate themselves when it comes to fitness,” said Ashantis Jones, a mental health counselor and personal trainer in Chicago.


Trying something hard and realizing you actually can do it, Jones added, is a confidence boost with benefits that stretch beyond the gym. In a 2022 study, scientists found that adults that they classified as unhappy reported higher life satisfaction after trying (often physical) activities outside their comfort zone.


“No one likes to do things they aren’t good at,” said Crystal Fasano, a Brooklyn-based personal trainer and Pilates instructor. But “change happens when we get a little uncomfortable,” she said. The secret: Every exercise can be modified, and any version of an exercise counts.


Here are some of the most valuable least-loved exercises, according to a sampling of experts, and how to make them a little more appealing.


PLANKS


“All my clients hate planks,” Jones said. That may be because they haven’t learned to do them correctly or they’re trying an overly advanced version. Sadly, planks are one of the most effective ways to build core strength, which supports posture, balance and overall stability. If you skip them, you really are missing out.


How to adjust


The classic plank involves holding your body horizontal, in a straight line, with your hands or forearms and toes on the floor. But that’s not the only way to do it.


“You can do forearms and knees, or hands and knees,” Jones said. You can also put your hands on a sturdy chair or table or even a wall: Elevating your upper body removes some of the weight from the plank to make it more doable, they added.


JUMPING


Whether it’s jumping jacks or squat jumps, Fasano said, many people detest jumping exercises. “So many people land really hard after jumping and don’t understand how to soften the impact on their joints when they jump,” she said.


That’s a missed opportunity, said Maillard Howell, a personal trainer in Brooklyn and co-owner of Dean CrossFit. “Jumping improves balance, coordination. It helps train the quick reaction we need if we slip,” he said.


How to adjust


There are some circumstances — injuries, recent surgeries, joint instability — that might make jumping a bad idea. And if you have certain kinds of pelvic floor dysfunction, particularly stress incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse, it’s best to consult a physical therapist first and start slow.


But it’s hard to find a more versatile movement: Beyond balance and coordination, jumping raises your heart rate and even builds pelvic floor strength. And learning to land softly can help a lot.


Keep your knees slightly bent when landing, and aim to let your toes and the balls of your feet touch down first, rather than landing on a flat foot, Fasano said. Also, start slow and break down the movement. You can start with box step-ups before progressing to jumps onto a small box, then a larger box. Or, for jumping jacks, start with stepping jacks, then progress to hopping your feet just a few inches apart, before going for a wider jump.


SQUATS


Howell likes to observe how the people around him move, whether in a fitness setting or on the subway. At some gyms (not his own), “no one is squatting,” he said. Then, on the subway, he notices when fellow passengers need to grab a pole to get out of a seat. These two things, he said, are connected.


Squats are a foundational movement pattern that anyone who wants to sit and stand independently (whether from a subway seat or a toilet) should do, Howell said. It doesn’t mean you have to like them, but there are ways to make them more bearable.


How to adjust


Start simple. “Sit on a bench and then get up. Do that a bunch of times,” Howell said. When you’re ready, try sitting on the bench and standing with your weight mostly on one leg for a few reps, then the other. Work your way up to a squat without a seat, and when that’s feeling good, add weight, he added.


Our ankles need to be able flex deeply to allow our knees and hips to bend, said Jill Koshak-Johnson, a physical therapist in New Jersey. If you have limited ankle mobility, certain exercises and standing with your heels on a wedge (available at most gyms) can help.


DEAD LIFTS


Dead lift dread is more about fear than hatred, Koshak-Johnson said: “People believe dead lifts are bad for their back or may aggravate existing back injuries.”


And yes, if you try a dead lift, which involves leaning over from the hips to pick up a weight, with a heavily loaded barbell on your first trip to a gym, your back might revolt. But dead lifts done properly are one of the best ways to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes, which “can actually help take a load off the back,” Koshak-Johnson said.


How to adjust


Dead lifts can feel much more supported if you can address limitations in hip mobility as well as tension or tightness in the pelvic floor, Koshak-Johnson said. Prepare for your dead lift session with some exercises to activate the hip internal rotators and adductors. If needed, work your way up by trying a hip hinge on your knees, she said, then a standing one. Then add weight slowly, using a pair of light dumbbells to get the hang of it and asking a trainer or knowledgeable friend to watch your form.


BURPEES


No list of hated exercises would be complete without the burpee. Invented as a fitness test in the 1930s by a physiologist named Royal H. Burpee, it was later adopted by the Army and Navy and is still popular in CrossFit gyms and other athletic spaces. Many of Jones’ clients assume they can’t do one because they don’t have a CrossFit physique. But many people can do some version, they said.


“The way your body looks or is shaped, someone who lives in a larger body versus a smaller body, that does not matter to the burpee. The burpee does not care,” they said.


How to adjust


At its core, the burpee entails moving from standing to a horizontal position on the floor, and then getting back up again. An advanced burpee can involve quickly squatting down, jumping into a plank, performing a pushup, jumping forward into a squat, then jumping back into a standing position.


But you can adjust any of the parts that feel too uncomfortable, Jones said. You can step back into a plank, skip the pushup, step forward one foot at a time or stand without jumping.


“It also doesn’t have to be quick, it can be slow,” they added. None of those difficult elements “are necessary for a burpee to be a burpee.”

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