This started as a minor Facebook rant but as I kept typing angrily (my poor keyboard), it seemed to morph into a blog post. Open WordPress and here we go…

I follow Outside Magazine on Facebook, where I saw a post for a new article “Want to get into shape? You can do it with this CrossFit-inspired training pyramid.” Okay, I’ll bite – I’m a fitness pro and a ski instructor, and let’s face it a little anti-crossfit. All things pointing to me reading the article (

Truth be told, this wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. In fact most of the exercises in the program are great exercises. So why did my blood pressure start to rise as I read it?

The right exercises mean nothing if the form is poor or the progressions are inappropriate. Allow me to elaborate…

The proposed workout includes 6 exercises, to be done in a pyramid “as fast as you can, with no rest”. Here it is:

Exercise 1: handstand push-ups. Remember that this article starts out with the question “Want to get into shape?” Yet strangely the first exercise is one that is probably too hard for 95% of the population to do correctly, and those that can do it are already in excellent shape.

Translation: here is an exercise where you’re very likely to hyper extend your back and possibly even fall on your head while doing very partial range handstand push-ups because you aren’t strong enough to do full range ones.

Better option: How about we start with push-ups, shall we? I know – boring. But guess what – for most people this will get you fit faster than handstand push-ups will because you’ll actually be able to do them. And the fringe benefit is that you’re unlikely to injure yourself in the process.

Stupidity rating on including this as a “Want to get into shape?” exercise: 5 ignoramuses


Exercise 2: Deadlifts. I love deadlifts. Truly. I think most people  should do them. But the magazine article suggests you “Load a barbell to match your body weight” for 10 repetitions. They then go on to describe how to do a deadlift, which suggests they are writing this for beginner trainees. Seriously? Lift your body weight on your first ever deadlift? I’m not going to pull any punches here: that is negligent advice. Building up to doing body weight or even more than body weight deadlifts is a great idea. But don’t start there! This was where I could actually feel my blood pressure rising.

Translation: Awesome exercise. Improper progresssion.

Better option: Start with a light weight and build up, paying close attention to form. Ideally have someone watch you or video yourself so that you can be sure you’re doing it properly.

Stupidity rating on including this as a “Want to get into shape?” exercise: 5 ignoramuses


Exercise 3: Toes to bar. I’m not a fan of this exercise for three reasons:

  1. too much spinal flexion for my liking
  2. it tends to pit the hip flexors against the abs, with the hip flexors typically coming out on top. Considering many people have some degree of hip flexor dysfunction, it just strikes me as a useless exercise.
  3. Like the handstand pushup, it’s too hard for most people who are not already in top shape. I’m trying to imagine what the average Joe or Jane’s toes to bar will look like. Probably nothing like it should. In fact maybe this is a saving grace for the exercise: unlike the handstand pushup where people’s failures can hurt them, in this case the difficulty will probably just prevent people being able to do it. That makes this a waste of time, but at least it’ s not dangerous.

Translation: Don’t waste your time. If you’re strong enough to do it, there are better options; if you’re not strong enough, it’s a complete waste of your time (and ego).

Better option: TRX inverted rows or pull ups.

Stupidity rating on including this as a “Want to get into shape?” exercise: 3 ignoramuses.

In case you’re not familiar with inverted rows:


Exercise 4: Box jumps. I like box jumps, but not surprisingly, I don’t like how they are described here. Jump onto a 24″ box? First time? Maybe. But wouldn’t it be nice to start with a 12″ box? Then maybe an 18″ box, before going to the 24″ version? It makes me think of a comment that one of my mentors made – something about how CSI could come in and get some great DNA samples from most plyo boxes. This workout is why. The other reason I don’t like this application of the box jump is that they suggest you jump off backwards after jumping up. This actually defeats the purpose of the box jump. The box jump is an early phase power exercise that is used to work on power generation without the strain of landing the jumps. Gravity gives you a little assistance on the landing. But when you have people jump off the box, you lose that. That said, I was happy to see this instead of a depth jump (where the person just jumps off the box). Oh, and I almost didn’t mention the volume: 20 of them at a time, for 40 total! Do they realize that box jumps are for power development? I’m guessing most of the DNA samples are collected at about the 30th rep.

Translation: A good exercise done poorly, without progression, and for too much volume.

Better option: Jump onto the box but not off initially, then progress to hurdle jumps or squat jumps. And don’t start at 24″.
Stupidity rating on including this as a “Want to get into shape?” exercise: 2 ignoramuses.

Want to really see why I don’t like people doing box jumps without building up to them:

Exercise 5: Kettlebell swings.  Great exercise. Truly. Too bad about the form. I wonder if anyone involved with this workout can explain the point of bringing the kettlebell overhead? Other than to injure the neck or back or provide a better launching point in case you want to give it a blind toss. I suppose it looks cooler than a proper kettlebell swing. But is there enough cool to overcome the risk? Sigh. And not to sound like a broken record, but understand progression! Don’t start with 25 reps using a 50 pound kettlebell. By all means, work up to a 50, or even higher. But don’t start there.

Translation: My kingdom for someone who understands kettlebell form!

Better option: Do the kettlebell swings, but don’t swing it past horizontal, and work up from a 20 or 25 pound kettlebell.

Stupidity rating on including this as a “Want to get into shape?” exercise: 4 ignoramuses.

In case you’re wondering how to do proper kettlebell swings:

Exercise 6: Wall balls.  Medicine ball throws are great. My current favourite is the medicine ball slam. So great for getting rid of stress, developing power, working triple extension (so important in sports), and even providing a cardio effect. I even like a variety of ball tosses. But tossing a med ball 10 feet up a wall and then catching it into a squat? Can someone explain the benefit of the catch part relative to the risk of a med ball to the face or sprained finger?

Translation: Looks cool and is cool are not the same thing.

Better option: Med ball slams, med ball chest passes, rotational med ball toss.

Stupidity rating on including this as a “Want to get into shape?” exercise: 3 ignoramuses.

Next time you see a workout in a magazine, before thinking “sounds fun, I’ll give it a try”, please look it over with a critical eye. If there are exercises that sound like they are dangerous or too hard for you, they probably are.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS is an Ottawa-based personal trainer and ski instructor who is enjoying her pre-season ski training free of ridiculous exercises.


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