Exercises you hate but know you should do

This post was, originally, going to be a simple workout routine I thought might be of use.

However, in writing it, I realized, there was a very important piece of advice I could give alongside the workout that I feel is crucial to take on board when trying to get the results you are looking for.

The workout I’m going to offer is one I found has worked incredibly well when I’ve implemented it.

It’s a leg day workout and it involves Front Squats.

Crucially, however, what I want you to know is that, for my first 3 or 4 years of training, I hated front squats. So much so that the very idea of trying them made me cringe.

Taking the choice of exercise out of it, I’m sure there is something in your approach that has that stigma.

Am I right?

At some point in your quest for health, fitness, leanness, a toned stomach or buns of steel, there has bound to have been a workout you dreaded, couldn’t be bothered with or thought was ‘too hard’. Or, at the very least, an exercise that rarely makes it into your programme because you just don’t like it.

You may well have justified its absence in a way that makes you feel good about skipping it altogether, but in your heart of hearts you know that is the exercise, workout, class or activity you should really be doing.

You didn’t go running because “It’s bad for your knees” and you really needed to stay at home and do 10mins of abdominal exercises, when, truthfully, it was raining and you didn’t feel like getting wet.

You don’t do squats when you are at the gym because “It’s bad for your back” when you’re just not adept at squatting and don’t want to embarrass yourself when the young girl in the size 6 yoga pants comes over and squats more than you.

You don’t want to lift heavy weights because “you don’t want to get bulky” when you just can’t lift anything heavier than a bag of sugar for more than 4 reps.

11 Most Hated Exercises

Based on personal experience, questioning clients and gym members, and research of forums and other articles, these are the top 11 most hated exercise:

  1. Squats (any form with a barbell)
  2. Prowler Sprints
  3. Interval Sprints (HIIT)
  4. Any form of Steady State Cardio
  5. Burpees
  6. Deadlifts
  7. Bulgarian Split Squats
  8. Pull Ups/ Chin Ups
  9. Battle Ropes
  10. Plank
  11. Romanian Deadlifts

Some of this list is slightly skewed towards equipment and exercises in our gym. For example, prowler sprints would not likely be that high if the people being questioned mostly trained in a gym that did not have a prowler (or several) in regular use.

Similarly, because we use battle ropes in our group training sessions, and they are available to members for use, they are possibly sitting higher on this list than would possibly happen otherwise.

That said, there is a very common theme in these exercises.

They tend to either be very complex exercises to master (Squats, Deadlifts & Pull Ups being the obvious standouts). Or they cause discomfort very easily (ie interval sprints or prowler sprints).

Planks, from the people I have asked about it, are mostly there because they are boring.

And as an additional note, flexibility and yoga based moves tend to get a lot of ‘honorable mentions’. Again, because they are difficult to master or the person is just not good at them and it, therefore, creates discomfort or embarrassment.

I Hate Leg Day

It is worth noting that 5 of the 6 resistance based movements on the list are all lower body exercises.

For the most part, this seems to be because they require more focus than upper body exercises. They are more difficult to master. And once you do get good at them, the hangover (or DOMS) to subsequent days can be extremely uncomfortable.

You can avoid doing too much with your chest or lats if you have severe DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) in those areas. But you will be hard pushed to get through a day avoiding any stairs, hills or getting in and out of a chair. Going to the toilet being a prime example.

Therefore, the psychological scarring seems to be greater from these movements.

Getting to love an exercise you hate

With me it was front squats.

About 2 or 3 years into my switch to focused training, I had been back squatting around 160kg for 6+ Reps for a few weeks.

In my naive wisdom, I then  thought it was time to mix things up a little.

I knew how good front squats were and that the guys that did them swore by them. So, I thought now was a good time to give it a try.

I had read somewhere that a front squat weight would on average be around 70% of your back-squat weight (which, for me then, would be around 112kg).

But despite the fact this was my first attempt, there were other people in the gym and my ego took control.

I didn’t want anyone to see me with that on the bar. So 120kg was the weight I selected.

I got about one decent rep out before the bar started rolling away from me.

BTW if you don’t know what a front squat is, you are essentially holding the bar across the front of your shoulders rather than behind the neck with your elbows high to stop the bar rolling forward.

There are 2 common grips for this, the power lifting grip (which has your hands gripping under the bar at just beyond shoulder width with your elbows straight out in front as high as possible) or a bodybuilding grip (where your hands cross to hold the bar from the front, again lifting your elbows high).

So, I ‘humbly’ dropped the weight to 100kg and tried again.

I think by this point I had two foam collars on the bar and a towel wrapped around it to try and take the discomfort off my shoulders.

This time I think I managed 5 very dodgy reps before re-racking and walking away to find my next exercise as if it was all planned.

It was years before I tried again.

Leaving ego out of it

A couple of years later I decided enough was enough.

Plus, I was running out of excuses for why I never used them.

This is a tool I should have in my training arsenal and I was going to master it!

I started with no weight on the bar and performed 8 reps as smoothly and as close to perfect form as I could manage.

I then started adding 10kg at a time, each time aiming for 8 reps. If I made it I would go on, if not, I’d stop there and start at the previous weight next time and go from there.

I made it to a very humbling 60kg!

However, on my next leg day that 60 became 80kg.

I then vowed to get to 100kg before the end of the year.

I didn’t bother using pads, just steel on skin. I came out with bruises after every session.

But each time the bruising was less and the pumped feeling in my quads became more.

I used a combination of straight sets and cluster sets to force the weight higher.

By the end of October I was loving leg day.

I looked forward to it.

I still hated the pain during the sets, but afterwards I felt fantastic.

And, I reached my 100kg around 6 weeks faster than targeted.

Should you do exercises you hate?

This is the point I want to make!

If you really want to make a difference! If you have a goal you genuinely want to achieve! Then that thing that you don’t want to do because you ‘don’t like it’ or ‘it’s just too hard’ or whatever other excuse you have given out for avoiding it, is probably the very thing you need to be doing.

If you can just stick with it for a few weeks (That’s right, doing it once is not an excuse to say “I tried it and I didn’t like it); ensure you are doing it the way it should be done; make sure you are giving it your complete attention; see the results it is going to bring you.

If you can do that, you might just find that the ‘hate’ you had in your mind for that one thing turns to love.

Something you really look forward to.

Something you can FEEL working for you.

Awesome Leg Day Workout

So, with that said, here is a note of my leg day workouts from that period taken from mid-October.

(A1) High Box Squats – Worked up to 3RM (at 175kg)

(B1) Front Squats (Clusters) – (100kg) 5/5/5/5/5 Reps

(C1) Romanian Deadlifts – (90kg) 5/5/5 Reps

(D1) Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls – 3 Sets to Failure


I used the High Box Squats as a primer for my quads.

I set the box up just above knee level and started with just the bar. Squatting with my feet in a much narrower position that normal for a box squat (just inside shoulder width) to put the focus more on my quads, I would then squat back to the box under control, pause for a couple of seconds focusing on relaxing my hip flexors, whilst keeping my core tight. Then driving up hard with my quads and repeating.

I’d ramp the weight up in sets of 3 from 95kg to 115kg, adding 20kg each set until I had a rep that was a grind to achieve (which happened at 175kg in this instance).

I should point out that I foam rolled before this and between sets for the first 3 sets just to be sure my muscles were loose and warm.

For the front squats, this was the first week I tried 100kg on the bar.

I had gotten stuck at 92kg for 6 reps 2 weeks running and so switched to clusters to get used to the bigger weight. Last session I used 97.5kg.

The cluster sets I followed were 10 sec rests between reps. After 5 reps, I would take time to fully recover (no more than 2mins) before repeating in order to try and hit 5 clean reps on all 5 sets.

I reduced the bar to 90kg for Romanian Deadlifts.

The focus here was simply to work the posterior chain (not hit until now) but fully focusing on solid and powerful contractions.

With my hamstrings burning I moved to finish them off with swiss ball curls.

Again, the focus was to continue so long as I could keep good solid form rather than just trying to hit the reps by any means.

After some stretching it was time to head home with a feeling of a job well done.

If I had to continue the session my focus would possibly have lapsed and I wouldn’t have had such a good feeling afterwards. So, I’d suggest, when planning your programmes, sometimes it is necessary to push your limits, but it is easy to write out a huge programme that is going to hit every muscle fibre available, but that doesn’t make it the ideal choice.

Often less is more

Remember you don’t build muscle in the gym, you build it when you are recovering and if you can’t recover in time for the next session all you are doing is damage.

So now that I’ve been through all of this, have a think.

Is there something you know you should be doing as part of your routine?

Maybe it’s something as simple as getting off the sofa and doing SOMETHING. Or perhaps it’s a little more advanced than that.

Either way, put the excuses behind you; leave your ego at the door and just resolve to get it done.

And if you just don’t know what to do, then the best thing you can do is hire a professional who knows what they are doing.

If you haven’t already, check out this review of Nate Miyaki’s Natural Physique Training Course.

As a guide to get your form right and give you a structured plan, it may be just what you are looking for.

Just stop the excuses and reasons for avoiding something and with enough focus, that thing you avoid at all costs could just be your favourite thing to do.

How to turn hate on its head
How to turn hate around
& a Leg Workout by Mark Tiffney

What about you?

Are there any exercises or workouts you simply can’t stand and end up finding reasons not to do them?

Or are there exercises you once hated with a passion and now you do them with vigour?

Let me know in the comments below.