These days, fitness is all about functionality. Working multiple muscle groups together, replicating sport or real-life movements in order to create a functional type of fitness. It is a great way to get fit and create muscular balance.
However, there are still certain smaller muscles that can get neglected. They may be small, but they provide important function to your strength and fitness.
In addition, if you are lifting heavy weight and working to increase hypertrophy, you still need to pay attention to smaller stability muscles or you could very well end up injured. Not only that, strengthening these muscles will allow you to increase your load by providing stabilization of the major muscle groups.
Don’t Ignore These 7 Important Muscles in Your Workout
There are several muscles that often get neglected in functional or heavy weight workouts. Here are seven important muscles, plus exercises to strengthen them. Adding these exercises to your workout once or twice a week will help balance your strength and reduce the risk of muscle imbalance and injury.
What it does: The four muscles that combine to form the rotator cuff work together to stabilize and allow abduction, and internal and external rotation of the shoulder. Strengthening these muscles can help prevent injury, particularly if you engage in sports that put significant stress on the shoulder and rotators, such as golf or tennis.
Strengthen it: Here are two excellent exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff. Note: If you have an injury or pain in your rotator cuff, see a doctor or physical therapist to have a program designed for your specific issue. These are general strengthening exercises and should not be substituted for therapy.
1) Stand with a light dumbbell in each hand, arms to your sides, palms facing inward. Keeping your elbows straight, lift your arms at about a 30 degree angle in front of your body (like they are forming a “V” in front of you). Do 2-3 sets of 10.
2) Start in a high plank position, making sure to align your shoulders over your wrists. Rotate to a side plank. Hold for several seconds, then return to plank. Repeat on the other side. Do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions.
What it does: The posterior deltoids are the muscles in the back of the shoulders. Many exercises strengthen and tighten the muscles in the front of the body, which can pull your shoulders forward and give them a rounded appearance. Strengthening the rear deltoids will help to pull your shoulders back and improve posture.
Strengthen it: Bent over shoulder raises will strengthen the muscles of your rear deltoids. Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand. Engage your core and bend over at the hips, keeping your back straight. Begin with your arms hanging down, palms facing in. Raise the dumbbells until they’re about parallel with the ground. Lower them slowly, without swinging, to the start position. Can also be done in a seated position. Do 2-3 sets of 12 repetitions.
Gluteus Medius and Minimus
What it does: While the gluteus maximus gets most of the attention, strengthening the muscles of the gluteus medius and minimus is important for hip stabilization. They also work together for hip abduction, and keeping them strong can help prevent ACL injuries.
Strengthen it: Stand and wrap a resistance band around your lower legs. Widen your stance and bend your knees slightly into a quarter squat position. Keeping your knees slightly bent, take 15 steps to the right, then 15 to the left. Repeat for 3 sets.
What it does: While most people focus on the abdominal muscles when thinking about strengthening the core, the erector spinae is equally as important. It is the group of muscles and tendons that support the spine, particularly the lumbar region. It is responsible for assisting with proper spinal alignment and for flexing and extending the spine.
Strengthen it: I call them Superwomen (though some may call them Supermans). Lie face down with your arms extended over your head and your legs straight. Contract your abdominal muscles, squeeze your glutes, and lift your arms and legs several inches off the ground. Hold for a second then lower slowly. Do 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions. They can also be done on a stability ball.
What it does: The forearm extensors are 12 muscles in the back of the forearm that are responsible for extension of the wrist and fingers, and the supination (turning in) of the forearm. They also help stabilize the forearm and keep the wrist from bending from side to side. Strengthening the forearm extensors can help counter the feeling of weakness during exercises like pushups and planks, and help prevent wrist and elbow injury.
Strengthen it: Sit on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, with your forearms on your thighs so that the hands extend beyond the knees. Let the wrist relax to begin, then lift the dumbbells as high as you can without lifting your forearms from your legs. Return to your starting position and repeat. Do 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions.
What it does: This muscle is located on the side of your chest, alongside your ribs and attaches to your scapula (shoulder blade). It serves to allow the forward rotation of the arm and to pull the scapula forward and around the rib cage. The serratus anterior is vital for the elevation of the arm and also allows the upward rotation of the arm. If you have “winged” shoulder blades, your serratus anterior is weak.
Strengthen it: Start by activating your serratus anterior with scapular protraction. This will help you understand what you’re feeling when you follow up with strengthening exercises. Basically, scapular protraction is spreading your shoulder blades. Stand with your arms at your side. First, retract your scapula by pulling your shoulders back slightly and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Now, perform the opposite movement, opening up your shoulder blades. Feel them spreading apart, which will cause a slight rounding in your thoracic spine. That is scapular protraction. Be careful not to hunch up your shoulders or move your arms very much. Do this several times, so that you can understand the motion and what it feels like.
To strengthen the serratus anterior, start with incline push ups. You can use a wall, counter, or bench, but don’t choose the hardest option until you become familiar with the movement. Perform a normal pushup. When you push away, continue the movement until your reach scapular protraction. As you grow stronger, you can move the pushups to the floor (on your knees if necessary). Do two or three sets of 10 repetitions.
What it does: Many functional exercises focus primarily on the muscles in the front of the legs, leaving the hamstrings slightly neglected and weak. The hamstrings are a group of four muscles which mostly serve to flex the knee, and some are involved with the extension of the knee as well. Imbalances between the quadriceps and hamstrings can lead to knee injury.
Strengthen it: For this hamstring strengthener, lie on your back with your feet on a stability ball. Lift your hips, keeping your spine in alignment, so that your weight rests on your upper back and shoulders. Dig your feet in and roll the ball toward your hips. Pause for a moment and roll it back out. Keep your hips lifted throughout the set. Do 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions.
Adding these exercises to your workout once or twice a week will help strengthen these important muscles.
Do you do any of these exercises regularly? Do you have a favorite exercise that also strengthens these important muscles?
Remember: I’m a certified personal trainer, but I’m not your personal trainer. These are general exercises that can serve to strengthen and protect from injury. Always check with your own doctor before beginning an exercise program.
My weekly linkups! Please stop by and check out all of the great recipes, workouts, and information that all these awesome bloggers share every week!
Sunday Blog Hop with Jenn
Meatless Monday with Tina and Deborah
Meatless Monday with Annmarie
Inspire Me Monday with Janice
Anything Goes with Marilyn
Link it to Me with Chantal
Bonnie, the Pin Junkie
Tip Tuesday with Debbie in Shape
Wild Workout Wednesday with Annmarie, Michelle, Sarah, and Angelena Marie
Wednesday Wisdom with Nanna’s Wisdom
The Blog Booster Party with Kathleen
Friday Fitness with Jill