Even elite athletes can forget to train a few muscles – it happens quite often. You may have a great training program yourself, but your routine may also neglect a number of important muscles.
Whether you do resistance work to build strength and athletic ability or to build your body, unconditioned (and thus weak) muscles can be a trigger for poor performance or even injury. If you’re building a beach body, you can end up with an unfinished look. This is true whether you’re male or female.
Here are four of the most frequently neglected muscles, with exercises to train them quickly and efficiently – starting from the top.
1. Traps: Shrugs work the trapezius, which is larger than most folks realize. This flat, diamond-shaped muscle extends from the top back of the neck, across the shoulders and down to a point in the middle of the back. It moves the shoulder blade and is used in throwing motions.
Shrugs are a simple exercise. Hold a weight in each hand and simply lift your shoulders as high to the ears as you can. Do four sets of 12 reps with moderate, not heavy, poundage. This will build the appearance of bigger, more powerful shoulders. Shrugs also work most of the shoulder muscles.
2. Rotator cuffs: These are a group of four muscles and tendons that form a “cuff” around the top of the upper arm bone, or humerus. They stabilize the shoulder and hold the bones together, while allowing the lifting of the arm.
Rotator cuffs can be easily strained, sprained or torn. That causes pain, inflammation and weakness. They take a long time to heal, and if there’s a major tear, surgery is often required for repair. Strengthening the cuffs makes them less prone to injury, so conditioning your rotator cuffs is very worth the effort.
Hold one end of a resistance band under your right foot and grab the other end with your left hand, with your arm crossing your body. Pull the band across your chest, raising your left hand to just above the top of your head. Repeat with the band under the other foot.
Lay on your left side, holding a dumbbell in your left hand. Your upper arm should be pressed to your body, lower arm held out at a 90-degree angle. Lift the dumbbell up and across your chest, then back down again. Turn on other side and repeat.
3. Obliques: These are the muscles on the sides of the core, beside the abs. The obliques are far more important than they ever get credit for, both in looks and function. They help golfers deliver power. They stabilize the torso when running. They provide balance when changing direction at speed. In fact, they are used in almost every sport and activity, whether it’s football or mountain biking.
Any resistance with a sideways motion will work the obliques. Try bicycle crunches where you lay on your back, lift your thighs, and stretch the left elbow to the right knee. Repeat with the right elbow to the left knee. Do barbell twists, using the shorter curl bar placed on the back shoulders. Slowly twist from one side to the other. Try the “plate hugger,” where a weight plate is hugged to the upper chest while leaning against a slightly slanted surface (like an oblique bench), and the upper body is twisted first to one side, then to the other, while holding the weight plate.
4. Hamstrings: Too many people work their very visible quadriceps but generally ignore their hamstrings. Then they are surprised when they get a painful and long-lasting hammy pull. While the strength ratio between hamstrings and quads is still being debated, based on a person’s build and their sport, the general agreement is that if 100 percent is used as an equal strength ratio between the two muscle groups, when measured against that 100 percent, the quads should be at 60 percent; the hams should be at 40 percent.
If the correct strength ratio is off, there’s a risk of injury. Usually, it’s weak hamstrings causing the imbalance. To strengthen hamstrings, try deadlifts. Keeping the back straight, slowly pick up a weighted bar from the floor, stand up straight, place the bar down. Or try the exercise ball leg curl. With legs straight, place your ankles on top of the ball and lift your body from the shoulders down. Now bend your knees to pull the ball back under your body as far as possible. Straighten your legs and repeat.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly.