We’re all familiar with the “glamour” muscles: those muscles that are easy to see, easy to exercise, and make us feel jacked. We’re talking biceps, triceps, pecs, lats, quads, and calves. What we often care about less are the smaller muscles in our body that don’t stand out. Why should we care? Those smaller muscles are the ones that give our body stability and help us avoid injury. Though it might make you feel good about yourself to bulk up the guns that everyone can see, it’s vital for all athletes to have a well-balanced body that allows them to move fluidly and without fear of injury. With no further ado, here are the muscles you should never forget to keep in shape…
Forearms are tremendously important. The muscles in your inner and outer forearm control your wrist, your fingers, and your elbow. If any of the muscles gets strained, these extremities won’t work the way they’re supposed to; you might get carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, golfer’s elbow, tennis elbow, or a whole host of other painful injuries that will stop your lifting in its tracks. Often, we assume that our forearms are getting enough of a workout as secondary muscles on biceps curls, chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pull-downs, but the truth is that everyone could use some additional forearm maintenance. It’s important to keep your wrists mobile, though not too loose, with weekly stretching and mobility exercises. You’ll also want to beef up with some wrist curls, and perhaps a grip strengthener. As your forearms get stronger, you’ll be amazed at how much additional weight your arms can bear.
2. Lower Back
Your lower back controls the rest of your body; if it’s out, so are you. It’s extremely crucial to make sure your lower back stays in prime fighting form, though you have to walk a careful balance between strengthening it and avoiding too much strain. Dead-lifts, if done properly, can be a huge benefit here. If you’re looking for an exercise that requires less technique, you can try back extensions from the floor or from a back extension rack, or superman fly’s, in which you raise your hands, head, and feet off the ground, hold for a few seconds, and then relax. Another great way to support your lower back is with ab workouts. Your abs are designed to support your spine, so by strengthening them, you take some pressure off of your lower back. Be careful, though: if you start to feel your lower back straining as your doing sit-ups, your probably working out your lower back more than your abs. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great position for strengthening your lower back directly, and it could lead to injury. Make sure that when you’re doing your ab workouts, all of the stress is actually in your abs.
Strong, pliable arches in your feet are crucial to avoiding running injuries, increasing flexibility, and lower body exercise. At the end of the day, all of your weight is almost always on your feet. For anyone, that’s a lot to bear, and for someone with weak arches, it’s probably too much. If your feet aren’t strong enough to absorb the impact of running, in which they take much more force than just your body weight, you might develop a whole host of injuries, including the dreaded plantar fasciitis. Barefoot exercise is a great way to make sure your feet are pliable and powerful. Though the jury is still out on whether barefoot running is healthy (many believe that our feet aren’t meant to absorb the impact of concrete without cushioning), non-impact barefoot exercise such as calf raises, or even some barefoot plyometrics, can keep your feet agile and dependable.
No one is really going to notice whether you have well developed hip muscles except you, but they’re still an important part of the body. Without strong hips, your legs might get thrown out of alignment, placing increased stress on your knees, ankles, feet and lower back. Strong hips are also vital for sports with a lot of cutting, like soccer, and for any heavy-impact sport, like wrestling or martial arts, that requires body-to-body contact. If you’re interested in MMA, for instance, notice the difference in your kicking power after a few weeks of additional hip strengthening. For wrestlers, see how much more powerful your take-downs will be when your lower body is secure.
5. Traps and Delts
The smaller muscles in your lower back don’t necessarily help you get that V-shape definition, but they’re crucial for maintaining good posture, whether working or lifting, and for all sports that involve your upper body. Have a good, balanced back will allow you to swim faster, dribble more quickly, swing harder, and throw farther. If the muscles in your back are unbalanced and underdeveloped, you’re putting yourself at far greater risk for a strain or sprain. Next time you work out, make sure to hit more of your back than just your lats. This doesn’t even necessarily require switching up your lifting routine; just focus on engaging the other muscles in your back on your pull-ups and lat pull-downs, and you should start to feel a difference. You might even be able to lift a bit more weight than before. If you want to be thorough, throw in one or two additional exercises. Some good options are shrugs and Y, T, I’s (lie on a slightly inclined bench and raise a pair of dumbbells in front of you, to the side of you, and behind you). Tightening up these muscles will have the added benefit of preventing overuse of the traps, and also pulling back your shoulders to avoid rounded shoulders, a condition which is a consequence of your chest muscles being stronger and tighter than those in your back.