When we think of working out, we all know to work our arms, our legs, and our stomach (biceps, shoulders, pecs, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals). Our larger muscles seem to get the bulk of our attention in the gym. But, the smaller, assisting muscles are just as important to keep in shape. When these muscles are not strengthened, we may have a body that is not properly aligned, causing aches and pains in areas such as the lower or upper back and the neck. We will give you some quick, helpful exercises to strengthen and tone the smaller, sometimes forgotten, muscles.
A Few Smaller, Helpful Muscles… an overview
- Errector Spinae- runs the length of the spine and extends the back and helps hold you upright
- Rhomboid- deep muscles in the upper back that retract the shoulder blade and helps fix it to the it to your body
- Serratus Anterior- front of your body, under your armpit, can act together with the rhomboids to hold the shoulder blade to your body, but also help pull the shoulder blade so that the arm can be lifted
- Iliopsoas- only set of muscles to cross the hip joint, they connect your spine, hip, and femur. These muscles function to help flex your hip, rotate it out, and help lift the trunk up to a seated position when laying down
- Tibialis Anterior- on the front part of your shin, helps flex your ankle
Exercises to Include Into Your Routine
Erector Spinae Exercises
- Swimmers- (help strengthen the erector spinae and the lower back)-lay flat on your stomach, arms stretched out overhead and legs straight. Slowly lift one arm and the opposite leg up about 6 inches off the ground as well as lifting your torso. Keep your neck in a straight, neutral position as you do this. Slowly lower your arm and leg and repeat on the other side. Complete 10-15 repetitions on each side for 2-3 sets
- Supermans or Seals- Perform the same action as the swimmers with the exception of lifting both arms and legs up at the same time.
- Cat/Cows- Get down on all fours, slowly roll your back into an arched position (cat). hold for a short period of time, then slowly bring your back down into and push towards the floor (cow) and hold for a short period of time. Repeat 5-10 times
- Seated Rows- Using a cable row machine, use a light weight (20 lbs) and high repetitions (15-20) and slowly bring the bar to your sternum/chest level, keeping shoulders down & relaxed and back straight. Then, slowly let the bar go back to the beginning position. Make sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together the whole time you are pulling backwards. (if you don’t have access to a machine, you can use a resistance band wrapped around something low to the ground, like a table leg). You can also try to do single arm rows
- Standing Chest Fly- Standing with feet shoulder width apart, grab both ends of a resistance band and wrap the band around your hands until there is no slack. Next hold your hands out in front of you and slowly exhale, pulling the band back and arms out to your sides. Return to the starting position and repeat 15-20 times
- Lat Pulldown- Using a wide bar, hold it with a wide comfortable grip, while putting your knees underneath the pad. Pull the bar down smoothly until it touches the top of your chest. Now extend your arms back to the top.
Serratus Anterior Exercises
- Pullovers-To do these, lie on a bench while holding a pair of dumbbells or a single db cupped in both hands. To perform one repetition hold out the dumbbell over your body and lower it down past your head. Once you feel the stretch in the ribs, bring it back up to the starting position.
- Rear Fly- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Bend over from the hips so your upper body is almost parallel to the ground. Let your arms hang parallel to the floor with your palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise the dumbbells out to the sides until your hands are even with your shoulders. Slowly lower the dumbbells down to the starting position. Perform four sets of 12 repetitions.
- Shoulder Raises- Hold the barbell with your palms facing down and arms hanging straight toward the floor. Lift the barbell up to shoulder-height while your arms remain straight. Lower the barbell down and to the starting position. Repeat for four sets of 12 repetitions.
- Military Press- Stand in front of a flat bench with your back facing the bench. Place your hands on the floor in front of you and position your feet on top of the bench. Space your hands shoulder-width apart. Lower your chest toward the ground. Pause for 1 second at the bottom of the movement. Press your body up and return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise for four sets of 12 repetitions. As a variation, you can stand in a downward facing dog position and lower your head slowly to the ground and push back up.
- Leg lifts- any type of leg lift will flex your hips, using the iliopsoas muscles. For example, lay on the ground with your hands tucked under your glutes and legs straight (having your hands under you helps give you more stability and take some pressure off your lower back). Slowly raise one leg up to a 90 degree angle and lower is slowly back to the starting position. Perform 15-20 reps per leg. Be careful with these and make sure that you are pushing your back and abs towards the floor.
- Side planks- lay on the floor on one side with your elbow directly under your shoulder and your legs extended. Slowly lift yourself up to where you are balancing on your forearm and legs and your side is in a straight line. Slowly lower yourself to the starting position and repeat. Perform 10-15 reps on each side
- Clamshells- these will also target your inner thighs, but these are great hip rotator exercises. Lay on your side with your legs together and knees bent at a 90 degree angle. Slowly raise your top leg, keeping your feet together, and slowly lower it. Repeat 15-20 on each side.
- Toe lifts- You might perform calf raises in your workout routine, but we need to balance these with toe lifts to work the front part of your shin. Stand Straight and lightly hold on to something and after performing your calf raises, keep your heels on the ground and lift your toes upward. Perform 15-20.
- Walking/Running- walking is great exercise but will also help keep your calf muscles and shin muscles toned and strong