6 Important Muscles Exercisers Ignore
Being able to out-bike your boyfriend feels pretty damn good-until later when you have to ask him to open a jar of peanut butter for you because you have zero grip strength.
Like any sport, when you focus too much on one set of muscles, another set may suffer-which is why it's common to see an avid cyclist (man or woman) with a strong lower body attached to the upper body of a seven-year-old girl. You don't have to completely overhaul your fitness routine to work the muscles that your favorite workout overlooks. Pinpoint your likely weakest links based on your regimen and learn easy exercises to build those spots up.
Weakest link: Gluteus medius
"Unless you're running uphill all the time, running builds endurance but not strength," says mobility doctor Vonda Wright, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who recommended the exercises for this story. And the subsequent weak butt you can develop will cause your pelvis to tilt forward, strain your hip flexors, and tighten your IT bands.
Strength Rx: Monster walks in a square. Loop a resistance band around your ankles. Keeping chest up and knees behind toes, lower to a wide half-squat. Without letting the band go slack, walk forward 20 steps, to the left 20 steps, back 20 steps, and to the right 20 steps, forming a box.
Dosage: Three times a week
Strength Trainers and CrossFitters
Weakest link: Thoracic spine
"People who strength train and do CrossFit tend to gain muscle really quickly," says Beret Kirkeby, an orthopedic massage therapist and owner of Body Mechanics NYC. The downside is that you're also building up functional scar tissue and losing flexibility, particularly in your mid-back or thoracic spine. Often your neck and lower back will try to pick up the slack, which can increase your risk of injuring your lower back, Kirkeby adds. [Tweet this fact!]
Strength Rx: Lunge matrix. Lunge forward to 12 o'clock with your right leg while reaching arms straight overhead. Pause, then push back up to starting position, keeping the weight in your heels. Lunge forward again, simultaneously reaching arms to the left while rotating slightly. Pause, then push back up to start. Lunge to 12 o'clock once more, simultaneously reaching arms to the right while rotating slightly. Pause, then push back up to start. Repeat this same arm sequence twice more lunging right to 3 o'clock and then back to 6 o'clock. Repeat the series with your left leg. (You'll do a total of 18 lunges.)
Dosage: Two to three times a week
Weakest link: Biceps tendon
Dread chaturanga? It certainly doesn't help that you may be doing it wrong. "When moving from plank to the lower version of the posture during a vinyasa flow, your arms must be aligned properly with your shoulders directly above the elbows and wrists, otherwise the specific anatomy of that joint causes friction on the tendons," says Kirkeby, who's also a yoga teacher. As you repeat those sun salutations, poor form can cause biceps tendonitis around the front of the shoulder, she warns.
Strength Rx: Narrow wall pushups. Stand facing a wall. Extend arms in front of you so wrists and elbows line up with shoulders. Lean forward slightly and place palms against the wall. Keeping elbows close to your body, bend arms until your nose nearly touches the wall. Push back out to start.
Dosage: 2 sets of 10 three times a week
Weakest link: Pecs
A world of action is happening down below while your upper half tries its best to stay quiet and still, almost frozen in a tight, curled position. Worse, this rounded shoulder and hunched back posture follows you to work, where you lean over your computer looking like Quasimodo's twin sister. All this tension and shortening of the front of your body can pinch the nerve that feeds through your am and under your chest muscles, Kirkeby says. "This can cause tingling in your hands and numbness, and affect your breathing."
Strength Rx: Doorway stretch. Stand slightly in front of a doorway and place arms on either side of the doorway or adjacent wall. Bend elbows at 90 degrees, keeping upper arm parallel to the floor. Lean forward and hold this position for 30 seconds.
Dosage: As many times a day as you want or need to
Weakest link: Upper-body strength
A sequence of 26 poses performed while standing or on the floor, Bikram yoga involves no upper-body work. So while you may build a "long" body, you will lack muscle in your chest, arms, and back, Kirkeby says.
Strength Rx: Plank pushups. Start in pushup position with hands directly under shoulders. Bracing your core the entire time, do 10 pushups. At the top of the last pushup, hold plank for 30 seconds to 1 minute while breathing deeply. [Tweet this tip!]
Dosage: Once daily
Weakest link: Rotator cuff
"When you're pulling yourself forward in the water too fast too often, you're pounding those four little muscles about the size of your fingers that make up your rotator cuff," Kirkeby says. In this case, you're not neglecting this key area, you're overworking it. No need to stay on land; you can build up your cuff to withstand the high demand.
Strength Rx: Resistance-bands exercises:
1. Shoulder flexion: Hold one end of a resistance band under right foot and the other end in right hand. Keeping your elbow straight, raise your arm in an arch in front of you and then overhead so the band is in line with your shoulder. Pause, then lower to the starting position.
2. Cross-body abduction: Hold one end of the band under right foot and the other end in left hand. Pull the band diagonally across your body so the band makes a diagonal line. Pause, then lower to the starting position.
3. Internal and external rotation: Hook one end of the band to something secure, such as the knob of a closed door. Hold the other end in right hand and stand with right side and hand facing the door. Bent elbow 90 degrees. Keeping elbow close to body and right forearm parallel to the ground, slowly move right hand toward body (moving elbow like a hinge). Reverse the movement, slowly moving hand away from body, to complete one rep.
4. Scapula retraction: Grab the ends of the band in each hand and extend arms in front of body at shoulder level, palms facing down. Squeezing shoulder blades together and keeping arms parallel to the ground, pull hands away from each other until arms are almost out to sides. Pause, then return to the starting position.
Dosage: 2 sets of 10 reps of each exercise on both sides three times a week