As a personal trainer, I encounter people every day who have muscular imbalances. This can be down to their lifestyle, but for some it just a case of neglecting certain body parks in their regular workouts. As a result they tend to experience pain in common areas such as the lower back or their knees, which can then put them off coming to the gym altogether.
I’ve compiled a list of typically underworked body parts from my experience, and exercises that can help overcome any weaknesses you’ve developed.
Weak gluteals are becoming very common. As our lifestyles become more sedentary, with us spending more and more time in seated positions, our hip flexors become tight whilst our glutes become lengthened and weak – this in turn can cause lower back pain.
The glutes are rarely worked in isolation movements, and instead are more of an afterthought in compound movements such as the squat or deadlift. However, if our glutes are weak to begin with, other muscles such as the quadriceps or erector spinae will tend to take over the movement leaving our glutes exactly where they are in terms of strength.
Look to include glute isolation exercises such as donkey kickbacks and glute bridges in order to gain strength in this area. You may reduce your lower back pain, and if you’re looking to build a booty (girls AND guys) these moves will definitely help!
Another muscle group that experiences weakness due to the amount of sitting we do in our day to day lives. In a seated position the hamstrings spend a lot of time in a semi shortened position – over time adaptive shortening will occur, where the body will adapt muscle length to be optimal for the seated position.
One way to overcome this is to reduce the length of time you’re seated – don’t and more than an hour without getting up and stretching your legs.
Inside the gym we can look to strengthen the hamstrings in two ways – lengthening exercises and contracting exercises. The hamstring has two roles; knee flexion and hip extension and needs to be worked differently in order to improve it’s functionality in both.
To increase the strength of the hamstrings in the lengthened position moves such as straight legged deadlifts and good mornings reign king here. Be sure to keep a very slight bend in the knee in order to stop your knees going into hyperextension!
When it comes to working the hamstrings in the shortened position hamstrings curls – either seated or lying work to increase the power potential of your hamstrings.
This might be a surprise one for some people, but your 100 sit ups only works the superficial muscles in your core – your rectus abdominis, and not the parts that provide you with so much stability.
To train your core effectively you need to perform anti-extenion work, anti-rotation work and anti-lateral flexion work. How do you do this and what does it all mean?
Anti extension work prevents extension of the spine e.g. arching your lower back. these moves focus on a bracing of the core and include moves such as the plank (and variations), TRX fallouts and ab wheel rollouts.
Lateral flexion of the spine is the bending sideways of the torso. In order to work our core in anti-lateral flexion we need to create a situation where the torso wants to bend. Exercises like side planks and single arm loaded carries are good for this. Even something as simple as carrying your carrier bags of shopping home is a form of anti lateral flexion (make sure you take your own to avoid the 5p charge!)
Last but not least is anti-rotation work, exercises that look to resist rotation of the lumbar spine. A great move for this, and one that is often massively overlooked when putting together a core workout, is the palloff press. The palloff press can be performed with a cable stack or a resistance band and is a really tough core exercise. Other moves include isometric cable holds and cable chops. If you’re a golfer, or play another sport which requires a lot of explosive rotational power, anti-rotation work is for you!
Your deltoids consist of three main head, but when it comes to shoulder workouts only two of these heads are focused on by most people. If you were to look at people on their shoulder day you’ll notice a lot of exercises that focus on the front and side deltoids, but a distinct lack of rear deltoid work.
This imbalance can lead to shoulder instability and put you at risk of an injury. Not only that but your posture can be effected as your front deltoids pull your shoulders forward.
Try including some rear deltoid work in at the start of your workout when you are strongest (or straight after your compound moves if preferred), in order to get the best results. Exercises such as rear deltoid flyes (think reverse chest flyes) in a prone position on a bench or bent over are a great start, as are cable cross-swords. Resistance band pull aparts can be done if you don’t have access to a gym.
In order to get the most out of your body, both in terms of looks and performance, you need to be working it evenly – muscle imbalances are the best way to encounter injury and postural problems.
If you’re someone that knows they tend to neglect the above body parts, try to include one or two of the exercises into your next workout, and for a sustained period of 4-6 week. Not only will your body thank you, but you’ll be able to lift better in all of your regular lifts!