When working out, we tend to focus on biceps, quads and other larger muscle groups, which play a clear role in our fitness success. It helps, too that these muscle groups signal us, sometimes quite painfully, when they’re tired or weak.
But there are smaller supporting muscle groups that we often forget to challenge. And they’re just as important to strength and endurance.
Here are five easy-to-overlook areas that deserve special attention:
1. Trapezius. The key to good posture, the trapezius is the large, triangular muscle that covers the back of your neck, shoulders, and upper part of your spine. It’s essential for good posture and counteracting the weight of shoulder bags. Push-ups strengthen the trapezius, as do shoulder blade squeezes, which can be done right at your workstation.
2. Rotator Cuff. So named because they form a cuff around your shoulder blade, these four small muscles are essential in providing full range of motion for your arms and shoulders. Strengthen them by doing doorway stretches and these other easy exercises.
3. Ankle. Your ankle absorbs force and helps maintain balance when you walk, run, and jump. Use these exercises to help improve strength and flexibility, such as tracing the alphabet in the air with your big toe. Even simply flexing your foot (add a resistance band for advanced training) builds those often-overlooked flexors.
4. Gluteus medius and minimus. You work those other glutes religiously, but these supporting players play an important supporting role. Studies show one of the best exercises for these muscles is the side-lying hip abductor; another is side-stepping using rubber bands for resistance.
5. Hand grip. Grip strength assists everything from opening jars to holding a racket. Several studies suggest it’s also an indicator of general health. Squeeze a tennis or stress ball to build hand muscles. Yoga has also been shown to improve hand grip strength.