A healthy body needs balance. Physiologists and exercise science nerds call this "homeostasis." It's the energy-efficient state where our bodies can function and feel the best.
When it comes to the musculoskeletal system, "balance" is especially important for everything from preventing injury, reversing chronic dysfunction, and enhancing athletic performance. We need strength and flexibility in a variety of connective tissues, especially muscles and their associated tendons, to keep our bodies in alignment and to mitigate the forces imposed on us during day-to-day activity. In other words: the weakest and least flexible part of your body is likely the one to get injured first--or lead to an injury somewhere else.
But when we train, it's usually the bigger muscle groups that get all the attention. Quads, glutes, biceps, triceps, lats, abdominals–you get the idea. And while it is important to work these major muscle groups, you've also got many smaller stabilizer muscles that play an important role in the pain-free and neuromuscular function of your joints and limbs.
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The 3 Muscles You May Be Neglecting, And How To Give Them The Attention They DeserveHitting it hard in the gym these days? Be sure to add in some accessory strength and flexibility movements to address these 3 unsung heroes of your body:
1) Quadratus LumborumThis deep lower back muscle connects your spine to the pelvis. It also helps your spine laterally flex (i.e., with hands on your hips, make a C-curve in your trunk by leaning to the right or left--that's QL action). It's super important for stabilizing your low back, and if it's weak or too tight, low back pain and decreased activity tolerance can crop right up.
To strengthen, try doing kettlebell side bends or side plank holds. This link also offers some helpful information as well as videos on how to massage and stretch the QL.
Traveling from your sacrum to your femur, this little guy is one of six muscles in your hip that externally rotate (twist out) your leg. It also helps to abduct your leg or swing it out. The piriformis is especially important because the sciatic nerve (a large nerve that innervates your leg) travels right under it, so if your piriformis muscle is tight or inflamed, it can lead painful sciatica symptoms by putting pressure on the nerve.
You want this muscle to be activating appropriately, as it helps stabilize your hips while performing almost any task, including squats. To activate, try squatting with a tight band around your knees, and making sure your knees stay out over your feet. To stretch, click here to see some helpful moves.
3) The SITS Muscles
Also known as the rotator cuff, these muscles are small stabilizers of your hugely mobile shoulder joint. They include the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis. If something goes wrong with one of these muscles, you'll know it, either through pain, weakness, or an inability to lift your arm in severe cases.
Doing specific accessory work that targets your SITS muscles is a great way to "pre-hab" your shoulder and prevent a variety of nagging injuries that can limit your ability to lift weights, or even just move your arm in general. And no, curls, flys, and pull downs don't count! For a basic rotator cuff strengthening routine, try what's known in the physical therapy world as the Ts, Is, and Ys.
Be sure to do these strengthening and stretching exercises after your workout, never before. You don't want to fatigue your stabilizer muscles before asking them to protect your joints while performing heavy lifts.
Got any favorite lesser known areas you like to target when you train? Let us know about it in the comments below.