Did you know there are more than 650 muscles in the human body? Yet, when it comes to strength training, most people focus on only a small fraction of the whole. Biceps, triceps, glutes, quads, abdominals, maybe some shoulders or hamstrings—these "A-list" muscles tend to get most of the love in the weight room, while other, less prominent parts of the body fly under the radar.|
While it might seem smart to spend more time on the most visible areas—who doesn’t want perfect triceps when tank top season rolls around?—fitness trainer and physician Alex Robles with The White Coat Trainer says it’s important to train all of the major muscle groups evenly.
"Unfortunately, many trainees tend to focus a lot of time and energy on a handful of exercises, and thus, they wind up training the same muscles over and over," Robles says. "This can lead to neglect of other critical muscles, resulting in muscular imbalances, pain and injury."
To bring these neglected zones out of early retirement and into the workout rotation, start with these nine zones that experts say are most commonly ignored by their clients when strength training.
Neglected Muscle: Lower Posterior Chain
The posterior chain is comprised of the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
Fitness expert and personal trainer Julie Lohre works with many clients who suffer from back and neck pain, commonly caused by spending hours in front of a computer or by poor overall posture. "Most often, the problem lies not just in the upper back or shoulder muscles, but in the lower posterior chain," says Lohre. "While it’s great to strengthen the smaller upper back muscles, if you neglect the bottom half of your anatomy, you have only addressed half the problem."
Lohre recommends incorporating these exercises to help build and strengthen the lower posterior chain:
Hand Release Pushups
"This is one of my very favorite exercises, not just for the erector spinae, but for the whole body," says Lohre.
Plie Wall Squats
Lohre loves that this combination exercise activates the entire lower posterior chain, benefiting the glutes, hamstrings and calves while still supporting the lower back.
Lower Half Supermans
This exercise activates the erector spinae muscles, along with the glutes and hamstrings, to support a strong lower posterior chain. "While a full Superman exercise can be a good option, I prefer the lower half Superman here, as it allows you to focus on bringing the legs up as high as possible and as one unit without balancing through the upper body," says Lohre.
Neglected Muscle: Obliques
Everyone would like to have a nice six-pack, but they often forget that their abdomen is composed of multiple muscle groups. "The oblique is an important muscle that helps stabilize the spine and aids in the prevention of lower back pain," says Robles. He recommends training the obliques using isometric exercises rather than moves that require excessive rotation of the spine, as those can lead to injury.
Waiter Carry (video)
Neglected Muscle: Hamstrings
As Robles points out, most of the neglected muscles are on the posterior side of the body, which can’t easily be seen when looking in a mirror. The quads tend to get more attention than the rear-facing hamstrings, which can result in muscular imbalances that cause knee pain and discomfort. Robles recommends doing hamstring-focused exercises at least once a week.
Romanian Deadlift (video)
Neglected Muscle: Gluteus Medius
One of the three muscles that makes up the glutes, the gluteus medius is responsible for hip abduction, which keeps the hips externally rotated. "For those of us who spend the day with our legs crossed, our hip adductors can often become very strong, weakening our gluteus medius," explains personal trainer Sarah Harradine. "If your knees cave in when doing a squat, then it's this muscle that needs to work harder."
The movements that work this muscle are highly targeted and usually involve lateral movement.
Banded Crab Walk (video)
This is a little more difficult, as it also challenges your balance. If you're not holding onto anything, it will work the standing leg, too.
Neglected Muscle: Serratus Anterior
Wrapping around the side of the rib cage, the serratus anterior is often called the "boxer's muscle" because it allows you to extend your reach beyond just the length of your arm. When you reach for a faraway object and feel your entire shoulder move forward, that's the serratus anterior working. A strong serratus anterior also helps you maintain good posture.
"These guys are often neglected because we don't perform pushing exercises to the full range of our shoulder," says Rui Li, owner and trainer at New York Personal Training. She recommends trying this exercise to show the serratus anterior some love.
Planks with Shoulder Protraction
Neglected Muscle: Rhomboids
Another muscle group that is often neglected are the muscles of the upper back, primarily the rhomboids. "Trainees generally focus on vertical pulling exercises, such as pull-ups and lat pull-downs, and forget to train horizontal pulling exercises," says Robles. "This can lead to an imbalance between the lats and the rhomboids, which can also contribute to shoulder pain." Robles recommends targeting the rhomboids at least twice a week.
Bent-Over Rows (video)
Neglected Muscle: Traps and Upper Back
When it comes to upper body workouts, Exercise.com trainer Tyler Spraul says most people tend to focus primarily on "pushing" exercises—push-ups, bench presses, overhead presses and dips—because they develop the muscles that are easiest to see.
"Since your back is not something you usually check in the mirror, you might only focus on back exercises once a week, leaving you significantly weaker on your back side compared to your front side," says Spraul.
To work the often-neglected trapezius muscles—the large triangular muscles that span the upper back, shoulders and neck—he recommends trying these two exercises.
Resistance Band Pull-Apart (video)
Neglected Muscle: Calves
Personal trainer James Shapiro with Primal Power Fitness sees a lot of clients neglect their calf muscles, assuming they’re not essential. "Imagine if you were a car. Would you want to drive your Ferrari engine knowing your wheels and tires are bad? That’s the way you should think of your calves," he says.
Standing Calf Raise
Single-Leg Weight Transfer
Neglected Muscle: Rotator Cuff
Out of the hundreds of clients that fitness trainer Ross Steiner works with, he says the most commonly neglected muscle group is the rotator cuff, which is the group of muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint.
"While training shoulders is a common practice among gym goers, some of the most common exercises can eventually lead to shoulder injury," he says. In his practice, Steiner uses these shoulder stability exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and help prevent injury.
External Shoulder Rotation with Resistance Tubing (video)
"This drill executes concentric, eccentric and isometric activation throughout a full range of motion," says Steiner.
"Bear crawls are an excellent drill that focuses not only on hip mobility and core stability, but also shoulder stability," Steiner notes. "We focus on a multi-directional approach incorporating forward, backward and lateral crawls into our warm-ups."