Most workouts focus on the major muscle groups, and rightfully so. But sometimes you need to concentrate on the minor players. It’s the fitness equivalent of a painter transitioning from broad strokes to detail work, and the results are no less significant. In fact, strengthening the muscles mentioned below can help prevent many of the strains and injuries that plague a 40-year-old body. “Think of these smaller muscles as the support crew,” says Michael Maina, PhD, an associate professor of health and human performance at Roanoke College, in Virginia. “They help your prime-time muscles perform at their best.” Sprinkle the following exercises into your regular strength sessions. “Within a month,” says Maina, “you’ll feel stronger, look leaner, and have an extra spring in your step.” And for more great fitness advice, here are Five Exercises in 10 Minutes That Will Transform Your Body.
What they are: The small wedges of muscle on your hips.
Benefits: Stabilize the pelvis when you run or ski, and help you kick to the side–useful for martial arts and locked doors.
Work it: Cable Step-Up.
Set a bench near a low cable and attach the cable to a belt around your waist. Stand sideways with your right foot on the bench and your left heel on the floor. Push down with your right foot, lifting yourself onto the step, and then step back down. Continue for one minute, then switch sides and repeat.
What they are: Diagonal ropes of muscle running from your neck to your shoulder blades.
Benefits: Fill your shirt collar and reinforce your neck against injuries.
Work it: Bent-Arm Cable Shrug.
Attach a handle to a low pulley and grab it with your left hand. Stand with your left side to the machine and look over your left shoulder. Elevate that shoulder as high as you can, bend your left elbow as if doing a biceps curl, pull your shoulder blades together, and rotate your left shoulder back. Repeat for a minute, then switch sides.
What they are: Strips of muscle that extend diagonally from your ribs to the sides of your waist.
Benefits: Stabilize your core and assist in sports that require rotation, such as golf and swimming.
Work it: Dry-Land Backstroke.
Lie faceup, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at your sides. Crunch forward and lift your shoulders as high off the floor as possible. Keeping your chest high, perform a backstroke with one arm at a time, twisting your torso toward the arm that is reaching back. Work up to five sets of 45 seconds each.
What they are: Lengths of muscle that run down each side of your torso.
Benefits: Stabilize your arms during sex, tighten your torso, and increase pushing strength.
Work it: Crunch With a Plus.
Grab a light barbell with an overhand grip and lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold the bar above your eyes, crunch forward, and push the barbell toward the ceiling while pulling your shoulder blades apart. Return to the starting position. Continue for one minute, rest, then do another set.
What they are: The body’s longest muscles, running from the sides of your hips to your knees.
Benefits: Add power to all leg movements, especially kicking, running, and cutting.
Work it: Cable Leg Crossover.
Attach one end of an exercise band to your left foot and the other to a squat cage. Face away from the cage and step to the right so that the band is stretched at a 45-degree angle behind you. Kick your left foot toward two o’clock, swinging it across your body along the same 45-degree angle. Do 10 reps, switch legs, and repeat.
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