Okay, admit it. If you’re like most guys, you’re guilty of editing your workouts to consistently include only those muscle group that we most get judged on. You know which ones I mean—chest, abs and butt. Yeah, you’ve been caught. We see you, spending 20 minutes hitting the pretty muscles and 30 minutes hitting on the pretty muscle-boy next to you on the bench press. If this is you, then it’s time to stop using the pretty-boy training method to get yourself in shape and instead spend a little time developing some of those other areas that we oft forget. Here are the five most often neglected muscle groups, and a set of simple fixes to get them up to speed.
- The Forgotten: Rear Delts. You’ve seen those guys—heck, maybe you are one of them. They show up at the gym to work their chest and their abs (quite intensely, in fact) and then head out the door. You think you're getting great pecs and a six-pack with time left over to go to lunch. But what you actually end up with is a rounded back and tightened and shortened chest muscles. Bad posture isn't pretty, and in the long term it also isn't very safe. It’s time to fix that and get yourself standing up straight again.
The Fix: Add some rear delt work by doing bent-over reverse flys. Another consideration is to sacrifice some of that weight you’ve been lifting on your narrow-grip cable row and choose a wider grip while raising your elbows. This will recruit more of your rear delts, or the back of the shoulder, into your back-work and help correct your some of that poor posture.
- The Forgotten: Forearms. So, do you remember the last time you worked your forearms? Have you ever even worked them? If not, or if you’ve ever given a weak handshake, then you likely need to get on those forearms. Don’t worry—with a little consistency, great forearms and a firm grip can be in your future.
The Fix: One of the first things you can do is get a grip, literally. Forego those lifting straps for awhile. Sure, they’re great for doing those heavy pulls, but leaving them at home for a while will force your forearms to work that grip and increase your strength. Another thing to add is wrist extension and flexion exercises. When you do this, remember—you want to keep the weight heavy enough to rep out in set of around 10 repetitions. That's the hypertrophy (muscle-growth) zone.
- The Forgotten: Hamstrings. Are you ever worried about knee injuries? Or, maybe your knees have been "talking" to you a bit. One of the sure-fire ways to help protect your knees is to strengthen those hamstrings. Sure, you do your squats and leg extensions to get those strong thighs, but you need to add some extra work for hamstrings.
The Fix: Try two of my favorite exercises—RDL’s (a.k.a. Romanian Dead Lifts) and physio ball curls. Both of these exercises require your glutes and lower and middle back to engage as you perform the work. They also require to you work your hamstrings in a somewhat unstable environment, which is a great thing for those who like to be active and want to ensure knee health. Most injuries occur when there is a muscular imbalance, an unstable environment, and an applied force—and the knees are no exception. The bonus: nicely developed hamstrings complete a great set of thighs.
- The Forgotten: Calves. You know those little bird legs you have below the knee? Well, it’s time to stop contemplating implants or stuffing your socks. Instead, put in some good gym time to get them stronger and increase the size of your lower leg. Even though you don't spend as much time in the gym lifting with them as you do, say, your chest, your calves are actually quite strong. Think about it—how many times a day does that tough little muscle group lift your body-weight on their own? Thousands! So, to develop some good strength and size you’ll need to be a bit aggressive with the heavy weights during your calf workout.
The Fix: To get you started, you’ll want to at least add a couple sets of standing calf raises to your workout. The standing calf exercise will allow you to hit your triceps surae (that is, the medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius and the soleus, which are the two major muscles in the lower leg). This is basically the entire calf muscle group. To focus your development on the medial (or inner) head, turn your toes out slightly; to develop the lateral (or outer) head, turn your toes inward slightly. If you want to go one step further, add a seated calf raise as well. In the seated position, your gastrocnemius will relax, allowing your soleus (the muscle that lies under the gastroc) to do the majority of the work. Creating size underneath will make that gastroc pop just a bit more, and doing both exercises will give you size, strength and a great looking calf.
- The Forgotten: Cardio. Ok, this isn't about a specific muscle group, but I put it on the list because I believe that most guys generally don’t do enough cardio work—and this is big stuff. A strong cardiovascular system will help keep you healthier and an on this planet longer. It's that simple. And, of course, it’s also a great base for any training that you do, very much including strength training.
The Fix: It’s time to bump up that cardio output and get yourself breathing seriously heavy. You can do this in any number of ways: running, swimming, cycling, cardio weight circuits, or group exercise classes. The key is to remember F.I.T.T.:
Frequency: Ideally, you want to be doing some cardio 5 to 7 days a week.
Intensity: Your cardio session needs to be hard enough to get you to breathe vigorously. At some point during the workout, you should be able to hear yourself breathing.
Time: At the end of the day, you ideally want to have completed a total of one hour’s worth of cardio work. This doesn’t have to be all a once, but it should total at least 60 minutes.
Type: To help keep your body constantly guessing (and prevent it from acclimating) to workload, and to keep yourself sane, you want to change up the type of workout frequently. In fact, you can do various types in one day. Just make sure you get it in.
About Devin Wicks: Devin Wicks (ACSM-HFI, USAW Club Coach) is creator of the RealJock Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program and the fitness operations director at the University of California, Berkeley, where he acts as specialty strength coach for some of the university's premier sports teams, and is coordinating a pioneering new campus employee wellness program.