As I was working out today, I became acutely aware of the fact that we live in an irrational society. The gym happens to be a particularly great place for a physical therapist like me to become in tune to such facts because as a PT, it is my job to observe, analyze, and correct aberrant movement patterns and faulty lines of thinking. Given that it has become innate for me to continue such observations at places outside of work, the gym is basically information overload for these things. What I see is a lot of unsound decisions with regard to exercise choice, form, and general weightlifting philosophies by essentially everybody.
Despite all this, though, I am more perplexed by what most people DON’T do at the gym. In my experience I have found that there are a few foundational muscle groups that are chronically weak in the population I treat in clinic, and it just so happens these are also muscle groups people at the gym are avoiding. So without further ado, I present to you three activities that you are likely avoiding at the gym that may catch up with you someday. I have attached some links of videos and other articles across this wonderful internet of ours, so if you’d like to delve into a concept further, feel free to click on any of the blue underlined text for additional information about that topic.
3 Things You’re Neglecting At The Gym That May Catch Up To You Someday
Your Scapular Retractors
These are the muscles between and below your shoulder blades, particular your middle trapezius, lower trapezius, and rhomboids . Their role, among other things, is to help maintain good posture in your upper back so you don’t look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame in your latter years. This is especially important for people who have a sedentary job at work, since they are likely sitting all day in a hunched posture that may lead to a curve called a ‘kyphotic spine’. In addition to their role in posture, they also help to protect from shoulder injuries by controlling the shoulder blade as we are using are arms and shoulders. Finally, they actually have a role in reducing neck pain, as weakness in these muscles tends to lead to overuse of neck muscles, with resultant pain. Therefore, if you ever have shoulder, upper back or neck pain, it’s likely that your scapular retractors are not up to snuff, and you need to start strengthening them. It can be a little tricky to isolate these muscles without compensating, so I would recommend following the attached video below and really focusing on your posture while performing these.
Suggested exercise: I’s, T’s, Y’s – Here is a good instructional video on how to strengthen these.
As a therapist, if you were to tell me you only have time to strengthen one muscle group, I would suggest that you strengthen your core. Why? Because core strengthening helps to reduce low back and hip pain, prevents lower and upper extremity compensatory injuries, improves posture, and helps to build and maintain power, speed, and agility in athletic populations. Yet what is the first exercise people skip if they only have time for a quick workout? Their core. Plus, most of the workout bros I see are too busy getting in their twelfth set of bench press and shoulder shrugs to remember to exercise these critical body parts. Don’t be that workout bro…strengthen your abs. And while you’re at it, make sure you start out by performing a posterior pelvic tilt and holding that position while you undergo your normal abdominal strengthening activities. Performing a posterior pelvic tilt will help to place your spine in a neutral position, and will engage some of the deeper abdominal muscles that help to stabilize and protect your spine. There are, of course, about 5,000 different core strengthening exercise, so my personal opinion is to try to carve out 5 minutes at the beginning of your workout session and devote it to fatiguing your abs. I suggest mixing up your routine, but if you’re looking for the most “bang for your buck” exercise, then follow my suggested exercise below
Suggested Exercise: Abs: Planks (with a goal of 90 second hold) – Watch this quick video to ensure you are engaging your abs correctly and not compensating while planking
An underrated part of injury prevention and recovery is the role that physical balance plays. If I’m being honest, about 95% of the patients who I see tell me “I’ve always had bad balance – I was born with it”. Well, I was born with bad math skills, bad speaking skills, and bad walking skills, but with time and practice, I improved on all of them. Balance is just like those things – of course you’re balance is going to be bad if you don’t practice it! Well, guess what, balance deficits are a large predictor in sport-related lower extremity injury in young athletes, and balance training can actually reduce falls risk in the elderly. The key to balance (like anything else), is that to improve on it you have to practice it, and you need to challenge yourself with it.
Suggested Exercise: After you have tired out your legs and/or abs, try performing a single leg balance on a BOSU ball. Think about engaging your abs and squeezing your butt muscles to help encourage these muscle groups to assist in maintaining your balance. I usually try to hold for 30 seconds on each leg.
These are just a few simple exercises that I have found to be helpful to maintain good overall function and health. If you are curious about other specific exercises for these body parts or other regions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call at 651-275-4706. Thanks guys!