WOMEN | Frequently Overlooked Muscles
Both women and men are guilty of passing over certain muscles when working on their fitness.
It’s little wonder when you realise that there are more than 650 muscles in your body.
Most of these lie in the large muscle groups, but there are dozen of smaller ones that are easily forgotten. Even if you regularly do strength training, there’s a good chance you’re missing these out.
This article will draw your attention to the top five muscles that women most frequently overlook, the reasons why we forget them and some specially designed exercises that target those overlooked or hard to reach areas.
Why are some muscles overlooked?
To put it simply, many people don’t know enough about their own bodies and they don’t realise that there are important muscles they’re missing out during fitness training.But there could be many reasons to overlook certain muscle groups, and for women these are the most common:
- Some women mistakenly think that if they exercise certain muscles they’ll begin to look too masculine. The pectoral or chest muscles spring to mind for instance. The truth is that applying a regular amount of exercise to these muscles won’t make them appear manly. It’s only if you seriously over-exercise them or start using drugs or hormones that it could become an issue.
- Lack of planning. If you don’t plan a balanced workout, you’re bound to miss out some important muscles. Other people mayl plan a good workout routine and then fail to stick to it, doing whatever takes their fancy. If you make a plan, use some kind of tracking system to make it more likely that you’ll stick to it.
- Too much cardio. This is probably the number one reason that women ignore certain muscles. Many women fall into the trap of relying on cardio exercise classes or only using treadmills, cross-trainers and bikes in the gym.
Strength training is just as important for overall fitness as cardio, and shouldn’t be neglected. Some women are intimidated by the weight room at the gym or they don’t like the (perceived or real) ‘macho’ environment - i.e. overflowing with testosterone. Luckily there are plenty of female-only gyms these days to cater for these concerns, or find a gym that has a nice balance of men and women frequenting the weight room - they do exist!
Alternatively, get hold of some basic equipment and do your strength training at home. Most of the exercises we’re going to describe in a moment require only basic equipment such as dumbbells, resistance bands, etc.
And most importantly, make sure you plan a mixture of cardio and strength training, if you’re not already doing so. Plan to lift weights or use resistance machines that target all of your major muscle groups, then target one of the muscles listed below each week using the recommended exercises.
Frequently Overlooked Muscles - And How to Work Them
Hip Muscles (Gluteus Medius)
The hips contain a complex set of muscles that are part of the glutes. They help to maintain stability when walking or running and are especially important for women as they help to prevent knee injuries that women are more susceptible to.
The hip cuff muscle is also connected to the pelvic floor muscles which are put under pressure during childbirth or the menopause, so again, it’s vitally important that women don’t overlook these muscles.
The best all around exercise for the hip muscles is the lateral band walk that requires the use of a resistance band.
Lateral Band Walk
- In a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart, wrap a short resistance band round your ankles.
- With a slight bend in your knees, sit back slightly from your hips (no more than a quarter squat).
- Holding this position, step to the side in one direction 8 to 12 times, maintaining tension in the band.
- Repeat the side steps in the opposite direction until you’re back where you started.
- You should feel the muscles at the top and back of your hips working.
- Aim for at least 4 sets of 8 to 12 steps in both directions, with a short rest between sets.
To increase the difficulty and intensity of this exercise you can loop the band around your knees.
Upper Back and Neck (Trapezius)
The trapezius runs across the top of your back, shoulders and up into your neck. It’s the main muscle that supports and helps to turn your head. If you want good posture then it’s a good idea to include some exercises that target the trapezius into your workout routine.
The following exercise is ideal as it is easy to do and requires no equipment other than a wall.
- In a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart, press your back against a wall.
- Lift your arms out to either side and bend your elbows to 90 degrees, with hands up and palms facing away from the wall.
- Keep your head, back-side, spine, elbows and knuckles pressed against the wall, begin to slide your arms upwards and in until your hands are over your head.
- Lower them back to the 90 degree position while still keeping contact with the wall.
- Repeat this movement for 8 to 12 reps, rest for a moment, then repeat for at least 3 sets.
Shoulder Rotator Cuff
The shoulder rotator cuff is one of the most commonly injured muscles for sports people. One of the reasons for this is that people don’t pay it the attention it deserves. As you get older, it’s even more important to give the rotator cuff a regular work out as it gets weaker through wear and tear.
The plank rotation is the ideal exercise for the rotator cuffs as it gives them a good work out without putting as much strain as lifting free weights.
- Kneel down on all fours, keeping your hands placed directly beneath your shoulders.
- Extend your legs behind you with feet hip-width apart, taking a straight-arm plank position.
- Hold this position for 15 seconds.
- Now, move all of your weight over to your right arm and rotate the left side of your body, reaching up to the ceiling with your left arm.
- As you reach up, move your left foot over on top of your right foot so that your entire body is now facing towards the left.
- Hold this position for at least 5 seconds, then gradually return to the straight arm plank position.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Aim to complete at least 2 sets on each side and add more as you gain strength up to a maximum of 5 sets.
Spine (Erector Spinae)
Also known as the spinal extensors, these muscles surround the spine, most notably in the lower back. They are crucial for good posture and overall back health, helping with basic lifting and bending.
The cobra back extension is so effective it’s actually used in physiotherapy to help overcome lower back pain as it strengthens the extensors efficiently.
Cobra Lower Back Extension
- Lie face down on the floor, with your palms pushed flat to the ground next to your hips. Keep your legs together and toes pointing straight down.
- Begin to compress your shoulder blades, squeezing them together as much as possible and pushing them down your back.
- Extend your spine while gradually lifting your chest, arms and hands away from the floor.
- As you lift your hands, rotate your palms around until they face away from your body.
- Hold for a moment, then steadily lower your body back to the starting position.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps, aiming for at least 2 sets.
Chest Muscles (Pectoralis Major)
These muscles often get deliberately overlooked by women, due to a combination of the fear of looking butch and not wanting to venture into the weights room. The good news is you don’t need to bench press half a ton of weight to perk up your chest muscles.
The following dumbbell bench press can be done with light weights and will still help with posture and general upper body strength.
Dumbbell Bench Press
- Choose 2 dumbbells that you can lift comfortably with only a little strain and lie on a flat bench.
- Rest the dumbbells on your thighs with palms facing each other.
- Raise your thighs to help lift the dumbbells until they are in front of you, held at shoulder-width.
- Twist your wrists around until your palms face away from your body. This is the starting position, with the dumbbells at the side of your chest and a 90 degree bend at each elbow.
- Exhale and push the dumbbells up from your chest. Keep going until your arms are fully extended, and contract your chest at the top of the motion.
- Hold the dumbbells aloft for a few seconds, then steadily lower your arms back down, taking roughly twice as long to lower as it did to raise them.
- Repeat 6 to 10 times, aiming for at least 2 sets. Over time, try to build up to 4 sets of 10 reps.
When you’re finished, do not lower the dumbbells directly down to the floor at your sides as this can tear the rotator cuff in your shoulder. Sit up with the dumbbells resting on your thighs, then bend at your waist to lower them to the floor, or stand up and place them back on a rack.