If you look at videos of superstars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay Cutler and Ronnie Coleman, the first thing you notice the size of the weight being used.
Unfortunately, we have become preoccupied with only doing the exercises that make us look better, or that we can compare to the other gym goers around us… but what about the exercises that form the foundations of strength, that stop us getting injured and help us in our day-to-day lives?
Enter stabilisation exercises. The conditioning of small muscle groups allows our primary muscles to function fully, to improve our big lifts and compound exercises and help with common gym injury prevention.
Firstly, let’s look at the bench press – a favourite of most male gym users. Although this can help to build a strong and powerful upper body, it is also one of the most common exercises that results in shoulder injuries.
To improve your bench and get the most out of your chest workouts, make sure you train and condition your rotator cuff and serratus muscles. Increasing the stability around the shoulder girdle as a whole [gleno-humeral joint and scapula], will allow a more effective motor pattern and more force to be exerted through pectorals and deltoids. This can be done through exercises such as resistance band rotations and Swiss ball rolls.
Following on from stability at the shoulder, is flexibility or Range Of Movement. Shortening of the soft tissues around the shoulder and upper back can result in restricted movements, particularly with overhead presses. The most common adaptation we see in a lot of people is a tightening of pectorals and lats – combined, these pull the shoulders forwards and down into an internally rotated position. By maintaining good length through these tissues your shoulders will be more neutral when pressing. This means you will have better recruitment of middle, posterior deltoids and rhomboids, and not just overdeveloped and active anterior deltoids. To achieve this one of the easiest exercises is hanging. Hold pull up bars at shoulder width, and let your body drop and passively hang from the bars in as relaxed a manner as possible.
The Barbell Squat is one of the most commonly practiced gym exercises – it is a must in order to develop lower limb strength. It engages some of the largest and strongest muscles in your body through your glutes and quads. Squatting helps develop functional movement patterns, flexibility through your hips, knees and ankles and good timing in terms of activation for your glutes and hamstrings.
Squats incorporate multiple muscle groups it is classed as a compound exercise. It is unparalleled in terms of developing functional strength which can help with a wide variety of sports as it works multiple joints through range and it is a very replicable movement.
A really easy way to improve your core strength is through the use of exercises such as the squat and deadlift. These exercises require you to brace your upper body and pelvis, while driving up through your legs. As these exercises are typically done using heavier weights, they force your mid-section to tighten in order to transmit forces through to the floor.
The advantage of this is that you strengthen your core in relation to the rest of your body, rather than just independently isolating one muscle group as sit-ups would do with your abdominals, for example. Compound lifts cause activation of multifidus, obliques and abdominals (the muscles that comprise your true core).
Think outside the box in order to develop when you are in the gym. It’s not about doing the same exercises as everyone else, it’s about doing the exercises that will guarantee you results down the line and keep you a step ahead of the competition.
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