The Hidden Muscles You Need to Stop Ignoring
They may be small, but these muscles pack a big punch. Give neglected muscles the attention they deserve with this expert-approved routine.
Big muscle groups — think your legs, abs, and glutes — tend to get all the attention in strength programs. But there are lots of smaller muscle groups that are silently begging for some love.
The benefits of strengthening smaller muscles may not be immediately apparent. However, many of these small-yet-mighty muscles are crucial for keeping joints stable during exercise and daily movement, according to Vicky Adie, a U.K.-based physiotherapist, certified Pilates instructor, and founder of Pilates Live.
Some of the most easily-forgotten muscles include:
- The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles that make up your calves
- The rhomboids between your shoulder blades
- The many muscles in your forearm
- The transverse abdominis deep in your lower core
However, these muscles do a lot of heavy lifting. “Our transverse abdominis muscle, for example, is one of the main core muscles that provides support for the lower back and pelvic region,” Adie says.
Meanwhile, the gastrocnemius and soleus play a central role in walking, the rhomboids support good posture, and the muscles in your forearms help you grip and carry. Neglecting these powerful players is a bad move.
To give these hidden muscle groups the attention they deserve, incorporate this easy home workout into your routine three times per week. Do it as a standalone workout or as part of an existing routine. Go through each exercise one to two times.
As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than your regular SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
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Hidden Muscle Move #1: Staggered Stance Heel Raise
This exercise works your calf muscles and helps to give your ankles more strength and stability.
- Stand with feet narrower than hip-width apart and hold onto something for support if needed.
- Take a small step forward with one foot.
- Keeping both knees straight, slowly raise up onto the balls of your feet to lift both heels off the ground.
- Hold briefly and lower your heels to the floor.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Return to your starting position, then switch feet and do 10 more reps.
Hidden Muscle Move #2: Wrist Rock & Roll
This variation of a Loaded Wrist Flexion and Extension exercise can be done with a small pillow. It strengthens the small muscles in your wrist and forearm, which in turn helps improve your grip.
Rock & Rolls are the first exercises demonstrated in this video:
- Sit in a chair and place a small pillow in your lap.
- Rest your right forearm on the pillow and spread your fingers apart.
- Slowly lift your wrist off the pillow and rock your hand forward, as far as you comfortably can.
- Reverse the movement to lower your wrist as far as you’re comfortably able.
- Repeat the back-and-forth for 12 to 15 reps, or for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Switch arms and do 12 to 15 more reps, or for 20 to 30 seconds.
Variation: Grab and lift the pillow at the end of the “rock” movement, as shown in the video.
Hidden Muscle Move #3: Hammer Curl to Overhead Press
This upper-body combination move targets muscles in your upper and lower arm as well as your shoulder. It also helps boost your grip strength.
- Sit tall in a sturdy chair with your shoulders back and down and your feet under your knees.
- Hold a small weight (1 to 2 pounds) in each hand.
- Let your arms hang down, elbows tucked to your sides, and palms facing you.
- Bend your elbows (not your wrists) and engage the front of your arms to curl your hands up to your shoulders.
- Then inhale and press your hands up and slightly in front of you as you straighten your arms.
- Reverse the movement. That’s 1 rep.
- Do 10 to 12 reps.
Variation #1: Add a Sit-to-Stand move, as shown in the video.
To do: Press through your heels to stand tall. Perform the arm exercises. Return to sitting by pushing your hips back to lower yourself down. Repeat.
Variation #2: Switch from a Hammer Curl to a Biceps Curl, where your palms face forward, not in toward each other.
Variation #3: Alternate your arms.
Hidden Muscle Move #4: Standing Mountain Climbers
This core exercise engages multiple abdominal muscles, including those deep in your core. When done regularly, it can help prevent back pain.
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In this video, you’ll see three variations. Try them all and do the one that feels right for you. Set yourself up near a sturdy chair, countertop, or wall for support, if needed.
Here are the basic steps:
- Stand tall with your feed hip-width apart.
- Bend your arms and lift your elbows to about shoulder height.
- Brace your core.
- With control, bend one knee and lift it toward your chest. At the same time, lower your elbows to meet your knees.
- As you move, focus on keeping your back straight — you don’t want to lean forward or back as you move.
- Still with control, lower your knee to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s 1 rep.
- Do 10 to 15 reps.
Love these exercises and want more? Take a SilverSneakers LIVE Yoga Pilates Fusion Class! This class combines the best of yoga, Pilates, and barre in a 30–45-minute mind-body mat workout. You’ll build endurance and flexibility. It’s offered both in-person at participating fitness locations (review the gym’s schedule for exact times) and online with SilverSneakers LIVE.
Hidden Muscle Move #5: Standing Bird Dog
Standing Bird Dogs work the muscles deep in your core to help stabilize your spine for greater ease of movement and better posture.
This video shows different variations. Try them all and do the one that feels right for you. Set yourself up near a sturdy chair, countertop, or wall for support, if needed.
Here are the basic steps:
- Stand tall with your feed hip width apart, arms at your sides.
- Brace your core, and raise your right arm as high as you comfortably can. At the same time, extend your left leg behind you.
- As you move, resist the urge to lean from side to side or twist.
- Hold for three to five seconds, and then slowly return to your starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s 1 rep.
- Do 10 to 15 reps.
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