I recently had a conversation with a friend. She was asking for some exercise tips in order to make her body appear more proportional: She wanted to help her upper body grow a little bit to balance her lower body.
Through our little chat, I discovered that her gym workout plan was not helping her appear more proportional: Instead it was ruining her posture, making her adopt a slouchy posture rather than having the strong, proud upper body she dreamt of.
Here is what she did:
- She would do a lot of cardio.
- She would exercise her arms (biceps only – i.e., front of her upper arms).
- She would exercise her chest.
- She would exercise her legs.
- She would exercise her abs.
Can you spot what’s the problem with the plan above?
I will help you…
It’s NOT balanced!
She exercises MOST of her body, but completely neglects her back, spinal muscles, triceps (i.e., back of her arms), and shoulders!
When exercising…you cannot just focus on a few muscles and forget about the rest of your body. Doing this will create muscle imbalances. Muscle imbalances will possibly create postural deviations, which will intensify muscle imbalances and which may lead to joint problems in the future.
Seriously, you don’t want to start exercising in Month 1 with a good posture, and find yourself slouchy by Month 3.
Here is why what she did was hurting her posture…
She was exercising her chest muscles but neglecting her back (and shoulders). As her chest muscles become stronger, they pull her shoulders forward. At the same time, since the back remains weak, the back does not have enough strength to hold the shoulders back. Thus, shoulders start rolling forward…And the slouchy look begins!
Here is how the slouchiness looks like in its initial stages (and here is how to check your own posture)…
If you don’t take care of the slouchiness at that point, your posture may keep getting worse, slowly expanding to kyphotic or lordotic problems.
While focusing on a specific muscle group for a while is fine (and encouraged if you need to strengthen that particular muscle group), totally neglecting muscle groups may create problems for you!
The Major Muscle Groups Checklist:
Check whether you are working all your major muscle groups!
- Am I exercising my shoulders?
- Am I exercising my chest and upper back?
- Am I exercising my abs (upper and lower) and spinal muscles?
- Am I exercising the front & back sides of my legs: quads and hamstrings?
- Am I exercising my buttocks?
- Am I exercising my inner thighs and outer legs: adductors and abductors?
- Am I exercising the front and back sides of my upper arms (biceps and triceps)?
- Am I exercising my calves?
This is a total of 13 major muscle groups. I have grouped some of them together, because if you are, e.g., working your biceps (i.e., the frontal muscle of your arm), then you GOT TO exercise your triceps too (i.e., the muscle at the back of your arm).
Body-weight exercises help you avoid accidentally ruining your posture
The advantage of body-weight exercises is that most of them engage various muscles at the same time, thus you are less in danger of muscle isolation – something that may happen more easily if you are exercising at the gym.
Golden exercise #1: Push-ups
A classic chest exercise is push-ups. However, push-ups don’t just work your chest: they also work your abs and spinal muscles, your (frontal) shoulders, and triceps.
Actually, here is a complete list of muscles engaged when doing pushups:
- Primary muscles
- Anterior and medial deltoids [shoulders]
- Triceps [arms]
- Pectoralis major and pectoralis minor [chest]
- Secondary muscles (synergists or stabilizers)
- Rhomboid major and rhomboid minor [back]
- Erector spinae [spinal muscles]
- Rotator cuff [shoulders]
- Posterior deltoids [shoulders]
- Serratus anterior [chest]
- Rectus abdominus [abs]
- Transverse abdominus [abs]
- Gluteus maximus [butt]
- Quadriceps [front of upper legs]
Just pick a push-up variation that fits your fitness level and include it in your workout program!
Golden Exercise #2: Squats
- Primary Muscles
- Gluteus Maximus [butt]
- Quadriceps [front of upper legs]
- Hamstrings [back of upper legs]
- Secondary Muscles (Synergists/Stabilizers)
- Erector Spinae [spinal muscles]
- Transverse Abdominus [abs]
- Gluteus medius/minimus [outer legs]
- Adductors [inner thighs]
- Soleus [calves]
- Gastrocnemius [calves]
Just pick a squat variation that fits your fitness level and you are ready to go!
Did you see how many muscle groups each one of those exercises engage? By including those two exercises in your workout plan you have made sure you work on most of your body’s muscle groups!
Actually, just by doing these two exercises you have touched upon 12 out of 13 major muscle groups: shoulders, chest, back, abs, spinal muscles, legs (quads and hamstrings), butt, inner thighs, outer legs, calves, triceps.
Don’t get overwhelmed with all this info. Just take a look at the Major Muscle Groups Checklist, and consider whether you are COMPLETELY NEGLECTING one of your major muscle groups. If you think you do, then a simple Google search (e.g., “calves exercises”) should give you what you need! Or, you can check Fitness Reloaded’s complete list of workout videos.
If you don’t feel confident with your workout plan, then you can just show it to a trainer and ask him/her whether you are on the right track.