Small Muscles…Big Gains

A lot of times when we hit the gym we go for the “more bang for your buck” workouts. Multi-muscle, multi-joint exercises are always being touted as a “Time Saver”, “Calorie Burner” or “Only way to go if you have X amount of time”….  I would have to agree.

Using more than one muscle group DOES burn more calories.  This technique also saves you time as opposed to working each single muscle group individually. However, occasionally it’s a good idea to hit those tiny little muscles we forget about when we’re hitting those Lats, Pecs and Quads getting ready to look buff for the beach or just in our normal training for our next race. I found out as much when I had an hour long session with my personal trainer last week. I bought a training sessions package from my gym back in December 2009 and I’ve been able to make the sessions last for 18 months since I don’t do a PT session the week of any race or over holidays….there’ve been a couple holidays and a lot of races in the past 18 months! 🙂

So I’ve been training for 18 months and my trainer “handed me my hat” so to speak on these small muscle exercises over the course of the hour. I was sweating bullets on the first couple exercises that worked the front of the lower leg. These three little guys are in charge of pulling the toes back toward your shin (dorsiflexion), rolling your foot inward (inversion), rolling your foot back out (eversion) and extending your big toe (extending your big toe…). So these muscles are fairly important to running, swimming, biking, walking, standing, and to a lesser extent bouncing on a pogo stick (actually not sure on the last one because I can’t do that, but I’m glad you’ve decided to come with me on this one).

Exercise Physiology 101 Terminology...enjoy.

So here I was laying on the floor with a cable strapped to my foot with my foot at a 90 degree angle to my lower leg and pulling my knee toward my head.  Basically a knee-up in the supine position (flat on your back). By the third set (3×15) I was barely able to keep my foot from pointing down and letting the cable slip off.  It was a LOT of work! This would be a great exercise for shin splints too as it strengthens those muscles.

Next we worked on the inner/outer thigh machines which I’ll say that not a lot of guys in my gym use. But when you’ve experienced ITBS like me, you don’t care anymore. These machines hit those muscles and strengthen them so you can help stave off ITBS. The muscles being worked here also support the sides of your knees. Raise your hand if you could use a healthier and more stable knee or two!!!!  Ok, put your hand down now…people are beginning to stare….

Single Leg RDLs (Romanian Dead Lift)

What’s next you ask? Single leg Romanian Dead Lift with a dumbbell (not me the weight…). Want a strong ankle and superior balance?  Do single leg RDLs. In the picture the guy (not me BTW) has his leg bent slightly. This is okay, but an RDL technically has a straight leg.  Note that he has a straight/flat back as well. We did a super set on these with a seated row since the big muscle being used IS your back. This also works your core! Triple bonus!

WARNING: If you’ve never done RDLs ask a trainer at your gym to model it for you. Just call it a single leg dead lift with a dumbbell…a good trainer should know what it is. Use a light weight until you get the form down.

We did all sorts of other stuff, but I’ve rambled on long enough so I’ll put the core work in another post. You shouldn’t always isolate the small muscles since you hit them when you work the big ones, but take a single workout every 2-3 weeks to concentrate on the small muscles and you can see some big gains!

Happy Training!

-Brian

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