Sure, you know what the pecs, lats, bi's, and tri's are. They garner attention on the beach during the summer and look good in your favorite T-shirt. However, you're probably neglecting some lesser-known groups that play an important role in injury prevention. Here's what they are, what they do, and how to train them.
The muscle: Brachialis
Where it is: On the upper arm, deep to the biceps.
What it does: Flexes the elbow. This is the muscle that makes your arms look bigger. When doing a biceps curl, the brachialis is the prime mover, not the biceps.
How to train it: Chinups or any variation of the standard curl.
The muscle: Levator Scapulae
Where it is: Connects the neck and skull with the shoulder blade, on the back side.
What it does: Elevates your shoulder blades. When doing a conventional shrug, this is the muscle that gets the most work. It also helps keep the shoulder blade stable during rotations and presses.
How to train it: Shrugs or neck extensions
The muscle: Popliteus
Where it is: Just below the knee, on the uppermost portion of the tibia (shinbone).
What it does: Unlocks the knees during walking or standing, allowing blood to return to the heart. Also rotates the femur and tibia. This muscle is responsible for most knee stability, and is important to pay attention to in order to walk correctly, which helps prevent hip injuries and sciatica.
How to train it: Squats and deadlifts
The muscle: Piriformis
Where it is: Deep to (under) the gluteal muscles, near the capsule of the hip joint.
What it does: Rotates the knee to point out. It is important to keep this muscle loose and strong, as it can irritate the sciatic nerve, leading to pain when walking, sitting, standing, or any variation thereof. The external rotation of the knee is important so the knees don’t buckle, which can lead to meniscus tears in the knee.
How to train it: Squats, deadlifts, kettlebell swings, or barbell hip thrusts
The muscle: Iliopsoas Group
Where it is: On the front of the hip.
What it does: Commonly known as the hip flexor, this muscle works to bring the knee toward the chest. It is often overworked during crunches, taking the lower abs out of the movement. Keeping this muscle loose and strong leads to proper spinal alignment and reduction of hip and back pain associated with sitting at a desk all day.
How to train it: Squats, hanging leg or knee raises, and jackknife crunches