Spending time at the gym performing strength-training exercises is important to build muscle and strength, but unfortunately tackling weakness in the body is not so black-and-white. The problem: Our bodies naturally have some spots that are tougher to develop and maintain than others—and can vary based on your gender. While men typically build muscle more easily than women (because they have more testosterone), men are naturally less flexible, and that can lead to problems (see: tight hamstrings, slide two). Furthermore, men tend to carry more fat around their midsections and have difficulty developing abs partially because they hold onto more visceral fat, whereas women tend to store more fat in the thighs and buttocks region (thanks to biology/pregnancy purposes). But, there is some common (weak) ground between men and women: People in general often neglect or skip training certain parts of the body (like the calves) which can make them a weak spot.
These problem areas may not only be harder to strengthen, but can also lead to other pain and problems in your body.
Here, Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach, explains which spots are the most troublesome for men (based on research and/or his experience working with clients), and what you might be able to do about them.
Doesn’t matter if you’re 25 years old or pushing 50—chances are, you’ve experienced some kind of lower back pain over the course of your life. Those long hours spent at your desk sitting in a stiff chair don’t do you any favors. “It’s typical for men to exhibit lower back tightness usually caused from having weak abdominal muscles. Lower back issues can also cause tightness in other areas of the body such as the hamstrings,” says White.
He recommends fitting in some mobility work to your regular fitness regimen to fight back pain. Getting yourself to a yoga class every week may do the trick, but fear not if you aren’t ready to become a regular Yogi. White says you can do certain positions like the Cat/Cow pose at home. “Position your body in tabletop with knees on the floor, and your palms flat on the floor. Alternate rounding the back and then lower the back to raise the head to help stretch the back. Repeat several times,” instructs White.
Tight hammys? You’re not alone. You may put a lot of time and effort into building up your legs, but unless you take the time to stretch them out properly, tight hamstrings can create problems in your body regardless of strength.
“Tight hamstrings can cause further back issues or even tear if they’re not addressed. These areas of the body can be improved with consistent training and mobility work to increase strength and flexibility in these areas,” says White. He suggests two stretches to help alleviate the tightness. For the first, “Stand with your feet next to each other. Move one foot forward slightly and lift the toes up. Place your hands on the leg with the toes lifted and position it on the thigh to brace yourself. Slowly bend and lean your body forward over your legs till you feel a stretch in your hamstrings,” he instructs. For the second, “Stand with feet together. Place your hands on the back of your head with your elbows stretched outwards. Bend in half at the hips down to a 90 degree angle and then back up,” says White. You can also strengthen your hammies with these three exercises.
Next time someone comments on your chicken legs, blame biology. “Calves are typically a weak point for men and their strength and development can be based on genetics. Strength training helps develop the calf muscles and mobility work can help ensure that the muscle doesn’t get tight and cause pain or injury to other areas of the leg,” says White. Try using a foam roller regularly to alleviate any tension and tightness in calf muscles and also thigh muscles. For greater relief, White recommends trying this heel/ankle stretch, “Position one foot against a solid surface such as a wall with the other foot flat on the floor. Lean into the wall or solid surface to feel the stretch in the heel,” says White.
“Some of the areas in the body that are usually prone to injury include the shoulders or knees. The cause for shoulder injuries vary and could be due to lack of mobility in the shoulder joint itself, improper lifting techniques, sports injuries, or other related health issues,” says White. Shoulder pain can be tricky to figure out, but in general it’s important to be gentle when performing activities that put strain on them. Also, when lifting don’t be shy about consulting trainers for proper technique, it could mean the difference between positive results and injury.
Unfortunately, what many men run into at the gym is pain caused by too much activity. “Knee injuries are commonly caused by previous sports injuries, overuse (such as Runner’s Knee), or IT band issues. Depending on what is causing the pain, these issues can be fixed with mobility, physical therapy, or might require surgical procedures,” says White. If you're experiencing consistent and significant pain in your knees, it’s vital that you consult an expert or a doctor on the appropriate remedy. However, your best bet is taking measures to prevent the pain in the first place. Listen to your body and take rest days each week. In addition, stretch consistently and thoroughly after each workout to encourage better recovery.