The Importance of Muscles Often Overlooked

I love to write. Every now and then, I write a piece for some or other magazine. This article was written for Weigh-Less Magazine. 


Believe it or not, the human body contains over 639 muscles, some of which are used continuously and some are hardly used at all. What are the negative effects of weak muscles and how can we develop and strengthen these muscles?

The Importance of Muscles Often Overlooked 

Staying fit and healthy is becoming increasingly difficult taken the world we live in and the lack of time we all seem to have. If you live in the city, you know how difficult it is to find time to train and even if you could find time, what do and don’t you exercise?

Some muscles in our bodies are used less frequently than others. The average gym-goer focusses on the 9 main muscles: the biceps, triceps, chest, shoulders, upper back, hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and thigh muscles. We often overlook and neglect muscles that don’t seem pertinent, but are, and the negligence of these muscles often lead to some or other physical ailment.

Neglected Muscles that are Important

The Core
One of the most popular and perhaps of the most prominent muscles often neglected when training is the core muscles. The core consists of abdominal and some back muscles, as well as muscles in you pelvic floor and hip. The various functions of these muscles include keeping your posture upright, protection of various internal organs, back support and stabilizing of the spine.

Kelly Gardner from Debbie Cameron and Associates is a physiotherapist with a BSc in Physiotherapy ONT. “The basic function of the core muscles is to protect the joints in your body. When you contract your core, you can move without any force going through your joints, which in turn allows protection to prevent injury.”

“After any injury, like whiplash for instance, the main muscle in the stomach “switches off” subconsciously. The muscle does not “switch back on” until it is consciously re-trained. In pregnant women, the muscles stretch and after giving birth, they need to be retrained. Having a strong core means you are less likely to have an injury.” Kelly says.

You should be training your core constantly, up to 4 times a week to ensure it is flexible and strong. Some of the exercises you can use to strengthen your core are:

The Plank or BridgeBalance on your elbows and toes while keeping your body in a straight line. This exercise forces you to contract your core muscles to keep you in a straight line. Hold this position for as long as you can.

Jack-Knives Lying on the floor, contract your core and raise your legs to a 45 degree angle. Lift your arms toward your shins and hold the position for three seconds. Return to starting position. 

The Ab Sprawl Siting with your back at a 45-degree, grasp your knees in your hands with your feet a couple of centimetres from the ground. Then, release your knees and extend your arms and legs out as far as they can go, “sprawling” your body. Don’t let your hands or knees touch the ground – keep them in the air. Hold this position for 2 – 3 second and return to starting position. Repeat for one minute. 

Pilates is an excellent activity to do to strengthen your core muscles as it focusses on keeping your abdominal area stable while working your limbs.

Lower Back Muscles

The lower back, or lumbar region, serves a number of vital functions such as structural support, movement and protection of certain body tissues. Basically, the lower back muscles support the weight of the upper body. When we bend, extend or rotate, the lower back muscles are involved. Strengthening your lower back muscles is crucial because they not only bear the load of the entire upper body, but also because they protect the spinal column. Strong lower back muscles also helps with overall posture.

There are many exercises you can do to strengthen you lower back muscles, but here are a two:

SupermansLying on your stomach, extend your hands in front of you. Simultaneously raise your hands and your legs as high as they can go; you will feel your back muscles working. 

Hyperextensions You should have a hyperextension machine at your gym; if you don’t, a pilates ball will do the trick. Using the hyperextension machine, lock your legs into the back bar and rest your body at a 90 degree angle, upside down. Place your hands crossed on your chest and, using your lower back muscles, lift your upper body until your body is in a straight line. Slowly return to starting to position and repeat. The same technique would apply if using a pilates ball. 

Neck Muscles
The neck muscles are probably one of the least trained muscles among ordinary gym-goers. The neck muscles bend, flex, rotate and extends the head. Research has shown that weak neck muscles could be a cause of recurrent headaches and could also increase your chances of injury, such as whiplash. Doing a few quick neck exercises a week can tremendously increase the strength and flexibility of the muscles in the neck.

The following exercises are excellent for increasing the strength and flexibility:

Cervical Flexion and Extension (The good ol’ up and down rotation): Extend you head down as far as it can go until your chin touches your chest. Then, extend it upward as far as you can go – repeat 4 – 5 times. This stretches the neck muscles.

Lateral Flexion or side rotations: Extend your head to the right as far as it can go until your ear touches your shoulder. Then, do the same with the left side. Repeat each side 4 – 5 times. This stretches the neck muscles

Resistance exercisesUsing your palm, place it on your forehead and press gently while resisting by keeping your head still. The idea here is to “test” the strenght of your neck muscles, so press as hard as you can, but don’t allow your head to move backward. Also press your hand against either side of your head, on your ear, and resist.  

Exercising is great for your body, mind, spirit and overall health. Every muscle within the body serves a purpose, and if these muscles are weak or underdeveloped could cause underlying problems. Don’t ignore the vital muscles – try to focus on specific areas on certain workout days and make sure you train all the muscles that need to be trained