Regimens: Don't Forget the Little Muscles

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, October 1994

Regimens: Don't Forget the Little Muscles
By Dana Sullivan

They don't have the bulging glamour of the body's big guns--quads, hams, delts, pecs--but the so-called accessory muscles, such as rotator cuffs, hip abductors and adductors, and tibialis and soleus muscles, provide stability and prevent injury when larger muscles become tired and clumsy. "Most people ignore their accessory muscles because it's hard to see their development," says Ron Kipp, an exercise physiologist who coaches the ski racing team at Snowbird, Utah. "They're going to regret it as soon as fatigue sets in and their form fails. That's when injuries occur." So any sport that requires technique, from kayaking to mountain biking, could use bigger little muscles. Herewith an at-home regimen.

Injury-free shoulders
Swimmers and paddlers should develop their rotator cuffs, the four small muscles that bind the ball-and-socket joint of each shoulder. They help with stroke consistency, stabilize the upper arm, and prevent tendinitis. Using dumbbells, hold your arms straight out at your sides and angle them slightly forward at the shoulder. With your palms facing down, slowly lower your arms halfway and then return them to shoulder height. Work up to three sets of ten repetitions.

More hip strength
Climbers, volleyball players, and anyone else whose sport requires a lot of lateral movement should work on the hip abductors and adductors. This will help prevent a groin-muscle pull--the injury that often debilitates nordic skiers and in-line skaters--and improve agility. To strengthen abductors, secure a light weight to one ankle, hold on to the back of a chair for balance, slowly raise the leg out to one side, and then lower it. Do three sets of ten for each leg. For the adductors, squat until your knees are slightly in front of your toes. Then stretch one leg straight out to the side and, using the floor as resistance, drag that foot until it meets the other one. Build to three sets of ten for each leg.

Better ankles
Runners, hikers, and cyclists need stability around their ankles to help prevent Achilles tendinitis and sprains. The tibialis anterior, which runs the length of the shin, and the soleus, the flat muscle below the protruding upper calf muscle, can provide it. First, do heel raises: Stand on the balls of your feet on the edge of a stair, rise up on your toes, and hold for ten seconds; then let your heels drop below the stair and hold again. Do three sets of ten. Next, do heel-and-toe walks: Walk on your heels for three to five minutes--then switch and walk tiptoe. Even if you can't see the muscles, you'll feel them.

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