Weakness is a relative term. We tend to think of weakness in comparison to other people. For instance, I am weaker than ‘The Rock’ (first person who came to my mind). But what about weakness of certain muscles in your own body relative to others? There are several important groups of muscles that tend to be weak in many people.
Maybe you’ve been neglecting to strengthen some of the weakest areas of your body without even knowing it…
Whether you work out 6 days per week or you haven’t worked out in 6 years, this post is for you.
Most of us, when we do work out, tend to focus on our dominant, powerful muscles a lot because, let’s face it, it’s more fun. Whether it’s free weights, body weight, or machines, we mainly work the pecs, delts, lats, the six-pack abs, and the quads. These are large muscle groups that allow us to lift heavy, run fast, and jump high. Who wouldn’t want that? A problem arises, though, when these dominant muscle groups start to take over and weaker muscles can’t keep up.
It’s these neglected muscle groups that, if weak, can lead to poor joint kinematics (movement), muscle imbalances, and impingement. Strengthening them will help you perform your tasks more efficiently while helping minimize the risk of potential injury.
5 Body Regions That Tend To Be Weak
- The Gluteus Medius: The Gluteus Medius muscle is on the side of your buttock and abducts and rotates your hip outward. It’s also responsible for lateral pelvic stability, which helps control dynamic forces potentially leading to injury at the knee1 and even the ankle2.The Glute Med is commonly weak in people with chronic low back pain3 and knee pain4.From my own experience, I’ve found this muscle is difficult for most people to even activate and is grossly under-utilized.
- The Rotator Cuff: No, it’s not called the “Rotator Cup” or the “Rotary Cup” or even the “Rotisserie Cup” – I’ve heard them all, believe me!These four small muscles attach your Scapula (Shoulder blade) to your Humerus (upper arm bone). Their primary job is to rotate the arm inward and outward while maintaining its central position inside the socket.Weakness in these muscles is seen in individuals with shoulder impingement5, tendinopathy, and can even lead to tears6.
- The Middle and Lower Trapezius: The Trapezius Muscle has 3 portions, the Upper, Middle, and Lower fibers. The Upper Traps are usually very active and tend to be over-used in most people. The Middle and Lower parts tend to be weak.The Middle Trap helps adduct (bring inward) the scapula.The Lower Trap helps depress (bring down) the scapula and assists in rotating the scapula upward, which helps elevate the arm.
Muscle imbalances occur when the more dominant Upper Trap becomes tight and the Middle and Lower Traps become weak7,8. Exercises that increase the use of the Lower Trap compared to the Upper Trap have been shown to improve these imbalances and scapula-thoracic posture in people with shoulder pathologies9,10.
- The ‘Core’: Everyone knows they should have a stronger core, right?But I’m not talking about the six-pack, when I say core. The Rectus Abdominis (or six-pack) is not nearly as functionally important as some of the deeper abdominals and surrounding muscles that provide Intra-abdominal pressure.These core muscles include, among others, the Transversus Abdominis, the Multifidus, the Diaphragm, and the Pelvic Floor Muscles. In individuals with chronic low back pain, activation of these muscles has been shown to be delayed11,12,13,14. When co-activated during movement of the limbs, the core muscles provide a ‘stabilization synergy’ of the spine and help with postural control15. It’s been shown that contraction of these muscles can reduce the vertical pressure on the intervertebral discs by up to 40%16.
- The Deep Neck Flexors: The Deep Neck Flexors (Longus Capitis and Longus Colli) are in the front of your neck. Research shows that these muscles are shown to lack motor control and strength in individuals with neck pain17.
5 Exercises to Strengthen Them
- The Curtsy Squat – For Gluteus Medius (for more Glute exercises, click here):
- Prone Rotations – For the Rotator Cuff:
- Prone Overhead Press – For Middle and Lower Trapezius:
- Resisted Walkouts and Press – For the Core:
- Cranio-cervical Flexion – For the Deep Neck Flexors:
How To Incorporate Strengthening Into Your Life
Ideally, you would have a Physical Therapist perform an evaluation on you to identify exactly which muscles are weak and need strengthening. Then you would get a set of instructions individualized to your specific needs and capabilities.
The following steps are grossly generalized and meant only as suggestions.
If You Don’t Currently Work Out:
- Start with performing 1-2 sets of each exercise
- Do as many repetitions as you can (with proper form) until you fatigue.
- Rest about 30-60 seconds between sets.
- Do this every other day.
- After the first week or two, increase to 3 sets, then 4.
The reason I don’t recommend a specified number of repetitions is that it limits you. If 10 repetitions is easy, I would be doing you a disservice by telling you to perform 10 repetitions. To strengthen a muscle, that muscle needs to be challenged, and the best way to challenge a muscle is to get it to work until it is fatigued. That said, if you can perform more than 15 repetitions of any of these exercises, either you’re doing them wrong or the exercises themselves are too easy for you. If this is the case, you need something more challenging to get a maximal benefit. You can make this more challenging by adding weight.
If You Do Currently Work Out:
If you do currently work, ask yourself: “is my program addressing these weak muscles?” If so, keep it up! If not, it’s time to start.
You probably already have a good idea of exercise dosage, so you can implement these exercises into your current routine.
Another suggestion would be to try them before your current routine. For example by performing the curtsy squats before a regular squat you would be pre-exhausting your Gluteus Medius. This requires the Gluteus Medius to then work harder the rest of the workout because it’s already tired.
The other option is to perform the Curtsy Squat at the end of your workout. This would mean that the legs would already be tired, and then you blast the Gluteus Medius even further to exhaustion.
Try mixing it up a bit and see what works for you. Once you find what works, mix it up again! The body adapts quickly.
Don’t neglect these essential muscles any longer. Putting a strengthening regiment into place that incorporates these commonly weak areas can improve your function and prevent risk of potential injury.”
Question: What muscles are you neglecting to strengthen? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
- Powers, CM. The influence of altered lower extremity kinematics on patellofemoral joint dysfunction: a theoretical perspective. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003; 33:639-646. ↩︎
- Friel, et al. Ipsilateral hip abductor weakness after inversion ankle sprain. J Athl Train. 2006; 41:74-78. ↩︎
- Cooper, et al. Prevalence of gluteus medius weakness in people with chronic low back pain compared to healthy controls. European Spine Journal. April 2016, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1258-1265. ↩︎
- Souza, RB, Powers, CM. Differences in Hip Kinematics, Muscle Strength, and Muscle Activation Between Subjects With and Without Patellofemoral Pain. J Orthop. And Sports Phys Ther. 2009; 39(1): 12-19. ↩︎
- Ashok, et al. Electromyographic analysis of the deltoid and rotator cuff muscles in persons with subacromial impingement. J of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. Nov-Dec 2000. Vol. 9(6): 519-523. ↩︎
- Neer, C.S. Impingement Lesions. Clin. Orthop. 1983, pp. 70-77. ↩︎
- Cools, et al. Trapezius activity and intramuscular balance during isokinetic exercise in overhead athletes with impingement symptoms. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2007: 17: 25-33. ↩︎
- Kelley M. Anatomic and biomechanical rationale for rehabilitation of the athlete’s shoulder. J Sport Rehab. 1995; 4: 121-154. ↩︎
- Cools, et al. Rehabilitation of scapular muscle balance: which exercises to prescribe? Am J Sports Med. 2007: 35: 1744-1751. ↩︎
- Reinold MM, Escamilla RF, Wilk KE. Current concepts in the scientific and clinical rationale behind exercises for glenohumeral and scapulothoracic musculature. J Orthop Sports Phys. Ther. 2009; 39: 105-117. ↩︎
- Hodges, P.W., Richardson, C.A., 1998. Delayed postural contraction of transversus abdominis in low back pain associated with movement of the lower limb. J. Spine Disord. 11 (1), 46-56. ↩︎
- Hodges, P.W., Richardson, C.A., 1999. Altered trunk muscle recruitment in people with low back pain with upper limb movement at different speeds. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 80 (9), 1005-1012. ↩︎
- Hungerford, et al. 2003. Evidence of altered lumbopelvic muscle recruitment in the presence of sacroiliac joint pain. Spine 28 (14), 1593-1600. ↩︎
- O’Sullivan, et al. 2002. Altered motor control strategies in subjects with sacroiliac joint pain during active straight leg raise test. Spine 27 (1), E1-E8. ↩︎
- Key, Josephine. ‘The Core’: Understanding it, and retraining its dysfunction. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013) 17, 541-559. ↩︎
- Hodges P.W., Richardson C.A, Contraction of the Abdominal Muscles Associated With Movement of the Lower Limb. Physical Therapy. Vol. 77 No. 2 February 1997. ↩︎
- Jull GA, Falla DL, Vicenzino B, Hodges PW. The effect of therapeutic exercise on activation of the deep cervical flexor muscles in people with chronic neck pain. Manual Therapy. 2009; 14: 696-701. ↩︎