If you haven’t read my article on upper body muscle groups, find it here.
- Erector Spinae
This seems like an odd muscle to start off with, but we’re working top down. Also, these muscles run up your spine, so I guess they could be considered upper body, but they start beneath your lower back so I am including them here.
The workout for this muscle group is one of my favorites. Hyperextensions (only don’t hyperextend, just extend – let’s just call them back extensions) on a roman chair. (I’m inserting a photo of one of these bad boys in case you don’t recognize the name or have seen this in the gym and don’t know what it’s for.)
I like to do these holding a 25 lb plate to my chest. The reason I love these so much is because I feel an amazing burn in my glutes and hamstrings, two areas I want to grow. Make sure you’re getting good glute and ab contraction or you might hurt your back.
Ah, everyone’s favorite. There are literal experts for this one muscle group. If there is a god, I praise him for being born in the era of J Lo and Kim K.
At the same time, glutes can be the hardest to grow. First of all, they’re the largest, and also with most of us sitting long hours in class or at a 9-5 job, we’ve lost our ability to fully activate and contract these muscles (there are three). Before setting your mind on squatting heavy, doing a gazillion hip thrusts, or buying weird products, I’d first focus on building that mind-muscle connection with your glutes. Develop a relationship with them. As much love as the world gives glutes, our relationship with our own is sometimes neglected. Know your glutes! Know how to fully activate them. This is so important for any lower body compound movement.
I don’t feel the need to describe all the various ways to work the glutes. Squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bridges, and then a million variations of those.
I have a personal theory though – and I’ve yet to find someone that agrees with me – but I believe sprints are far better for growing the booty than squats or hip thrusts. Sure, those two workouts are the only thing you see fitness influencers all over instagram doing, but just look at any sprinters butt. It speaks for itself.
I suggest suicide sprints. We’re all going to die one day. Might as well make peace with it.
So I took an in person personal training course and not once was I able to distinguish anytime anyone said abductor or adductor. I am mad at whoever decided to name these.
Anyway your abductors are the outer hip/thigh area. I remember that because I love working my abductors and I love working my abs. I don’t care much for adductors.
If you’re in the gym you can use the machine, although I always feel awkward on it. You’re just spreading your legs over and over. But don’t let my social anxiety scare you from these. Just maybe don’t wear short shorts while doing these.
I also love fire hydrants.
I know I said I don’t care much for these, but I recently started doing jiu jitsu and let me tell you, if you don’t have strong adductors you are screwed in jiu jitsu. So I’m going to make myself like these. The machine for these is usually either the same machine as the abductor or right next to it. This muscle is the inner part of your thigh that helps you squeeze your thighs together.
My favorite. There is nothing better than a good hamstring burn. I love working my hammies.
For real, I had horrible back pain for years… from elementary school throughout high school. I spent about four years going to chiropractors, trying acupuncture, everything. It got to the point that I couldn’t go to school because I couldn’t sit in an upright position. Finally, I saw a physical therapist.
I learned a few things: that I had weak hips, a weak core, and most females do. I, like a lot of other women, have anterior pelvic tilt, which means my hips tilt a little forward adding extra curve to my back. Even though this tends to look physically attractive, the back pain is terrible. In my personal research, I found this is common when the quads are stronger and tighter than the hamstrings, tugging the hips forward. As a result, the hamstrings are perpetually stretched, causing them to grow stiff. This along with the lack of support in the lower back due to a larger curve, can wreck all sorts of havoc. As an athlete most of my life I had very strong, tight quads, so I believe this was a large part of my problem.
The solution? Strengthening the glutes and hamstrings. This was how I got into lifting.
Ok, enough with my backstory. Deadlifts are my favorite compound lift, and for isolation I like single leg hamstring curls on a machine (not all gyms have them though). Like glutes, there are dozens of variations of workouts you can do.
Funny enough, I spent years working hard on my hamstrings and neglecting my quads because they were “too strong”. This was a terrible approach and created an inverse problem, with my quads becoming “too weak”. The mindset taken here is so important. Videos on youtube titled “How To Grow Your Glutes Without Growing Your Quads” get millions of views. But it’s so important to find balance between the two, just like its important to have balance between the upper and lower body (men, no chicken legs please).
Having big quads is not bad. In fact, I strongly believe thick thighs save lives.
So do plenty of squats and leg extensions please.
These also get neglected often. I hear mixed beliefs about calves. Some people think large calves are sexy and some believe large calves are disgusting. It seems there’s no in between.
I have larger calves naturally, so I accept that it is sexy and like to emphasize that. At the same time, my calves are tighter than my hamstrings, which shouldn’t be possible! It can be hard to work them out when they’re already so stiff. Occasionally I find a flight of stairs to do step ups on, and make sure to get a great stretch in between.
A brutal calf workout I did once was starting on the bottom of a staircase, doing 20 single leg calf raises on each leg on the first step, then going up a step and doing 19 single leg calf raises on each leg, and so on until 1. After that I went to the calf machine and set it to the highest weight and did a drop set (this was out of peer pressure and I was too prideful not to). In the end, my calves were so stiff that I had to wear high heels to class for two weeks because I could not extend my heel to the ground while walking, and was forced on my tip toes. I share this as both a challenge and a warning.