When it comes to muscles, small can be mighty. Glutes and quads may seem like the MVPs of running, skiing, and cycling, but stabilizers—the tiny muscles that support your joints—play an important role, too. According to Chris Dellasega, strength coach for the USA Cycling men’s track program, treating them as an afterthought can increase your chance of injury. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and many times that weak link is a stabilizer,” he says. Here, Dellasega shares a five-move routine that targets these underappreciated workers.
Why: To correct shoulder-muscle imbalances and prevent rotator-cuff injury, important for climbers and swimmers.
How: Lie on your side with one arm folded under your head, knees bent 90 degrees, shoulders and hips stacked. Holding a light to medium-heavy weight in your top hand at belly-button level, bend your elbow 90 degrees and pull your shoulders back and down. Brace your core. Keeping your wrist straight, elbow bent, and upper arm close to your side (but not touching), raise the weight for one count, aiming for your fist to be pointed straight up to the ceiling. Slowly lower it back down for four counts. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps on each side.
How: Lie on your side with your arm folded under your head, knees bent 90 degrees, shoulders and hips stacked. Pull your shoulders back and down. Grab a light to medium-heavy weight and hold it just above the ground in line with your face, arm mostly straight and wrist neutral. Raise the weight for one count until your arm is pointed straight up to the ceiling. Lower for four counts until your arm is parallel to the floor. Do three sets of 10 to 12 reps on each side.
Standing Calf Raise
Why: To strengthen the calves and reduce knee and ankle injuries. Crucial for runners.
How: Place the balls of your feet on a platform, ideally four inches tall or higher. Slightly bend your standing leg. Hold a medium-heavy to heavy weight in your standing-leg hand and grab onto a fixed object like a railing or the back of a chair with your other hand. Drop your standing heel below the top of the platform for one count; pause at the bottom for two counts. Press through your big toe to raise your foot up as high as you can for one count. Do three sets of 12 to 15 reps on each leg.
Why: To strengthen the hamstrings and help reduce the risk of knee injury.
How: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Place one heel on top of an exercise ball and raise your other leg straight up, slightly bending your knee. Raise your hips while keeping them parallel to the floor, dig your heel into the ball, and roll it toward your butt for two counts. Reverse the movement for three counts. Do three to five sets of six to eight reps on each leg.
Stir the Pot
Why: To strengthen the smaller trunk muscles that stabilize the spine, helpful for protecting the lower back from injury.
How: Get in a straight plank position with your forearms on top of an exercise ball, feet shoulder-width apart. Tense your entire body, dig your forearms into the ball, and use them to roll the ball clockwise for 20 to 40 seconds while holding the rest of your body as still as possible. Rest for 10 to 15 seconds, then repeat for another 20 to 40 seconds, rolling the ball counterclockwise. Do three sets.