If you zoned out during health class, haven’t been to the gym in years, or you’re not sure what exercises to do for each muscle group, then it’s time for a muscle refresher. Whether you’re headed to the gym or plan on working out at home, it’s not only important to know the names of the muscles, but also what exercises you can do to strengthen and stretch those parts of the body.
The quadriceps (or quads as they’re more commonly referred to) are the front muscle group of your leg, which is made up of four muscles. This muscle is engaged when you run, walk, climb stairs, or stand up from a sitting position. Strengthen the quads by using the leg extension machine or by performing squats and lunges. To stretch the quad, bend your right knee, bringing your foot toward your butt. Reach behind your body and grasp the right ankle, drawing the foot closer to the body. Switch sides to stretch the left quad.
The hamstrings are the three muscles that make up the back of the thigh. Your hamstrings are important for use when walking. Strengthen the hamstrings using the leg curl machine, or by doing squats. Stretch afterward by standing with feet hip-width apart. Bend at the waist, and allow the upper body to hang or deepen the stretch by touching the fingers to the floor.
The gluteus (or glutes) is the name given to the buttocks, which is made up of several muscles, the largest of which is the gluteus maximus. The glutes help the body to climb steps, rise to a standing position, and walk or run. To build a better butt, use the leg press machine, or perform squats. Stretch your glutes by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Bend the right leg, and cross it over the left, just above the knee. Squat down until the thighs are parallel to the ground. Switch sides after thirty seconds.
Gastrocnemius and Soleus
These muscles make up the back of the lower leg, and are often referred to as the calves. When we push off the floor to walk or reach up to grab something, the calves are engaged. Create more rounded calves by doing calf raises and lunges (both bent and straight leg). The yoga pose downward facing dog is perfect for stretching the back of the leg.
The pecs are the muscles of the chest. They control the ability to pull the shoulder and arm forward to do tasks such as push up from a seated position or push open a door. Work the chest by doing chest presses while lying on a bench or by doing push-ups. Stretch your pecs by clasping the hands behind the back, pressing the palms together, and then pushing the hands downward to straighten the arms.
The delts are a three-part muscle group that makes up the top of the shoulder, and is activated when lifting objects overhead. To get rounded, muscular shoulders complete seated shoulder presses or side arm raises. To stretch the shoulders, bend your elbow like your trying to scratch your back. Use the opposite hand to press down on the elbow to deepen the stretch. Switch sides after thirty seconds.
Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, and Trapezius
The lats and rhomboids make up the muscles of the upper and middle back. They help to hold the body in proper alignment for better posture, and are used when pulling something. Try the lat pull-down machine, the assisted pull-up machine, or use a pull-up bar. Also find time to work in some upright rows. Follow the same stretching as was advised for your shoulders.
The biceps are the two muscles that form the front of the arm, and are used when lifting or pulling an object. Simple bicep curls will create defined bicep muscles. Afterward, stretch by extending one arm straight out away from the body, palm facing up. Use the opposite hand to press the fingers toward the ground.
The three muscles on the back of the arm make up the triceps. The triceps are used when extending the arm and pushing. Push-ups, tricep extensions, and dips all can tone and strengthen the triceps. The same stretch used for the back and shoulders also stretches the triceps.
Abdominals and Obliques
The abdominals and obliques are the muscles of the stomach and side of the body that facilitate rotation and torso movement. By completing crunches and twisting crunches, you can both harden the stomach muscles and protect the back from injury. The cobra yoga pose can be used to stretch the stomach and strengthen the back.