Training variation

Choose a body part you’ve never specifically strengthened before and add it to your training. It could be your rotator cuffs, neck, lower back or even a ligament or tendon.

If you made a promise to yourself to start going to the gym to get in better shape this year, you're probably keeping that promise so far. After all, the year is still new. But does your workout consist of the same common exercises everyone always includes, the standard routine of bicep curls, shoulder shrugs, hamstring curls, leg extensions and so on?

There's nothing wrong with that. But how about adding something unique to your program? Choose a body part you've never specifically strengthened before and add it to your training. It could be your rotator cuffs, neck, lower back or even a ligament or tendon. If you play a sport or do an activity where injuries to such areas are common, training to build that body part works as great protection.

For example, rotator cuffs are very easily injured, especially if they are weak, or contracted from not being stretched out. The cuffs are four small muscles that basically hold the shoulder together. They can, in order of severity, become inflamed, strained or torn. A torn rotator cuff will require surgery and a long time of physical therapy if you want to regain the full use of your arm again.

Here are three cuff strengthening exercises:

1. Make a fist with your thumb upward. Stretch your arm straight out at shoulder level and roll the fist thumb down, then back up. Repeat while raising the arm up in small increments until the fist is straight overhead.

2. Using a cable machine or an elastic cord tied securely to a door knob, bend the lower arm into a right angle with the upper arm. Grab the end of the cable or the cord while standing sideways to the anchoring end, with your hand closest to the machine. Step away until the cable or cord is taut. Pull the weighted cable or the elastic cord inward to the navel 10 times.

3. Reverse the position so the hand holding the cable/cord is at your belly. Holding your upper arm still, pull the cable/cord out to the side, away from the machine. Repeat with the other arm. Do 10 times for each movement. Rest and repeat.

Also, why not add neck strengthening to your training? There is a special chain device that can be found online that can be attached to a small weight plate. Put this device around your head and add (to start) a one-pound weight plate. Get down on all fours, secure the device around your head, and keeping your spine straight and immobile, lift and lower your head. NEVER use more than a few pounds in doing this exercise, and get instructions on doing it correctly from a personal trainer, a football coach or online.

Strengthening a body part you've never conditioned before will help add interest and motivation to your workout. But even more important, it will help you be a stronger athlete and less injury-prone in your sport or any other activity.

Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.

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