After 12 years as a trainer, I know that having a training plan is crucial. A plan keeps you focused, allows you to track your progress and gives you objective data to understand why you are, or are not, reaching your goals.
I also know that developing a strength routine can be stressful, intimidating and confusing.
Too often people's default program is cardio followed by a few push-ups and crunches. Alternatively, those who spend time in the weight room prioritize exercises such as bench press and shoulder press.
Any activity at all is commendable, but the above exercises primarily train the front of the body and can contribute to a rounded posture and back and shoulder injuries.
So, whether you're a gym newbie, or have been training for years, make sure your plan is balanced. The five muscle groups below are a critical part of any plan, but are typically overlooked. Don't be typical; train smart.
1. The posterior chain.
This is also known as the back of your body, running from the back of your head to the back of your heels. Prioritize strengthening your posterior chain, specifically your back and glutes (bum).
Do one upper-back exercise for every chest exercise. If you have been overtraining your chest for years, for the next two months do two upper-back exercises for every one chest exercise.
Chest exercises include push-ups, the bench press and flys. Upper-back exercises include any type of row, lat pull downs, pull-ups and reverse flys.
Do at least one lower-back exercise such as the bird dog, back extensions or supermans.
Strengthen your glutes with multijoint exercises such as deadlifts, squats and bridges.
2. Balance and feet exercises.
Balance and feet strengthening exercises require proprioception – the body's mind/body loop, which allows the brain to register where the body is in space, and then to tell the body which muscles to "turn on."
Decreased proprioceptive abilities, and/or weak feet, can contribute to a plethora of injuries including plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains and knee and hip pain.
When you run, your feet and brain need to communicate so your feet can safely negotiate the terrain. Otherwise, you trip and fall. And when your proprioception is poor, your body compensates by using vision; you look down to know where your feet are. Over time, looking down will round your spine.
Incorporate unstable equipment such as a bosu, resistance ball or balance board into your routine. Try some squats or push-ups on the bosu. Do some balance work barefoot to strengthen your feet. Try standing on one leg with your eyes closed.
3. Rotator cuff exercises.
Your rotator cuff is made up of four small muscles that originate on your shoulder blade. Together, they help stabilize your arm bone in your shoulder socket and help maintain proper posture.
Try band external rotations. Stand against the edge of a door frame, shoulder blades on either side of the frame. Hold a resistance band, palms up and arms at 90 degrees. Draw your arm bones back in your shoulder sockets.
Then use the muscles around the back of your shoulders to rotate your hands out to the side. As your arms move, squeeze your shoulder blades slightly around the door frame. Repeat 15 times.
4. Wrist exercises.
Weak wrists are often the limiting factor when people are trying to improve their pull-ups, push-ups and deadlifts. Strengthen your wrists by changing your hand position or the width of your grip when you use free weights or barbells. For example, use a thicker bar when doing bench press or bent-over rows; do biceps curls with your palms down; triceps cable presses with your palms up; or put Fat Gripz around dumbbells to increase the diameter of what your hands have to hold.
5. Mindfully do functional multijoint exercises.Done correctly, functional multijoint exercises such as planks, deadlifts, squats, wood chops and bird dogs are an integral part of any program. They work the entire core, integrate the trunk into the rest of the body and prepare the body for real life.
Unfortunately, most people just go through the motions. To get the most out of any exercise, to improve your biomechanics and to properly train your core, you have to pay attention to how your body is positioned.
For example, when you are doing exercises such as squats and deadlifts, think of them as a core challenge, a moving plank. Focus on stabilizing your spine, don't let your back arch or round as you move.
Regardless of your exercise selection, always progress appropriately, ask a gym employee for instructions when needed and listen to your body.
Kathleen Trotter is a fitness writer, personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist. Follow her on Twitter @KTrotterFitness.