Every bodybuilder is guilty of training only the muscles they can flex in the mirror during a certain phase of their training, and that’s all right – the chest, bicep, abdominal and shoulder muscles all contribute to overall strength and muscularity. But so do a lot of other muscles that might get entirely ignored for too long. And in the long run, this will open the door for muscular imbalances that ruin performance and increase vulnerability to injury.
If you want a well-sculpted, powerful body that stands apart from the average lean physique, you need to directly train the “small guys” that work from behind the scene too. Don’t forget, your “vanity” muscles would be nothing without the supporting crew of stabilizers and assisting muscles, so training the latter ones will necessarily benefit the development of the first ones.
Here are 5 notoriously neglected but highly visible muscles that deserve more love and how to fully develop them for a more complete, injury-free physique. That is, unless you want to be one of those guys that looks good only from the waist up!
This frequently overlooked muscle runs underneath the biceps and is visible on the outside of each upper arm and although it serves as a flexor of the elbow joint together with the biceps, it doesn’t play a role in supinating the forearm, so moves that involve supinated hand position can’t target it adequately. The thing many guys don’t know, however, is that training the brachialis is the best way to build massive arms. When properly developed, the brachialis muscle pushes your biceps and triceps further away from one another, adding noticeable width and depth to your arms.
The stimulation your brachialis receive when you train your bi’s isn’t enough to prompt substantial brachialis growth, so you need to train it directly. Every time you train your biceps, add one type of curl that emphasizes this muscle at the end of the routine. Anything that involves a palms-down grip or a thumbs-up grip will do the job. For example, you can perform barbell reverse curls with a medium palms-down grip or hammer curls with a thumbs-up grip. Three to four sets of 10-12 reps should produce the burn you’re after.
#2. Serratus Anterior
Often called the sexiest muscle on the male physique, the serratus anterior lies atop the outer sides of the highest eight ribs and is responsible for protracting your scapula, assisting in rotating it upward and stabilizing it against the rib cage, which makes it critical for overall shoulder health and mobility. Since it runs finger-like along each rib, a shredded serratus will visually set off the pecs and abs and tie the front to the back, giving your torso that “finished” look.
Pullovers and pulldowns will give your serratus muscles a decent stretch, but nothing more, which is why you need to perform exercises which specifically activate this area of your torso. As this is a smaller muscle, fatiguing it won’t be that hard at all. Hit it twice a week with rope pulls with a high pulley and scapular push-ups. For the latter, get into a push-up position and slide your shoulder blades toward each other as you inhale, then slide them as far apart from each other as possible as you exhale. Do not let your arms bend. Repeat this for the entire set.
How often do you think about your neck? That’s what we thought. Your neck movements are dominated by two muscles: the sternocleidomastoid and the splenius.
The sternocleidomastoid is located at the front sides of your neck and, along with smaller assisting muscles, allows you to turn your head to the left and right, as well as tuck your chin. And unless you take pride in having a pencil neck, you should be interested in developing this important muscle. Neck musculature is important not only in a spine-supporting sense, but also as an enhancement to physical symmetry. And in terms of functionality, having a strong neck will provide stability during training sessions that focus on heavy compound exercises.
Since neck muscles are really small compared to other muscles in the body, all you need to do is add a couple of neck exercises such as lying weighted neck extension and flexion per session to adequately stimulate them. Grasp a weight plate with an overhand grip and lie back on a bench. Put the weight plate over your forehead, then flex your neck to move the weight plate up and forward. To move the plate down and back, extend your neck until you feel a stretch in the sternocleidomastoid muscles. Repeat this while lying face-down and while lying on your right and left sides to train the rest of your neck muscles.
#4. Tibialis Anterior
The tibialis anterior lies on the lateral side of the tibia bone, or the front of your lower leg, and runs the length of the bone from the foot to the knee. It facilitates ankle flexion and inversion, and also works to stabilize and balance the ankle and the leg.
Strengthening the tibialis will increase your range of motion, improve the effectiveness of your lower body training and help you prevent lower leg injuries such as shin splits, which are caused by strength imbalances and are very frequent in runners. But perhaps most importantly for bodybuilders, a strong tibialis anterior will give your lower legs the necessary depth, density and detail.
For this purpose, you can perform kneeling tibialis anterior stretches which place your ankles in a position of deep extension, resistance band exercises or isometric exercises. You can also use the leg curl machine to work the tibialis by hooking your toes under the pads and lifting your toes toward your shins. As these muscles are very small, you won’t need much weight to optimally stimulate them.
#5. Wrist Extensors
The wrist extensors are a group of nine individual muscles on the back of the forearm that act on the wrist and fingers and help carry out complex movements of the hands such as wrist extension, or moving the top of the hands backward toward the wrists. As forearms are one of the body areas most commonly neglected by bodybuilders and wrist curls don’t work the wrist extensors, these muscles are really weak in most guys, which limits their grip and pinch strength and can contribute to lateral elbow pain and injury in the long run.
So needless to say, training these terribly neglected muscles will help you reduce the risk of injury and even overcome sticking points on the big lifts. You can best target them with reverse wrist curls. You can use a barbell, dumbbells or a bar attached to a cable, but make sure to go through a full range of motion on each rep. Overall, the muscle fiber type of the wrist extensors is slow-twitch dominant, so they will respond better to high rep sets with lighter weight and high training frequency.