One aspect of overall strength that is not covered enough is working your stabilizing muscles. For those not familiar with the term, stabilization muscles are the ones that are used in conjunction with the primary muscles to help stabilize and support the body and weight during the range of motion covered in the exercise.
For example, when doing a set of dumbbell presses overhead your triceps and deltoids do most of the pushing of the actual weight. However your neck and trapezius muscles are in action as well as lats, upper chest, and forearms to keep the weight balanced and supported. Your abdominals and other trunk muscles including the lower back are also keeping your core stabilized.
But how do you make those areas stronger?
A Stabilization Workout
Some people might think those other muscles are strong enough from being worked out on back day, chest day, etc. But that is not the case. One reason you want to incorporate specific ‘stabilization’ training is to ensure that the connection between the muscles and central nervous system are strengthened which increases your agility as well as control over these muscles.
Athletes typically employ a lot of similar tactics to help with aspects of coordination and dexterity which then translates into athletic performance as all muscles are better utilized as a group.
So what does a stabilization workout include? Basically it is a lot of free weights combined with things that require balance while performing the actual lift. Dumbbells are the preferred method incorporating as many standing exercises as possible that are then done on a single leg or seated exercises while using an exercise ball.
Let’s look at a few sample programs for ideas:
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Flat Dumbbell Chest Flyes on a balance ball
- Pushups with one hand on a medicine ball
- Straight-arm Dumbbell Pullovers lying on a balance ball
- Sandbag Deadlifts
- Single Arm Dumbbell Rows from a pushup position
- Single Arm Pulldowns (attach a single grip handle and mimic a wide grip motion)
- Bent Dumbbell Rows on a single leg
Both of these routines involve similar movements to a standard routine. But by taking away the normal base of stabilization provided by regular body position or a fixed bench, the stabilization muscles have to compensate much more. While the muscles are strong enough, the body is not used to using them in this manner and that is what you are really training at first.
Aspects of the trunk and core should be trained separately to increase their strength beyond just as part of this workout. The abdominals, lower back, and other trunk muscles should be worked at least twice a week.
Ideally you would want to add in a stabilization day about every 4th workout. Or you might even go on a binge and do a balance style workout for many consecutive weeks to get a good base built up. For people who engage in other sports you will be surprised at how much better you agility is after getting a few stabilization workouts in. Also you will find that you are stronger on your normal lifts after a while because the stabilizer will control the weight more allowing the primary muscles to focus on the push or pull.
While we didn’t provide specific exercises for each body part, it should be fairly simple to adjust your own program now that you have the basic idea. Remember to reduce your weight initially as your body adapts to its’ new environment.