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5 Upper-Body Muscles You're Ignoring (and How to Sculpt Them)
If your workout routine is heavy on the C2—that's cardio and core—it's time to change things up. Your upper-body muscles deserve some love, too. Sean Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS and BistroMD fitness expert shares the top five upper-body muscles women shrug off the most, and the moves that target them for maximum results.
Lower Trap Muscles
Your lower trap muscles, which are located right under your shoulder blades, play a major role in preventing shoulder pain, Wells says. If they're worked right, these muscles can give you a nice sculpted back. The fibers in this muscle group help tip and rotate your shoulder blades back, meaning that it's a key player in helping you perfect your posture when you walk, stand, and sit.
Work Your Lower Trap Muscles: Pom-Pom Circle
Targets shoulders and arms
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms slightly out to sides in an upside-down V.
- Slowly raise extended arms overhead, drawing five tiny circles with each weight on the way up until arms form a V.
- Slowly lower arms to sides, reversing direction of circles, to complete 1 rep.
- Do two sets of 10 reps.
Your latissimus dorsi muscles run from your arms to your lower back, right below your rotator cuffs. If you've ever scrolled through Instagram and paused at a friend of a friend's bodybuilding competition, you've undoubtedly seen their bulging arms and back—and consequently probably haven't bothered to touch this muscle group in the gym for fear of ripping through your latest sample sale finds. But Wells says you should. That is, if you want to have a sexy back and prevent lower-back pain.
Work Your Lat Muscles: Lateral Lift
Targets shoulders, glutes, and outer thighs
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, a dumbbell in each hand, arms by sides, palms in.
- Lift arms out to sides at shoulder level while lifting right leg out to side.
- Lower. Switch legs; repeat. Do six reps on each side.
The rhomboid muscle group, which is primarily along the shoulder blades, will help you stand tall—and who doesn't want that? Wells says that to stop slouching and be ready to rock a backless dress at a moment's notice, you'll need to give this upper-body area a little toning attention.
Work Your Rhomboid Muscles: Three-Point Row
Targets back, medial deltoid, and rear deltoid
- Stand with feet staggered, right in front of left, holding an eight- to 12-pound dumbbell in left hand.
- Bend forward from hips and place right hand on a bench. Extend left arm down, palm facing right.
- Draw left hand up to rib cage. Lower arm, then bring elbow out 45 degrees from side.
- Lower arm again, then draw elbow out perpendicular to ribs, turning palm to face left.
- Lower arm and repeat entire series five to 10 times. Switch sides; repeat.
Back of your arms looking a little...loose? Wells says that many women think cardiovascular exercise alone will burn this fat off. But you need to double up with triceps-targeted moves, too.
Work Your Triceps: Triceps Extension
Targets triceps, butt, and legs
- Hold a five- to eight-pound dumbbell in right hand and stand with feet staggered, left in front of right.
- Lower into a lunge, knees bent 90 degrees and left knee aligned over ankle.
- Maintaining lunge, lean forward and place left forearm on thigh. Draw right elbow toward rib cage, palm facing left and elbow bent 90 degrees.
- Extend right arm behind you. Lower to 90 degrees again; repeat. Do 10 to 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
Rotator cuff injuries are pretty frequent, says Wells, and that may be due to how underworked they are. Wells says this muscle group is small with odd movements, so if you're not focused on hitting them during a workout you will likely miss them.
Work Your Rotator Cuffs: Side Plank Pull-Down
Targets shoulders, triceps, back, and abs
- Anchor center of band in doorjamb at chest level and hold both ends in left hand. Lie on floor on right side so that top of head is facing door.
- Get into side plank position, propping up torso on right elbow with hips and legs stacked and hips lifted off floor.
- Extend left arm toward ceiling, palm facing away from door, and slowly lower arm to left hip. Raise arm and repeat.
- Do 10 reps; switch sides and repeat. Do three sets.