Whilst it is still common to see people training in a very unbalanced way, I would say the standard of an average gym goers training has considerably improved over the last 10 years. Lots of people who train in a gym, regularly have a basic understanding of how programmes are formulated. People know to split muscle groups to different days, and understand how to train agonists and antagonists in the right way (i.e., not just training the muscles you can see in the mirror). You often see people prioritising the bang for your buck compound lifts, like chin ups and squatting over lat pulldowns and leg presses.
If you are training in this way, you are more than likely to have made some gains (maybe even with a Z!) Therefore, you may be looking to advance your training. So what simple alternations could a normal gym user make, that would lead to even better results? These easy additions not often observed, should help stop unwanted imbalances and aid you in muscle growth and strength gains:
1. Training Elbow Flexors With An Overhand Grip
Exercises like Reverse EZ Bar Curls and Dumbbell Zottman curls (Hands facing up while dumbbell is curled upwards and turned to face down as dumbbell is controlled downwards) are good examples of exercises that do this. These muscles train the Brachialis and the Brachioradialis muscles. In a well developed and lean arm, you can see these muscles around the outside of the elbow. They greatly assist with elbow flexion, even when the hand is facing upwards.
They are predominately activated during elbow flexion with the hands facing downwards though. This means they often lack the most direct and effective training for them, as people will favour curls with an underhand grip. Curls done this way predominantly activate the Biceps Brachii ; the muscles we all recognize as being the ones which make the arms look big.
However, by training overhand grip as well as underhand grip, you will increase your curling weights, leading to bigger arms in the long run, and it should also aid in muscular balance around the elbow, meaning less injuries.
2. Directly Training The Glutes
Glutes are your bum muscles. They are large muscles which powerfully extend the hip. They are also crucial for posture and in preventing back pain. They are involved in many movements such as squatting, deadlifts and step ups. Most people will use these big movements thinking they are all they need for glute training. However, famous strength coach Brett Contreras (nicknamed the “Glute Guy”) conducted tests using EMG on the gluten, and found that they are more effectively activated using an exercise called The Hip Thrust. It involved placing a bar across your hips, with feet flat on ground, knees bent, and shoulders supported by a bench or low box (note: you will need a soft pad to cushion the bar on your hips or it could get quite painful). You can use this exercise with low rep protocols (5 sets of 3 reps for instance) and really pile on the weight (you’ll be able to lift more than you think) but I have also found using this exercise with lighter loads and for as many as 20, 30 or even 40 reps per set, to be very effective at strengthening and increasing mass in the glutes.
3. Only Training Your Abs With Holds
The abdominals, whilst capable of doing it, are not really designed to repeated crunching movements. The majority of the work done by the abdominals, and the other muscles in the trunk such as the Obliques, is of a supporting and static nature, or what we call isometric. Lots of people like doing crunches as it gives a good burn in the abs, but this is potentially damaging to the lower back.
I prefer to do lots of planking movements with my clients. A basic plank can be made much more challenging my digging the elbows and toes in during the movement and trying to increase tension between those two points (essentially trying to squeeze and draw them towards each other).
To advance beyond a basic plank, they can be made more interesting and challenging by lifting an arm or a leg, or by shifting a light kettlebell around randomly with the hands.