No one would claim that it’s effortless to shape and firm your thighs and hips, but at least those areas can be monitored by a full-length mirror. However, unless you sandwich yourself between a couple of mirrors, your upper back and rear shoulders – areas that can be seen by others, especially in the warm months – are difficult or impossible to be seen by you. Sometimes that translates into an “out of sight, out of mind” position when it comes to planning your exercise routine. If this describes you, then your upper back and shoulders may be somewhat neglected, a little weaker, and have less shape than you want.
If you want to look your best in your sleeveless and backless tops that are begging you to wear them this spring and summer, you may want to spend a little time training those “out of sight” muscles. Incline dumbbell raises are excellent for targeting those hard-to-see places of the posterior part of the shoulder, and some of the upper-back muscles.
The posterior fibers of the deltoid muscle, the rhomboids major and minor muscles, and the trapezius muscle are all strongly activated by incline dumbbell raises. The deltoid muscle originates from three different bony regions on the shoulder. The anterior part of the deltoid flexes the shoulder (i.e., raises the arm forward). The medial deltoid raises the arm laterally to the side of the body (abduction of the arm at the shoulder joint). The posterior (rear) deltoid extends the arm at the shoulder, pulling the arm backward.
Incline dumbbell raises preferentially activate the posterior part of the deltoid muscle. The posterior fibers of the deltoid attach along the spine of the scapula (shoulder blade), a bony ridge located on its upper and posterior side. They anchor on the lateral side of the humerus bone, about one-third of the way from the shoulder toward the elbow. These fibers produce a strong extension, which brings the humerus bone to a posterior position, and this is the primary function of inclined dumbbell lateral raises.
The posterior fibers also contribute to lateral rotation of the humerus at the shoulder joint. Lateral rotation turns the medial side of the arm out and away from the body (i.e., counterclockwise rotation of your right arm).
The rhomboids major and minor muscles are deep muscles of the upper back that lie just medial to the scapula, and they are also activated by incline dumbbell raises. When they are strengthened, they will add firmness to your upper back and help improve your posture. The fibers of both the rhomboid minor and major muscles extend along the midline of the back at the thoracic vertebrae, and attach on the medial border of the scapula (the side closest to the vertebrae). The larger rhomboid major muscle sits just below the smaller rhomboid minor muscle. Both muscles adduct the scapula (squeeze the shoulder blades together) and rotate the scapula upward – like when you raise your arms over your shoulders. The medial part of the large trapezius muscle attaches to the vertebrae medially and to the scapula laterally. These muscle fibers assist the rhomboid major and minor during scapular adduction during the pull backward in the incline dumbbell raise.
Incline Reverse Flye Dumbbell Raises
Incline dumbbell raises provide an excellent means for isolating the posterior fibers of the deltoid, rhomboids and medial trapezius muscles.
1. Select an incline bench that has no more than a 45º angle. Take a dumbbell in each hand and lie facedown on the bench. Your arms will be hanging toward the floor with your thumbs adjacent to each other at the beginning of the lift.
2. Your knees should remain slightly bent to reduce any lower back strain. Bend your elbows just slightly, then raise the dumbbells out to the side of the body and as high as possible. The trajectory of the dumbbells should fall slightly inferior (behind) the shoulder joint, but the dumbbells should be raised to the same level of your shoulders (or higher if possible).
3. Rotate your shoulders (not your wrists) as the dumbbells approach the very top position. The lateral side of the hand (the side with the thumb) should be turned toward the ceiling at the top position.
4. Hold the top position for a count of one or two, then slowly reverse the movement to the starting position.
5. Do not pause at the bottom or between repetitions, but immediately continue upward. The posterior shoulder should be under constant tension from the beginning to the end of the exercise.
6. Be sure that you lift the dumbbells as high as possible. At a minimum, your arms should be parallel to the floor at the top position. Hold this for a count of two, because this will ensure the greatest muscle contraction and activation of all of the fibers in the posterior deltoid and upper-back muscles.
The shoulder is literally held together by its muscle attachments, and therefore, it is never wise to lift the dumbbells quickly or explosively. It is especially important to be in full control of the dumbbells during the lateral rotation part at the top of the movement. Try to go for the best exercise form to activate the muscles, while protecting your shoulder joint from injury.
If you work carefully and with smooth, strict movements, your shoulders will respond by strengthening and firming. In addition, the muscles of your middle back (between the shoulder blades) will be strengthened and toned by this exercise. This will help your posture, and improve the quality of your entire upper body.
After a couple of months of incline dumbbell raises, you will show so much improvement that you will want to show off your new firm and toned shoulders. Your hard work certainly deserves the attention!
Andersen LL, Andersen JL, Suetta C, Kjaer M, Sogaard K and Sjogaard G, 2009. Effect of contrasting physical exercise interventions on rapid force capacity of chronically painful muscles. J Appl Physiol, 107, 1413-1419.
Kibler WB, Sciascia AD, Uhl TL, Tambay N, and Cunningham T, 2008. Electromyographic analysis of specific exercises for scapular control in early phases of shoulder rehabilitation. Am J Sports Med, 36, 1789-1798.
Minning S, Eliot CA, Uhl TL and Malone TR, 2007. EMG analysis of shoulder muscle fatigue during resisted isometric shoulder elevation. J Electromyogr Kinesiol, 17, 153-159.
Moore KL and AF Dalley. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Fourth Edition. Baltimore, Lippincott Williams & Williams, Kelly PJ, Editor, 1992, pp. 690-698.
Reinold MM, Macrina LC, Wilk KE, Fleisig GS, Dun S, Barrentine SW, Ellerbusch MT and Andrews, JR 2007. Electromyographic analysis of the supraspinatus and deltoid muscles during 3 common rehabilitation exercises. J Athl Train, 42, 464-469.
Uhl TL, Muir TA and Lawson L, 2010. Electromyographical Assessment of Passive, Active Assistive, and Active Shoulder Rehabilitation Exercises. PM & R, 2, 132-141.
Yoshizaki K, Hamada J, Tamai K, Sahara R, Fujiwara T and Fujimoto T, 2009. Analysis of the scapulohumeral rhythm and electromyography of the shoulder muscles during elevation and lowering: comparison of dominant and nondominant shoulders. J Shoulder Elbow Surg, 18, 756-763.
Have you tried this NEW workout plan that everyone is talking about?
Master the Move: How to Do the Wall Sit Exercise to Completely Light Up Your Quads
So, what exactly is the wall sit? The wall sit exercise is exactly as it sounds: Imagine sitting on a box in front of a wall with your back flat against the wall. Now, think about taking the box away. The muscles in your legs need to fire to keep your body steady as you hold that seated position—that's a wall sit.
Wall sits are great lower-body exercises for beginners, people coming back from injury, or exercisers looking for a greater challenge. In fact, one of the great things about the wall sit is that it's super customizable to a whole bunch of fitness levels.
Interested in giving the wall sit exercise a try? Before we demonstrate how to wall sit, read on for some background on the exercise, as well as some tips on how to put it into practice within your exercise routine.
What is the wall sit exercise?
The wall sit exercise is a lower-body strengthening exercise that works your muscles through isometric contractions, or by holding a position without moving, certified strength and conditioning coach Evan Williams, CSCS, CPT, founder of E2G Performance, tells SELF.
Here's a quick refresher: Your muscles perform three types of actions: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. In the context of a squat exercise, when you're lowering your butt toward the floor, your muscles are lengthening in the eccentric phase. When you're pushing back up, your muscles are shortening in the concentric phase. In between the two? When you pause at the bottom of the squat—when you're staying still, but your muscles are still firing to maintain tension—that's the isometric phase. (In addition to the wall sit, other classic isometric exercises you might know include any type of plank and the glute bridge hold.)
The wall sit basically takes the isometric portion of the squat, and blows it out into its own, leg-quaking move.
What muscles does the wall sit exercise work?
The wall sit exercise is a lower-body move that works your quadriceps, or the muscles in the front of your upper thighs, says Williams. You also get slight activation of your lower leg muscles, like your calves, as well as your core and glutes, but the wall sit primarily targets your quads.
“When you're in that seated position—that in-between phase of the eccentric and concentric contractions—you're really activating your quads by pushing through the ground, and not allowing yourself to fall or rise from your position,” Williams says. “You're fighting gravity to maintain that seated position. We call that time under tension.”
What are the benefits of the wall sit exercise?
The wall sit exercise is great for building strength in your quads, which help you extend your knee and flex your hip—meaning your quads help you do everything from walking to running and from getting up from a chair to climbing up stairs. Your quads also play a role in knee stability, and strong quads have been shown to help reduce the risk of knee pain.
A 15-Minute Cardio Workout for When Your Body Just Needs to Move
When you're stressful, adding an hour-long workout to the mix might make it even worse. But if you still want to move, a 15-minute cardio workout can be just what you need.
So many of us can benefit from a short and sweet workout, whether your fitness level is beginner or more advanced. “Light and fun exercise gives you the freedom to just move,” NASM-certified personal trainer Kila Duncan, founder of Purely Strong Fitness, tells SELF. “You don't have to think so much and you have the ability to just let go of what's going on in your life.” Sign us up!
Duncan created this heart-pumping cardio workout with light movement in mind. While it includes some typical strength moves, like push-ups and curtsy lunges, you'll get that cardio burst since your work periods will be roughly twice as long as your rest periods. And it's just one more example that shows you don't need typical steady-state cardio, like running or riding a bike, to bring on the benefits of that kind of workout. Along with delivering a rush of endorphins, cardio training can help reduce blood pressure and also improve cardiovascular function as a whole. If you're more advanced and want to up the intensity (hello, HIIT!) of this quick workout, try going all-out during your work periods.
Another benefit? This workout is super efficient if you're strapped for time, or simply don't want to spend all the time you do have working out. That's because the 15 minutes includes both your warm-up and your workout. Warm-ups are especially important for cardio workouts because they prime your muscles and reduce your chance of injury—plus, studies have shown that they can even boost your workout performance.
This warm-up, which hits your core, glutes, hamstrings, and shoulder muscles, is meant to “rev up your engine” without being too sweaty and strenuous while preparing you to continue on with your workout. If you have a few extra minutes, Duncan suggests adding a couple more of your favorite dynamic stretches—like high knees or lunges—to the warm-up for a bit of added mobility and strength.
Duncan especially loves this workout for active recovery days, as the easy movement can help ease muscle soreness without added strain. And for beginners, “When you move just a little bit every day—even 15 minutes—it can go such a long way for your body to be conditioned to take on more strenuous workouts,” she says.
If you have hip, knee, or ankle injuries, talk with your doctor before trying this workout. And for higher-impact moves like the frogger, we've incorporated lower-impact modifications. Ready to take on this fun, quick 15-minute cardio workout? Here's what you need to get started.
What you'll need: An exercise mat for extra cushioning.
- Glute bridge
- T-Spine windmill stretch
- Plank to downward dog tap
- Curtsy lunge to squat
- For the warm-up, you'll complete 5 reps of the frogger, 10 reps of the glute bridge, and 8 reps per side of the T-spine windmill stretch. Complete the circuit twice, taking breaks as needed.
- For the workout, you'll do three rounds of the three circuit exercises. For the first round, perform each exercise for 1 minute, taking a 30-second break in between each move. For round two, do each exercise for 45 seconds, breaking for 20 seconds in between each move. For the final round, perform each exercise for 30 seconds, taking a 15-second break in between each move.
Demoing the moves below are Delise Johnson (GIF 1), CEO and strength coach at Wellness and Weights; Shauna Harrison (GIF 2), a Bay Area–based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF; Caitlyn Seitz (GIF 3), a New York-based group fitness instructor and singer/songwriter; Cookie Janee (GIF 4), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Angie Coleman (GIF 5), a holistic wellness coach in Oakland; and Erica Gibbons (GIF 6), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist.
Fitness,Fitness / Workouts
In Training, Consistency Is the Key to Your Fitness Goals
Consistency is arguably the most important component when working to accomplish goals, in or out of the gym. Without consistency, programs are unorganized, the body has a harder time adapting, and forming habits may be more challenging.
Build and Follow Workout Programming
Whatever your goals may be, they require a consistent level of training for you to reach them. One way to ensure consistency within the scope of your goals is to build a program. Programs make it much easier to stay on track because you won’t have to think about what you’re going to do at the gym today—it’s already written out. Most programs are designed to be followed for a set amount of time, typically about 4 weeks. Depending on the desired goal, the program will have a different focus—hypertrophy, endurance, strength, and so on. Each day is designed with the goal in mind, while ensuring that you are training in a way that minimizes imbalances within the body. If you aren’t following the program consistently, the chance of it working is reduced.
Theoretically, if you have a program and you don’t follow it, the body is not going to be able to adapt to the program because there isn’t an opportunity for progressive overload, which is when the amount of stress on the body is gradually increased over time, leading to increased strength and performance.
Work Toward Adaptations
Biologically, a lot of things happen in the body during exercise. Over time these reactions change the body to become stronger, grow, or run more efficiently. Different factors affect adaptations in everyone, so it’s impossible to predict when these changes will occur. But being consistent with training will increase the likelihood of seeing adaptations sooner.
Different modes of exercise elicit different adaptations. Endurance training will produce different changes than resistance training. While there are far too many adaptations to discuss in this blog, a few examples reported by the CDC include the following:
Improved ability of muscles to use fat as energy Stronger ligaments and tendons Increased VO2 max and lactate threshold Increased number of capillaries in muscles Cardiac muscle hypertrophy Increased force production
Each of these changes is beneficial for different scenarios. The body is either becoming more efficient or stronger, or performance is enhanced. However, these long-term benefits are seen only after consistent training over a period of time.
We are creatures of habit. The more we practice something, the more natural it becomes. We experience this when we learn to walk as babies, when we learn to drive, and when we exercise. It’s normal to feel out of your element when you try something new, but the more you do it, the more comfortable you feel.
Current research suggests that to make a habit stick it must be performed for 68 consecutive days. The idea of sticking with something brand new for 68 days may feel overwhelming for some people. When taking on a new challenge, focusing on taking it day by day might be a helpful mindset. Yes, we might be aiming to create a lifelong habit; however, thinking about just starting a habit to last for years could seem daunting. Start by doing it for one day, and then two, and then three, and so on.
Once you feel comfortable with one small change, add another small change, and so on. Small changes are more sustainable over the long term and add up to form new habits. There will likely be days that your plan doesn’t work out how it was supposed to, but that doesn’t mean all progress is lost.
Our bodies adapt gradually to exercise. In the end, consistency will help you reach your goals. Without it, you might not have enough structure to allow for growth. Work first on figuring out your goals, determine the best route to achieve them, and get started with one step. If you’re not sure how to get started, the trainers at NIFS can help you set goals and develop programs tailored to those goals.
This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.
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