Most people who frequent the gym know the tendency for what's on the agenda on a Monday night. Very likely, it will be bench press night! For those that don't know gym culture, "Monday night: benchpress night" is a common phenomenon. The reason for this is because most people divide their training routines into weekly installments and Monday kicks it off. Night-times from 5 pm - 8 pm are usually when one can find a multitude of gym attendees huffing, puffing, and heaving away with a renewed sense of vigor since they are starting a fresh new week towards reaching their fitness goals.
When it comes to which body part to train first, many people, especially men, pick chest for a couple of good reasons. For one, it's easy to assess progress on since it can easily be viewed in the mirror. And two, the chest is an icon of manhood. The bigger and stronger it is, the bigger and stronger men feel.
Women have a tendency to lean towards prioritizing their abdominals, hips, thighs, and underside of their upper arms. These regions store fat more readily thanks to genetics, so you can count on seeing lots of exercises going on for these regions as well on a busy Monday night at the gym.
It's important we train each body part equally
Something that must be remembered, however, when you slave away changing your body, is that your muscles will adapt to the demands you place upon them over time. That's a good thing when you see your thighs, chest, or butt getting firmer. But it's not a good thing if you have neglected opposing areas of the body by not working them as hard. An example of this is the abdominal musculature. Someone may do 5 sets of 20 repetitions in an attempt to firm their stomach, but if they are not doing another 5 sets of 20 repetitions at the same intensity to strengthen their low back it is just a matter of time before a muscle imbalance will unwittingly be created. Over time, someone who only ever performs crunches without training their low back will develop short, tight abdominal muscle fibers and long, weak back muscles. This particular type of imbalance is a common one and it contributes to a slouching posture.
Muscle imbalances are no fun!
They can leave areas of the body vulnerable to injury in the form of sprains and strains, which are microscopic tears in connective tissue and muscles.
These things hurt! Remember that one time when your neck got tweaked and it locked up, making it very hard and painful to turn? More than likely, what you experienced was a connective tissue sprain or muscle strain. Long, weak muscle fibers are prone to this type of injury because they are stretched out and lack proper tone. When likened to a rope pulling contest, the long, weak muscle fibers will always end up face down in the mud due to losing to the short, tight muscles on the other side of a joint.
And they can lead to premature aging!
Worse than this, though, is that muscle imbalances left unchecked for years can accumulate into connective tissue thickening and calcium deposits within bone. If constant tension is applied to where a muscle attaches to a bone, the body will respond by thickening the tendon that connects that muscle to the bone. If this tension continues unchecked, the bone may eventually lay down extra calcium to deal with the constant stress and prevent fracture of the bone from occurring. Ever heard of a heal spur? This is the same process that goes on when a foot's arch begins to flatten out when we get older. The stress of bodyweight on the flattening arch forces the tendons and ligaments of the arch to thicken and the heal bone to form a calcium spur. These bone and tissue changes are degenerative in nature and can lead to early, irreversible joint arthritis. In other words, muscular imbalances can fast-forward the aging process!
Balancing your workouts will keep you looking and feeling younger!
So balancing the forces at work on the bones and joints is crucial to preserving their health. Looking good from working out is awesome, but not if it eventually causes a painful premature humpback! In order to approach balancing your muscles properly, remember that the way all muscles in your body work is by pulling, not pushing, and that all muscles work in pairs. If, for example, your biceps pull your hand towards your shoulder, then there must be an opposing group of muscles to counteract that action by pulling your hand back down and straightening out your arm. Those muscles are the triceps.
Whatever body part you are working, make sure you work its counterpart with same amount of attention. That means for those partaking in Monday night, "benchpress night", they must pick another night during the week to call "rowing night" where they work their upper back muscles with the same frequency and intensity as they did their chest. In terms of exercises, thinking in terms of "push, pull" works very effectively. If you push a piece of exercise equipment, whether it be a dumbbell, barbell, machine, or resistaband, make sure to pull on another piece of exercise equipment in the opposite direction.
Here are some muscle-pairing examples that comprise a total body workout:
- abdominal crunches, back extensions
- chest press, back rows
- overhead presses, lat pulldowns
- arm curls, arm extensions
- wrist curls, wrist extensions
- leg curls, leg extensions
- leg squats, leg raises
- calf extensions (push your foot down), plantar dorsiflexion (pull your foot up)
Look at your current workout routine and evaluate whether you are giving equal attention in the form of frequency and intensity to each of these paired muscle groups. Your body will thank you by providing you with years of injury-free performance and youthful vigor when your workouts are properly balanced.