There are many different exercises out there that athletes can perform; some are sport-specific and some are more general. The purpose of this article is to give five simple, yet essential exercises for any athlete to build strength and help prevent injury. One disclaimer to note is that the exercises listed below are not based on research but on experience. The goal of this article is to hopefully help and educate those athletes who may not know what exercises to perform in the weight room and to remind the more experienced athletes of some basic exercises that should not be forgotten.
- The first essential exercise is pull-ups. The primary muscles used during pull-ups are the lattisimus dorsi, trapezius, deltoids, rhomboids, and pectoralis major as well as smaller muscles. The benefits include time efficiency, simplicity, and difficulty. Pull-ups don’t require much equipment, just a bar to be able to hold one’s body weight, making it a simple and time-efficient exercise to perform for any athlete. Furthermore, pull-ups are challenging for any athlete, whether you’re a female long-distance runner like myself or a gymnast who has incredible upper body strength. Pull-ups can be modified with bands or can be made more difficult by wearing weighted vests. Pull-ups utilize many major muscle groups in the upper body and posterior chain, which is great for posture and overall strength in any athlete, such as a sprinter using their arms to pump down the track or a baseball pitcher required to pitch several innings in a game.
- The second essential exercise is a mixture of core exercises. A person’s trunk is the foundation for many lifts in the weight room. For example, a weak core can prevent someone from increasing their deadlift weight. Therefore, it is important to work all muscles in the core including the rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and the transverse abdominis with exercises such as planks, dead bugs, russian twists, and leg raises. There are a plethora of core exercises to choose from and it’s important to pick a variety to work the different abdominal muscles. Give yourself at least 3-5 minutes every workout session to incorporate some of these exercises.
- The third essential exercise is back hyperextension. The back may be easily injured if neglected in the weight room or it can increase performance and decrease the risk of injury with proper strength. Back hyperextensions mainly utilize the low back muscles, such as the erector spinae. Performing this exercise on a hyperextension machine, such as a rogue z hyper, will most likely yield the best results. However, if one does not have access to this machine, performing multiple sets and reps of super-mans with a 2-3 second hold will work just fine.
- The fourth essential exercise is hamstring curls. Hamstring curls work the three hamstring muscles and the glutes. Hamstrings are often easily injured because of muscle imbalance and the fact that it crosses two joints instead of one. Many people focus on strengthening their quadriceps and ignore the hamstrings, which creates a muscle imbalance and can increase the likelihood of injury. Also, the anatomical structure of the hamstring is another factor for increased injury since it crosses two joints instead of one, making it more susceptible to strain-related injuries. My favorite way to perform this exercise is using a band, although this can also be done using a machine. To use a band, tie it around a sturdy pole and wrap the other end around your ankles. Lie on your belly, keep your hips down, and feel the burn!
- Last but not least, the fifth essential exercise is calf raises. Calf raises strengthen the gastroc nemius and soleus. Strong calves protect the bones in the lower leg from getting injured, decrease the risk of shin splints, and help keep the feet strong by building posterior chain strength and stability. These can be done in a variety of ways, including single-leg, double-leg, with or without added weight, and eccentric heel drop. Strong feet are extremely important for almost any athlete because it is the only body part that makes contact with the ground, therefore, they need to be able to handle the impact and stress placed on them. Increase your feet and calf strength with daily calf raises!