by Nora Tobin for SHAPE.com
When it comes to exercises , we tend to focus on movements that promise to lift, tighten, and tone common trouble zones. Personally, I favor the booty-sculpting and tummy-toning set (like these killer moves for a flat stomach). These exercises certainly deserve a spot in your routine, but there are also a few under-appreciated moves that work wonders for keeping your body healthy and pain free.
The following exercises may seem super easy (or even like a waste of time), but they do much more than you think and are crucial for helping your body reach its full potential. I incorporate these exercises into my routine every other day. As a result, I can play beach volleyball at a high level, climb, surf, and snowboard with hardly any risk of my body breaking down.
Clamshell1. Clamshell: This exercise targets the muscles of your glutes and hamstrings, which are key for a healthy back and stable knees.
How to do it: Place a band around both legs just below your knees. Lie on your side with your hips and knees bent 45 degrees, legs stacked. Keeping your feet in contact with each other, raise your upper knee as high as you can without moving your pelvis . Don't allow your lower leg to move off the floor. Pause, then return to the starting position. Do 20 reps on one side and then repeat with the other leg on top.
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Y-T-W Raises2. Y-T-W Raise: This is a great, multi-part exercise that targets the muscles of your upper back that stabilize your shoulder blades (trapezius and rhomboids). It also strengthens your rotator cuff and all of muscles essential for good posture.
How to do it: Grab a set of dumbbells (3-5 lbs) and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back and keep them there during the entire movement. Raise your arms up into a Y position, keeping them straight the whole time. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.
To move on to T raises, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keep a slight bend in your knees as you shift forward at your hips. Keep your back parallel with the ground and your abs engaged. Raise your arms out to shoulder height in a T position, palms facing forward. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.
Finally, for W raises, start in the same bent-over position as you were in for T raises. Bend your elbows more than 90 degrees and raise your arms up to shoulder height, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift. At the top of the movement, your arms should form a W. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.
The 3. Opposite arm and leg extension: Also known as "bird dog," this move strengthens the muscles in your glutes and core, as well as the stabilizing muscles around your spine to help relieve pressure in the lower back.
How to do it: Get down on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs, and raise your right arm and left leg until they're in line with your body. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat with your left arm and right leg . Continue to alternate until you've completed 10 reps on each side.
Single-leg squats4. Single-leg squats: Single-leg exercises are often overlooked in training programs, but focusing on one side at a time is essential for developing balance and preventing injury. This exercise forces your glutes to act as a stabilizer, which helps protect your knees and other joints in the lower body. Plus, it's great for shaping up your legs.
How to do it: Stand on your right leg and hold your arms straight out in front of you. Shift your hips back, bend your right knee, and lower your body down as though you were sitting in a chair. Keep your chest (not chin) up as you lower. Pause, then push yourself up. Do 10 reps on your right leg and then repeat on the left.
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Squats with arms overhead5. Squat with arms overhead: Squats are already one of the best all-around exercises you can do, and by raising your arms overhead, you engage your lower trapezius muscles (key for good posture).
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your arms straight up overhead, palms facing in, drawing your shoulder blades down and back.
Shift your hips back and lower down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your weight in your heels, not on your toes, for the entire movement. Your torso should stay as upright as possible. Hold this position for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Push yourself back to the starting position. That's one rep. Do 3 reps total.