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10 Ways to Train Your Stabilizer Muscles!

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10 Ways to Train Your Stabilizer Muscles!

When you hit the gym for a round of weight training, you choose exercises that work the muscles you're looking to strengthen. For example, if you want bigger biceps, you might do some curls. Or you decide to do squats to build up your glutes.

It's easy to see the primary muscles that you're working with each exercise. What might be less obvious to you are the secondary muscles that function as stabilizers.

Stabilizing muscles are just as important as the primary muscles - they help prevent injury and muscle imbalances, which is crucial for actual muscle movement and function.

Learn more about what the stabilizer muscles are, why they're so important, and how to strengthen stabilizer muscles with specific exercises in our guide below.

What are stabilizer muscles?

In every exercise, there is a mover and a stabilizer. There isn't a specific set of muscles labeled "the stabilizers" - every single muscle can be a stabilizing muscle, depending on the movement.

The primary mover is the main muscle that lengthens and contracts during a movement. You feel this muscle working the hardest.

The stabilizer during any move contracts, but not in the same way as the mover muscle. It helps coordinate and stabilize the moving muscle and safely limit the movement.

There are two types of stabilizer muscles:

  1. Fixators prevent the undesirable movement of a bone or a joint. The trapezius (muscle group over your back, neck, and shoulders) stabilizing your shoulder blade during a bicep curl is a prime fixator muscle example.
  2. Neutralizers offset a joint movement in the other direction to only happen at the same level.

Although every muscle can be a stabilizer, some muscles tend to be stabilizing more often than not. Here are the most important groups of stabilizing muscles in the body:

  • The rotator cuff, four muscles that act as an arm movement and shoulder stabilizer.
  • The gluteus medius, the primary hip stabilizer muscles.
  • The transverse abdominis (deep abdominal muscles connected to the spine), pelvic floor, and multifidus (tendons attached to the spine) are the main core stability muscles.

Why are stabilizer muscles important?

Let's dig in a little deeper into why these stabilizing muscles are vital to our fitness goals and general health.

  • They provide postural support. Beyond training alone, these muscles help your body stand and move naturally to avoid muscle imbalances.
  • They help prevent damage while training. Stabilizer muscles support large muscles and won't allow your body to move out of its natural range of motion. Weak stabilizers that don't do their job correctly make larger muscles work harder, causing strains and injuries.
  • They allow you to lift heavier weights. Strong stabilizers provide the base for your primary muscles to lift heavier weights, meaning more significant gains during your workouts.
  • They improve overall balance. Strong stabilizers will keep you in place during even the most challenging moves. Good balance improves your athletic performance and ability to run, jump, and react quickly and fluidly.

What exercises increase muscle stability?

There are specific ways to exercise and strengthen stabilizing muscles to keep you feeling healthy and injury-free.

No matter which exercises you're doing to build stabilizers, it's best to slowly perform balance and stability exercises, focusing on good form. Keep weights reasonably low and complete higher reps of the exercises.

Compound movement

First, focus on compound movements that utilize multiple muscle groups and maximize your stabilizer muscles' job. Think squats, push-ups, and deadlifts over small, isolated actions.

Free weights

Stay away from weight machines when looking to build up your stabilizer muscles. Instead, opt for free weights, which use your stabilizers to coordinate your movement and help keep the weight balanced.

Barbells will work your stabilizers, but dumbbells are even better, as they double up the challenge as you stabilize each extremity individually.

Resistance bands

Resistance bands provide constant tension while you do an exercise. Your stabilizers work overtime to support you during the movement and keep you focused on alignment. Resistance bands work your core during virtually every exercise. Use something like this pull up assist band to work almost every stabilizer in your upper body and core, or a mini band for lower body exercises.

Stabilizer muscle progression training

To strengthen and build your stabilizing muscles, you can focus on easing into specific exercises. Each level is more challenging than the last to train stronger stabilizers in your body progressively.

Do your stabilizing exercises:

  1. Seated.
  2. Standing on two feet with a wide stance.
  3. Standing on two feet with a narrow stance.
  4. Standing, with one foot staggered behind the other.
  5. Standing, with one foot behind the other in 1 line, like on a tight rope.
  6. Standing on one leg.

Stabilizer routine

Use these exercises to improve balance and stability and create your own stabilization workouts. You can perform them all for a full-body circuit or add these into your existing workout routines based on body parts. For example: add the shoulder exercises in on arm/shoulder training day.

Wait at least 48 hours between performing exercises in the same muscle group to allow for adequate muscle recovery.

Shoulder stability exercises

Banded internal shoulder rotation

Sets: 3

Reps: 20 on each side

  1. Anchor a resistance band to a door, post, or wall. Stand with your left side perpendicular to the band.
  2. Grab the band in your left hand and step away until the band is tight. Bend your left elbow at 90°, with your hand out in front of you. Keep your elbow tucked in at your left side.
  3. Rotate your left arm forward and across your waist toward your right hip, keeping the bend in the arm and wrist straight.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Banded external shoulder rotation

Sets: 3

Reps: 20 on each side

  1. Get in the same starting position as above. Instead of grabbing the band with your left hand, hold the band with your opposite hand (right hand).
  2. Start with your arm at 90°, rotated in with your right hand across your left hip.
  3. Rotate your arm outward and away from the left side. Keep your elbow in at your side.
  4. Return to the starting position, and repeat.

Hip stability exercises

Glute bridge with band

Sets: 3

Reps: 25

  1. Place a mini resistance band around your lower thighs. Lie down on a yoga mat with your knees bent, feet close to your body, and shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keeping constant tension on your band, driving into your heels. Lift your hips and lower back off the floor.
  3. Don't allow your knees to roll inward or outward. Keep them stable.
  4. Return to the starting point, and repeat.

Bird dog

Sets: 3

Reps: 20 on each side

  1. Get on all fours on a yoga or exercise mat. Hands should be under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  2. Extend your right leg straight behind you and your opposite (left) arm directly in front of you.
  3. Bend your knee and elbow and bring both in toward your core.
  4. Return to starting position and repeat.

Knee stability exercises

Lying leg lifts

Sets: 3

Reps: 20 on each side

  1. Lie on your back on a yoga or exercise mat. Bend your left knee and place the left foot on the floor. Keep your right leg extended.
  2. Contract your abs to protect your lower back, and lift the right leg until your thigh is in line with the left thigh.
  3. Lower to the ground, but keep in a hover position, an inch or two off the ground.
  4. Repeat.

Banded standing hamstring curls

Sets: 3

Reps: 20 on each side

  1. Stand behind a chair or a counter for balance and support. Place your left foot arch on a resistance band and the other end of the loop around your right ankle.
  2. Hold on to the chair, and keep your core tight for support. Lift your right heel toward your glutes while keeping your knees side by side.
  3. Return to starting position and repeat.

Ankle stability exercises

Standing calf raises

Sets: 3

Reps: 25

  1. Stand with a 10-lb dumbbell in each hand. Keep feet shoulder-width apart and stand up tall.
  2. Lift your heels until you stand on your highest tiptoe, and pause here.
  3. Ensure your ankles don't roll and try to keep them as stable as possible.
  4. Return to starting position and repeat.

Jump squats

Sets: 3

Reps: 25

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, core tight.
  2. Bend down into a squat position. Hinge at your hips and keep your upper body as upright as possible. Bring two bend arms in front of you to build some momentum.
  3. Jump up, throwing your arms behind you. When you return to the ground, land softly and bend into the squat to absorb the shock of the landing.
  4. Return to the start and repeat.

Core stability exercises

Static bear hold

Sets: 3

Reps: 1, hold for 30 seconds

  1. Get on hands and knees on a yoga mat with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Round your toes under so that the bottom of your toes are on the mat.
  2. By contracting your core, lift your knees a few inches off of the mat. Keep your neck in line with your body.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

Elbow plank

Sets: 3

Reps: 1, hold for 30 seconds

  1. Lie down flat on your yoga mat. Place your elbows under your shoulders and prop yourself up on your forearms and the bottom of your toes. Activate your core.
  2. Keep your head and neck straight. You want your body to be in one line, as straight as possible.
  3. Hold this position for 30 seconds.

More gains and less pain

After a few weeks of implementing these exercises into your routine, you can feel the difference in your stabilizers, and lifting capacity will improve. You might even notice you feel fewer aches and pains as your muscle imbalances correct themselves, and posture gets better.

Katherine Holden

Katherine Holden

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