(CNN) — The human body has over 600 muscles, and it is impossible to strengthen each and every one of them. However, there are many whose strength you can boost, and doing so is key to enjoying a healthy and active life.
Strong muscles help fight diabetes, improve cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and mental health, and reduce mortality, research shows. They are also essential for the well-being of the elderly, whose muscles atrophy with age.
For this reason, adults should do muscle-strengthening exercises for major muscle groups two or more days a week, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. (This is in addition to of exercising at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week at a moderate intensity).
Unfortunately, more than 80% of adults do not meet the federal government’s muscle strengthening guidelines. Also, strength trainees tend to work the same familiar muscles, such as the biceps, triceps, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
While that can be a good start, there are several often overlooked muscles that, if strengthened, can help prevent some common injuries and pain. These are five of them, with recommended exercises to incorporate into your workouts.
The gluteal muscles are of great help in daily activities. “The gluteal muscles help give us good support and stability when walking, climbing stairs, and moving from sitting to standing,” explains Amy Koch, clinical director of physical therapy at the Methodist Physicians Clinic in Omaha, Nebraska.
Strong glutes can also help reduce back pain, Koch explains, as they help move the pelvis, hips and trunk.
By developing pelvic stability, these muscles can also help prevent knee pain, as an unstable pelvis can put more force on the knee. Conversely, a weak buttock can lead to chronic low back pain, which in turn can lead to degenerative disc disease.
Glute Bridge: Lie on your back with your feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides. Press your heels into the ground as you lift your butt into the air. Squeeze your glutes and hold the position for two seconds; then lower slowly.
The obliques are part of the trunk and are side or waist muscles that attach to the spine. They help flex and rotate the body from side to side and are essential for proper spinal alignment and stability. If the obliques are ignored, back and hip problems can develop.
“Most people think of working their ‘washhouse,’ but the obliques are very important, too, because they are a complete stabilizer for your body,” said Cat Kom, a certified personal trainer and founder of Studio SWEAT in San Diego.
Dog-bird abdominal: kneel on all fours. Straighten your right arm and left leg, keeping your abs tight. Return to the starting position and switch sides.
Having a firm grip allows you to lift and carry things more easily, and it helps you with many everyday activities, such as opening a jar or holding a racket, for example. If your regular activities don’t require heavy lifting and carrying, your grip can weaken over time. It can also be negatively affected by hand, wrist, shoulder or neck injuries, explains Zach Webster, a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.
Poor grip strength can reduce the amount of weight you can carry and the length of time you can hold it. It can even affect fine motor skills.
“People come in and say they have trouble putting on a dress shirt or a bra, or that they drop things more often, because they don’t have the ability to hold their grip,” Webster says of her patients. “Luckily, you can get good grip strengthening just by picking up something heavy and walking around with it.”
Farmer Load: Grab a dumbbell in each hand and, with your hands hanging at your sides, stand up and walk at least 10 steps in a straight line.
The four muscles that surround the shoulder joint make up the rotator cuff, which helps power movements of the arm and shoulder. Since the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, it is easy to injure it through misuse or overuse. People most prone to rotator cuff injuries are those who play a lot of baseball or tennis, or do jobs that require repetitive overhead motion, such as construction workers.
Standing Row: take a rubber band with a one meter loop and attach it to a doorknob or other stable object. Hold the band with your elbow bent and to the side. Slowly pull your elbow back, keeping your arm at your side, and return to the starting position.
The rear deltoids sit under the back of the shoulders and help maintain an upright posture. They are also just in front of the pecs. According to Kom, many people work the pecs but ignore the rear deltoids, which can lead to muscle imbalance, injury, and a slouched posture.
“We spend a lot of time driving, in front of the computer, and doing things in that hunched-over stance, which shortens the front deltoids and pecs,” Kom explains. “That’s why it’s important to lengthen them, and a good way to do that is to strengthen the rear deltoids and traps.”
Seated Dumbbell Rear Raise: Hold a dumbbell in each hand, sit down, and lean forward. Stay in that position as you raise your arms to shoulder height, then slowly lower them down.