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From Top to Bottom

I’m a fan of basic, compound movements that work large muscle groups. I’ve even read that powerful movements like squats and deadlifts can cause the body to release a flood of growth hormones. However, sometimes due to necessity, sometimes choice, gym members spend a great deal of time focusing on smaller body parts. Here are 10 exercises for secondary muscles that people can probably do without:

10. Rear delts/forearms: The poor condition of gym equipment often makes self-maintenance unavoidable. For example, when you want to adjust the setting on a hamstring machine, you’ll first build your forearms trying desperately to unscrew the knob that has rusted and stuck. When that fails, you’ll build your rear delts by lifting up a 5 lb weight plate and smashing it down on the knob.

9. Neck: It’s one thing to flip through a magazine while riding a stationary bike. It’s a whole different kind of workout to read while bouncing up and down on a treadmill. This activity requires tremendous neck strength in order to lock your gaze in place. The woman I saw recently performing this feat was even reading some dense academic journal with tiny 9 point font. I know I can’t do it.

8. Wrist/hands: Though the failure of members to wipe down their equipment after use is a literal gym plague, there’s one guy at my gym who is a massive over-wiper. In addition to wiping down the equipment pads, he’ll soak the machine’s handles, dust the frame, and clean the machine’s cables. Dude, it’s not like you’re even sweating in the first place.

7. Jaw: I took clarinet lessons when I was young, and my teacher held a yearly recital for all her students. One year, a saxophonist played through his entire concerto with gum in his mouth, sometimes chewing. Whenever I see someone at the gym chomping her way through a workout, I am reminded of this performance: not remarkable for its quality, but for the ability to combine previously mutually exclusive activities.

6. Muscles of the orbit (eye): I know that many gym etiquette sites take issue with women who exercise in outfits intended for the beach. Personally, I don’t know what the problem is. If you have genetic gifts or you’ve earned your body at the gym, then do whatever works for you. However, interesting things happen when a scantily clad woman sets up next to a guy working out with his wife/girlfriend. The guy’s intense focus on his significant other, combined with the obvious straining of his peripheral vision, provides superb conditioning for the eye muscles.

5. Lips/gums: I give this one guy at the gym a large berth, but I’m still able to observe from afar his astonishing verbal stamina. He doesn’t stop talking when he’s lifting his weights, he doesn’t stop when someone is talking to him. He doesn’t stop talking when he’s taking a sip of water. It’s a cloud of noise, like a lawnmower, that annoys more or less depending upon your proximity.

4. Achilles Tendon: The explosive fibers in the back of the leg often come in handy jumping out of the way of – or running away from – fellow gym members. For example, the guy lifting weights while perched on a swiss ball is a danger to himself and the people around him. Likewise, I’ve hightailed it out of the gym’s sauna when a fellow member began the process of burning the whole place down.

3. Diaphragm: Hard laughing can put a substantial stress on the muscles of the lower torso:

I was on a treadmill once and the guy next to me thought he’d jam his speed up to the max … next thing I know he’s making some god almighty noises and trying desperately to stab at the controls while continuing to run. Several seconds later just when I thought this guy’s head was gonna blow off he managed to slam his hand down on the emergency stop and the sudden deceleration launched him into the mirror in front of the machine … don’t you just hate trying to cover up a major attack of hysterics?!?!

2. Forearms/front delts: You could perform an entire workout just putting other people’s weights back where they belong. I’ve never understood the mentality of loading up a barbell for squats or bench presses, completing your sets, and then simply walking away. This behavior is the equivalent of going to a food court, having your lunch, and then leaving behind a tray scattered with an empty milk carton, used silverware and half-eaten sandwich.

1. Elbow: When your fellow member launches his weights through the gym window, and your mouth falls open at the spectacle of a barbell rolling down the carpark, you’ll use the flexibility in your arm to reach up and return your chin to its default position.

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