The Muscles You Should be Exercising, Upper Body

Ever wonder what muscles you are exercising when you workout? And if you are neglecting your back or spine?

Well, if your family was like mine, we never talked about health or fitness. And since gym was my least favorite class, I didn’t learn much there either (now I know that wasn’t smart). Then my husband gave me a few personal trainer sessions, but unfortunately, I didn’t learn much there either. I mean I learned how to perform as many exercises that would fit into a 30 minute session and they were definitely worthwhile, but we used the 30 minute sessions to focus on teaching specific exercises – there was little time for explanations.

Now that’s behind us and we are excited to share with you what we have learned from a healthy curiosity and a lot of research. We have been benefiting from this knowledge for a while now and would like you to benefit too. You can think of this as a quick ref of the muscles you use everyday. We believe that once you understand the basics your workouts will become much more productive because you’ll begin to feel your muscles and focus on their movements.


The Information contained in this article is from personal experience and is for recreational purposes and should not be taken as expert advice, or for educational or medical reasons.


I remember hearing over the years that when exercising, if you perform an exercise on one side of your body, you need to do the same exercise and the same # of reps for the other side. This will keep your muscles on one side from getting stronger while the other gets weaker. Muscles that aren’t used naturally get weak and exercising only one side would cause your body to be out of balance. That makes sense – right? But it doesn’t end there, you also have opposing muscles – what are called antagonistic muscle pairs. And your major muscles must also be exercised in pairs for that same reason. To keep from being unbalanced. Still with me? Great, take a peek at the diagram below

In this article and the next 2 we’ll share the basics of muscle pairs to help you optimize your next workout:

  • Part I – Upper body
  • Part II – Core (abs)
  • Part III – Lower body

If you create your own workout routines, include exercises for each muscle pair in your workout routine once a week, focusing on flexibility and strength.


What are Antagonistic Pairs?

One of the best ways to stay injury free and get a great workout is to be sure you are exercising antagonist muscle pairs. You can think of the antagonists as the opposite muscles, when one muscle contracts, the other relaxes (lengthens). From the free dictionary.com:

Noun. 1. antagonistic muscle – (physiology) a muscle that opposes the action of another; “the biceps and triceps are antagonistic muscles”. muscle, musculus-one of the contractile organs of the body. agonist-a muscle that contracts while another relaxes; “when bending the elbow the biceps are the agonist”.

∼ www.thefreedictionary.com

 

“Antagonistic muscles are muscles that work in opposition to each other. For example, a person uses certain sets of muscles to open his hand and splay his fingers wide. In order to close the hand and make a fist, however, an antagonistic set of muscles would have to be used. These muscles are important for balance, extending limbs, holding objects aloft, and contracting limbs, among other things.”

∼ wiseGEEK

 

Skeletal Muscles and Antagonistic pairs

There are more than 600 muscles in our bodies and the ones we exercise are known as the Skeletal Muscles. You voluntarily use your mind to control these muscles. Your skeletal muscles work with your bones to give your body strength. The more you use your muscles, the better your mind can control them and the more efficient they get at doing what you want. Exercising your muscles will benefit you in many ways, and a few of these benefits are walking taller (better posture), steadier on your feel (better balance), and stronger (carry more weight).

With 600+ muscles, how do we know which ones we should be exercising? By performing whole body exercises, meaning, you don’t neglect any major muscle group, you’ll achieve this balance. And exercising the major muscles groups and your smaller muscles will naturally get the exercise they need. Switching exercises periodically will ensure that you hit those minor muscles that are seldom used. These muscles will become more obvious when you switch exercises because they won’t be as strong and you’ll be forces to start at a lower rep (perfectly natural) and those muscles may even ache a little when you wake up the following day.

So looking at the diagram below, let’s focus on the antagonistic pairs for the upper body. Antagonistic muscles are the muscles that move your bones in one direction and the muscle pair moves it back.


ProfessionalsHealthConnection - Antagonistic Muscles - Upper BodyThere is a wealth of information that can be found on InnerBody, but with over 600 muscles in the human body we’ll only touch on the major muscle groups as these are the muscles that we normally target when we exercise.


The Major Muscles Antagonistic Pairs of the Upper Body

Your Upper Body

  • Biceps (Bicep Brachii) / Triceps (Triceps Brachii)
  • Chest (Pectoralis Major) / Back (Trapezius)
  • Shoulders (Deltoids) / Back (Latissimus Dorsi)

What These Muscle Pairs Do For You

(and why you need them)


  • Biceps (Biceps Brachii) / Triceps (Tricep Brachii) (your upper arm):

Your biceps Bicep Musclesare responsible for the movement of the elbow and shoulder. The bicep at the elbow does your lifting while the bicep at the shoulder plays a role in moving your arm upward, forward and sideways.

 

Your triceps Tricep Musclesallow you to extend and retract your arm. When triceps are contracted, your forearm extends and your elbow straightens. If you  relax your triceps, and flex your biceps, your elbow bends.  Additionally, because your shoulder has the ability to turn and rotate in many directions, it is unstable. It’s your triceps that keeps your shoulder stable.


  • Chest (Pectoralis Major)     / Back (Trapezius):

The largest of the chest muscles, the Pectoralis Major Chest Muscles is a fan-shaped muscle that covers much of the upper-front chest. It is  responsible for controlling the movements of your arm.

 

 

Trapezius Muscle

One of the major muscles of the back, the Trapezius, is responsible for moving, rotating and stabilizing your shoulder. It is a wide, flat, superficial muscle that covers most of the upper back and the posterior of the neck and supports the weight of your arm.

 


  • Shoulder (Deltoids)  / Back (Latissimus Dorsi):

The Deltoid Shoulder Musclesor shoulder muscle, is  responsible for rotating the arm, throwing underhand (reaching forward), elevating your arm and reaching to the side.

 

 

Another muscle of the backFreedesignfile - License: Creative Commons (Attribution 3.0) Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) is a thin muscle, but it is the broadest muscle of the back and one of the widest in the human body. It is responsible for movements of the arm. It is an important muscle in many exercises.

 


Muscles You Use Every Day

Everyday living requires our muscles to work together to do what we want, pain-free. The stronger these muscles are, the better they can perform these tasks. Let’s take opening a door as an example – to open it you will need to pull. You can do this, all thanks to your back, biceps and shoulder. And when pushing a door closed, you can thank your chest, triceps and shoulder. So you can see that the activities you do every day, without even thinking, require your muscles to work together and in opposition, helping your body to work properly. Keep these strong and you can see your quality of life improve, both mentally and physically.

Let us know if you can feel the muscles you are exercising during your next workout!

Thank you so much for visiting with us. We hope you found this useful and refer to it as you exercise. Wishing you the best of health!

Want to learn more?  We’ve found some books on our affiliate, Amazon, that will explain where to focus during your next workout (tap the image to browse on Amazon).


Improving Flexibility

by Arnold Nelson and Jouko Kokkonen

Fit Over Fifty +

  by Hollis Liebman

Exercise Anatomy Encyclopediaby Hollis Liebman Exercise for Longevity
by Hollis Liebman

PS. Your feedback is important to us! Please take a moment to let us know what you think of this article and if you’d be interested in similar articles – Part II (core) and III (lower body)? Thank you!

Author: Joan E Wilder

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

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