Lesson 12: Exercise Technique – Abdominals, Forearms, Hands, and Lower Legs

Table of Contents


Introduction

In the last lesson we discussed the relevant structure-function relationships and exercises pertaining to the glutes and thighs. We will do the same here for the abdominal muscles, forearms, hands, and lower legs. The basic movement patterns that these muscles perform include:

Abdominal muscles:

  • trunk flexion (picture yourself lying face up and curving your spine so your shoulders move upwards and forwards towards your hips)
  • hip or thigh flexion (picture standing and lifting one leg so the thigh moves upward while your torso remains vertical, only the hip/thigh are flexing upward while the abdominal muscles are not moving downward)
  • trunk lateral flexion (picture yourself standing and bending over sideways)
    • considered “ipsilateral” if the movement occurs to the same side as the working muscle
    • considered “contralateral” if the movement occurs to the opposite side of the working muscle
  • trunk rotation (picture yourself standing and twisting your upper body so your abdomen faces sideways)
  • trunk extension (the opposite of trunk flexion) – this primarily uses the erector spinae muscles discussed in Lesson 10

Forearm/hand muscles:

  • elbow flexion (picture bending your arm)
  • forearm supination (picture holding your arm in front of you and rotating your forearm so your palm faces upward)
  • forearm pronation (the opposite of supination)
  • wrist flexion (picture bending your hand so your palm is closer to the front of your forearm)
  • wrist extension (the opposite of wrist flexion)
  • finger flexion (picture curling you fingers inward)
  • finger extension (the opposite of finger flexion)
  • wrist radial deviation (picture bending your wrist so your thumb is closer to the side of your forearm)
  • wrist ulnar deviation (the opposite of wrist radial deviation)
  • opposition (picture moving your thumb and 5th digit (the “pinky” finger) closer to each other)
  • finger adduction (picture moving your fingers closer together)
  • finger abduction (picture moving your fingers further apart)

Lower leg muscles:

  • dorsiflexion (picture raising your toes to your shins as though you are standing on your heels)
  • plantarflexion (the opposite of dorsiflexion, picture standing on your toes)
  • inversion (picture rotating your ankle so you are standing on the outer edge of your foot)
  • eversion (the opposite of inversion, as though you are standing on the inner edge of your foot)
  • toe flexion (picture curling your toes)
  • toe extension (picture straightening your toes)
  • knee flexion (picture bending your knee)

Note: Needless to say these muscle groups perform a lot of different movement patterns. It is certainly not necessary to understand all of these in detail. In fact, many people who are simply training for general health may not significantly benefit from any direct forearm, hand, or lower leg exercises. One could even argue direct core work is not necessary if free weight compound exercises are included elsewhere in one’s exercise program. As I have stated previously, it is not mandatory to go through any of these sections in detail, but the information is available to you here if you would like to go through it.


Basic structure-function relationships of the key muscles

There are actually not that many muscles in the abdominal region that are relevant, but there are a lot of muscles in the forearms, hands, and lower legs. We need a lot of muscles in the forearms and hands to allow all of the complex and precise movements we perform with our hands. Similarly, we need a lot of muscles in the lower legs to allow fine-tuned adjustments of our ankles and feet as we walk, run, and jump on a variety of different surfaces. As all of these muscles are important for everyday life I will include a brief description of each of their functions. I will not go through where the muscles attach as these sections will already be lengthy without including this information; please go to the linked articles or view the YouTube videos if you would like to see this information.


Abdominal muscles

Key points:

  • The abdominal muscles are divided between the anterior abdominal wall and the posterior abdominal wall.
  • The anterior abdominal wall consists of the rectus abdominis, pyramidalis, external abdominal obliques, internal abdominal obliques, and the transversus abdominis.
    • Rectus abdominis – aids in trunk flexion, compression of abdominal viscera, and expiration.
    • Pyramidalis – only present in ~80% of the population, aids in tensing the linea alba (the center line placed vertically between the abs).
    • External abdominal obliques – aid in trunk flexion, compression of abdominal viscera, expiration, trunk ipsilateral lateral flexion, and trunk contralateral rotation.
    • Internal abdominal obliques – aid in trunk flexion, compression of abdominal viscera, expiration, trunk ipsilateral lateral flexion, and trunk ipsilateral rotation.
    • Transversus abdominis – aids in compression of the abdominal viscera, expiration, and trunk ipsilateral rotation.
  • The posterior abdominal wall muscles consist of the psoas major, psoas minor, iliacus, and the quadratus lumborum.
    • Psoas major – discussed previously in the anterior thigh portion of Lesson 11, aids in hip and trunk flexion, trunk lateral flexion, and hip external rotation.
    • Psoas minor – only present in ~40% of the population, functions similarly to the psoas major.
    • Iliacus – discussed previously in the anterior thigh portion of Lesson 11, functions similarly to the psoas major and joins with it to form the iliopsoas muscle.
    • Quadratus lumborum – aids trunk extension and trunk lateral flexion.

More in depth article if curious:

YouTube videos if curious:

Note: When discussing the actions of the forearm and hand muscles many of these work on the joints of the fingers. The below two pictures, both taken from Wikipedia, illustrate the classification of the bones and joints of the hands. “Phalanges” are the finger bones, “carpals” are the wrist bones, and “metacarpals” are the hand bones.

  • MCP = metacarpophalangeal joint, the joint between the metacarpal and proximal phalange for a specific finger or the thumb.
  • PIP = proximal interphalangeal joint, the joint between the proximal and intermediate phalange for a specific finger.
  • DIP = distal interphalangeal joint, the joint between the intermediate and distal phalange for a specific finger.
  • The thumb does not have a PIP and DIP, rather it has only one interphalangeal joint.

The thumb is considered the 1st digit.

The index finger is the 2nd digit.

The middle finger is the 3rd digit.

The ring finger is the 4th digit.

The pinky finger is the 5th digit.


Forearm muscles – anterior portion

Key points:

  • The superficial anterior forearm muscles include the pronator teres, flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, and flexor digitorum superficialis.
    • Pronator teres – aids in pronation of the forearm and elbow flexion.
    • Flexor carpi radialis – aids in wrist flexion, radial deviation, and to a lesser degree forearm pronation.
    • Flexor carpi ulnaris – aids in aids in wrist flexion and ulnar deviation.
    • Palmaris longus – aids in wrist flexion, finger flexion at the MCP joints, and elbow stabilization.
    • Flexor digitorum superficialis – aids in wrist flexion as well as finger flexion at the MCP and PIP joints.
  • The deep anterior forearm muscles include the flexor digitorum profundus, flexor policis longus, and the pronator quadratus.
    • Flexor digitorum profundus – aids in finger flexion at the MCP, PIP, and DIP joints.
    • Flexor policis longus – aids in thumb flexion at its MCP and interphalangeal joint, possibly assists in opposition of the thumb, and may assist in flexion and radial deviation of the wrist.
    • Pronator quadratus – aids in forearm pronation.

More in depth articles if curious:

YouTube videos if curious:


Forearm muscles – posterior portion

Key points:

  • The superficial posterior forearm muscles include the brachioradialis (discussed previously in Lesson 10), extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis, extensor digitorum, extensor carpi ulnaris, and the extensor digiti minimi.
    • Extensor carpi radialis longus – aids in wrist extension, wrist radial deviation, and elbow flexion.
    • Extensor carpi radialis brevis – aids in wrist extension and wrist radial deviation. This works in conjunction with the extensor carpi radialist longus.
    • Extensor digitorum – aids in finger extension at the MCP, PIP, and DIP joints and additionally aids in wrist extension.
    • Extensor carpi ulnaris – aids in wrist ulnar deviation. This additionally helps to balance extension of the wrist.
    • Extensor digiti minimi – aids in extension of the MCP joint of the 5th hand digit (the “pinky” finger), aids weakly in extension of the PIP and DIP joints of the 5th digit, and aids in wrist extension.
  • The deep posterior forearm muscles include the supinator, abductor pollicis longus, extensor pollicis brevis, extensor pollicis longus, and the extensor indicis.
    • Supinator – aids in forearm supination.
    • Abductor pollicis longus – aids in extension and abduction of the thumb at its MCP joint as well as wrist radial deviation.
    • Extensor pollicis brevis – aids in extension of the thumb at its MCP and carpometacarpal joint. It also assists in wrist radial deviation and wrist extension.
    • Extensor pollicis longus – aids in extension of the thumb at its MCP and interphalangeal joints as well as thumb adduction when it is at full extension. It may also assist in wrist radial deviation, wrist extension, and forearm supination.
    • Extensor indicis – aids in extension of the MCP, PIP, and DIP joints of the 2nd hand digit (the “index” finger) as well as wrist extension.

More in depth articles if curious:

YouTube videos if curious:


Hand muscles

Key points:

  • The hand muscles can be divided into five groups: the thenar muscles, hypothenar muscles, lumbricals, palmar interossei, and the dorsal interossei.
    • The thenar muscles consist of the abductor pollicis brevis, adductor pollicis, flexor pollicis brevis, and opponens pollicis that collectively assist thumb abduction, thumb adduction, thumb flexion, and thumb medial rotation.
    • The hypothenar muscles consist of the abductor digiti minimi, flexor digiti minimi, opponens digiti minimi, and the palmaris brevis. The first three muscles collectively flex the 5th digit, abduct the 5th digit, and laterally rotate and oppose the 5th digit to the thumb. The palmaris brevis tightens the palmar aponeurosis to contribute to grip strength.
    • The lumbricals flex the finger MCP joints and extend the finger PIP and DIP joints.
    • The palmar interossei adduct the 2nd, 4th, and 5th digits towards the 3rd digit (this moves the index, ring, and pinky fingers towards the middle finger). They also aid in flexion of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th MCP joints and extension of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th PIP & DIP joints.
    • The dorsal interossei abduct the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th digits (spreading the index, middle, and ring fingers apart) and aid in flexion of their MCP joints and extension of their PIP and DIP joints.

More in depth articles if curious:

YouTube video if curious:

Note: The feet have some bones and joints that are analogous to the hands. While the hands have metacarpal bones, the feet have metatarsal bones. Thus, in the feet instead of having MCP joints there are MTP joints. The phalanges are otherwise similar. Additionally, the digits are numbered similarly as the “great” or “big” toe is the 1st digit and the “pinky” or “little” toe is the 5th digit.


Lower leg muscles – anterior, posterior, and lateral portions

Key points:

  • The anterior compartment contains the tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus, fibularis tertius, and the extensor hallucis longus.
    • Tibialis anterior – aids dorsiflexion and inversion of the foot as well as arch support of the foot.
    • Extensor digitorum longus – aids dorsiflexion and inversion of the foot as well as extension of digits 2-5 of the foot.
    • Fibularis tertius – aids dorsiflexion of the ankle and eversion of the foot.
    • Extensor hallucis longus – aids extension of the great toe at the MTP joint and assists dorsiflexion.
  • The superficial posterior compartment contains the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris.
    • Gastrocnemius – aids plantarflexion as well as knee flexion.
    • Soleus – aids plantarflexion and balance of the leg when walking.
    • Plantaris – aids plantarflexion and knee flexion.
  • The deep posterior compartment contains the tibialis posterior, flexor hallucis longus, flexor digitorum longus, and the popliteus.
    • Tibialis posterior – aids plantarflexion and inversion of the foot and assists in foot arch control.
    • Flexor hallucis longus – aids flexion of the great toe and assists plantarflexion and inversion of the foot.
    • Flexor digitorum longus – aids flexion of digits 2-5 as well as plantarflexion and inversion of the foot.
    • Popliteus – aids knee flexion when the leg is fully extended.
  • The lateral compartment contains the fibularis longus and the fibularis brevis.
    • Fibularis longus – aids eversion and plantarflexion of the foot as well as arch support.
    • Fibularis brevis – aids eversion and plantarflexion of the foot.

More in depth article if curious:

YouTube videos if curious:


Specific exercises

To some degree some of these body parts are worked by exercises discussed in prior lessons. For example, any exercise where you hold onto a weight with your hands will use some of your forearm muscles. Any compound exercise where you incorporate bracing will use your core muscles. However, there aren’t generally compound exercises that are specific to these muscle groups. Therefore, rather than split up exercises between compound and isolation, I will just group exercises per the body parts that they work and focus on the specific movement patterns and joint actions rather than the specific muscles.


Core flexion exercises

With these exercises it is important to differentiate “waist flexion” from “hip flexion”. When doing a crunch you can keep your lower back on the floor and curl your shoulders upwards; this is waist flexion. Alternatively, you can keep moving upwards and lift your lower back off the floor to turn this exercise into a sit-up. Now you are also performing hip flexion. In many of these exercises both waist and hip flexion can be performed; it is important to understand the difference when you choose which exercises to perform and how to perform them.

Video link demonstrations:

  • Cable lying crunch on stability ball – keep your arms flexed the same degree throughout the movement, the stability ball allows hyperextension prior to the concentric phase which provides a greater range of motion
  • Cable lying leg raise – if you keep your butt on the ground then this will only contract the hip flexors, the curling motion of the butt upwards is what works the additional waist flexion
  • Kneeling cable crunch – keep your arms flexed to the same degree throughout the movement, keep your hips flexed to the same degree throughout the movement to primarily work on the waist flexion muscles instead of the hip flexors
  • Weighted sit-up – the initial curling portion of the shoulders utilizes waist flexion and then as the abdomen itself moves upwards this works the hip flexors
  • Weighted hanging leg raise – your pelvis needs to curl upwards to perform waist flexion, otherwise this will just work the hip flexors
  • Arm-supported weighted leg raise – this is easier than the last exercise as there are less stability requirements
  • V-up – this can be done with weight by holding something between your feet or between your hands
  • Plank – this can be made easier or harder by moving your forearms closer to your feet or further away, respectively

Set-up:

  • The set-up for these is mostly self-explanatory.
  • If doing a weighted sit-up or weighted crunch you can hold the weight on your chest, behind your head, or outstretched in front of you. Holding the weight on your chest will be significantly easier than behind the head. Stay consistent with whatever method you choose if you want to track progress over time.
  • With planks make sure you contract your abs hard and flex your glutes so your body is in a straight line. If your abdomen or pelvis sags downward this defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Technique:

  • With exercises where you start bent over at the hips (ie, kneeling cable crunches), keep your hips flexed to the same degree throughout the movement to better work on the actual waist flexion rather than hip flexion. Alternatively, you can flex the hips throughout the movement to work on waist flexion and hip flexion simultaneously.
  • With crunches you want to flex at the waist and avoid hip flexion while with sit-ups you can flex at the waist and the hips.
  • With planks the entire movement is an isometric contraction as you are not supposed to move during it.

Variables:

  • You can alter the degree of hip flexion throughout the movements.
  • Altering the speed of the reps can make a significant difference with how these movements feel.

Tips:

  • After you can do a plank for 60 seconds it will likely be helpful to make it harder in some way. You can do this by moving your forearms further forwards, by raising one leg and/or arm off the ground, or by putting weight on your back.
  • Generally you can feel the muscles working well when doing these exercises correctly; if you do not feel the muscles working well then consider altering your form or choosing a different exercise.
  • When doing exercises where your back is on the floor, attempt to posteriorly rotate your pelvis to press your lower back into the ground and see if this helps the exercise feel better for you.

Safety:

  • If you feel lower back or pelvic pain with some of these exercises you may not yet have a strong enough core to do those specific movements. This can happen with sit-ups in particular. If this occurs, choose different exercises and then come back to these exercises when you get stronger.

Core rotation exercises

Video link demonstrations:

  • Weighted side crunch – this only allows movement at the waist, not the hip, so the range of motion is limited
  • Kneeling cable twisting crunch – the comments above for the kneeling cable crunch apply here as well
  • Cable Russian twist on stability ball – this needs to be done with the cable coming from both sides separately to work both sides of the body evenly
  • Dumbbell Russian twist on stability ball – this works both sides of the body evenly with one movement, this can be done in a decline bench while partially sitting up in it to work abdominal flexion in addition to rotation
  • Cable seated twist – this can also be done standing, try to keep your hands centered between your shoulders with all the movement coming from rotation of your torso
  • Cable side crunch – here the range of motion starts with the torso fully upright, you can bend at the hip in addition to the waist to increase the range of motion
  • Dumbbell side bend – as shown in the video the range of motion can extend until the torso is laterally flexed to the opposite side of the arm holding the dumbbell (unlike the cable side crunch above, though this can be replicated with a cable side crunch if the low pulley is used instead of the high pulley)
  • Low-to-high cable twist – stagger your stance to aid balance and aim to keep your hands centered between your shoulders
  • High-to-low cable twist – with these types of exercises you can choose to rotate at just your waist or additionally rotate at your hips to extend the range of motion
  • Lying weighted leg twist – a heavier ball can be used for more resistance, or one could straighten the legs for a similar effect
  • Hanging twisting leg raise – similar to hanging leg raises above you need to curl your pelvis upward to fully contract the abdominal muscles rather than primarily the hip flexors
  • Side plank – this can be made easier or harder by moving your forearms closer to your feet or further away, respectively

Set-up:

  • The set-up for all of these is fairly self-explanatory.
  • For weighted crunches you will hold a weight plate by your head.

Technique:

  • With kneeling cable twisting crunches you can try to keep the same degree of hip flexion throughout the full movement and rotate your shoulder to the opposite hip. You can then try to incorporate hip flexion if desired and see which method feels best.
  • For side crunches and side bends you can choose to laterally flex at just the waist or also the hip. Flexing additionally at the hip will involve more muscles but they may overpower the obliques that primarily work at the waist. You can try both styles and move forward with one or both options.
  • For the various cable twists you can choose to rotate at just the waist or additionally rotate at the hips. Similar to the last point you can try both options and stick with one or incorporate both.

Variables:

  • When doing Russian twists with a cable the resistance will be highest when your hands are straight upward while with a dumbbell it will be lowest when your hands are straight upward.
  • With many of these exercises you can adjust how much you flex your hips, how straight your legs are, and to what degree you rotate or laterally flex at your waist and your hips. Try different things and see what feels best.

Tips:

  • These exercises should generally be done slowly and in control rather than as quickly as possible.
  • You should be able to feel these in the desired muscles, if you cannot then adjust your form until you can or switch to a different exercise.
  • In general if you want to target the obliques specifically you should focus more specifically on waist flexion/rotation as opposed to hip flexion/rotation.

Safety:

  • There are essentially no safety concerns if these exercises are done slowly and in control.

Forearm movements

Video link demonstrations:

Set-up:

  • The set-up for these is mostly self-explanatory.
  • Many people find using a thicker handle is beneficial when trying to work forearm and hand muscles. A popular brand to allow this with regular handles is Fat Gripz (also available on amazon.com). You can bring these to a gym with you if desired.
    • Instead of spending money on Fat Gripz you can alternatively wrap a small washcloth or hand towel around a bar to make it thicker.
  • With radial and ulnar deviations the range of motion is very short and you will want to brace your forearm with the opposite hand so that all of the movement occurs from wrist motion instead of elbow motion.
  • With supination and pronation you’ll want to brace your forearm near the elbow with the opposite hand to help ensure all of the movement occurs from wrist motion instead of elbow motion.

Technique:

  • Use a slow and controlled movement when executing most of these exercises. The one exception would be when using a wrist roller as you can do these more quickly and try to move the weight a certain distance in a specific time period.
  • In general you will likely want to use lighter weight and higher reps for these exercises.

Variables:

  • Handle width is a variable.
  • You can vary the degree of finger flexion involvement with the wrist curls depending on if you want to work the muscles for these movements as well.
  • If you use heavier weight your range of motion may suffer; you’ll need to decide to what degree you are willing to make this compromise.

Tips:

  • If the weight is pressing awkwardly in your hand and causing discomfort, try adjusting your grip (ie, keeping your thumb on the same side as your fingers or wrapping it around the weight or moving the weight more towards your fingers vs. your palm).

Safety:

  • There are essentially no safety concerns with these exercises.

Hand movements

There are many ways to work grip strength, and there are many different implements available to work these in different ways. Ironmind.com is a classic website with information regarding different types of grip strength as well as different tools that can be purchased to work on this. Most individuals who are training for general health will not need to devote any time to training their hands specifically; simply doing other exercises where you hold onto weights without using lifting straps will go a long way in developing decent grip strength.

Main types of hand strength:

  • Crush grip – picture shaking someone’s hand and squeezing as hard as possible or closing a hand gripper
  • Pinch grip – this is done when squeezing a weight with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other and holding it in this fashion
  • Static grip strength – picture holding onto a dumbbell or barbell as long as possible
  • Extensor strength – this is the opposite of crush and pinch grip; here there is resistance when attempting to open the hand

Additionally, differently shaped implements can be held with pressure applied to different portions of the fingers, thumb, and hand, all of which will work the muscles in different ways.

Methods to train hand strength in a regular gym setting without purchasing any special equipment:

  • Crush grip – hold a dumbbell or barbell with your hand facing downward and the weight on your fingertips and curl the weight upward. You can alternatively do this with a pulley attachment.
  • Pinch grip – put two plates together with the flat sides facing outward and hold onto them with your thumb on one side and the fingers on the other. If the gym does not have weights suitable for this (ie, plates that are not flat), try to do this with dumbells by holding the edge of one side with one hand. You can alternatively take a small hand towel, wrap it around a dumbell handle, and just pinch the towel itself. Make the towel thicker to make this more difficult.
  • Static grip strength – hold onto dumbbells or a barbell for a certain length of time. You can wrap a towel around the bar to make it more difficult.
  • Extensor strength – this is best trained with sturdy extension bands (or simply by wrapping several rubber bands around the hand).

While not necessary for most people, these exercises are safe, do not take a long time, typically do not impact recovery from other parts of your workout, and can be fun to add in to an overall exercise program. All aspects of hand strength discussed here can be trained in a ~5 minute time span performed once or twice weekly.


Posterior lower leg movements

Video link demonstrations:

Set-up:

  • The set-up for all of these is self-explanatory.
  • It is important to ensure your feet can begin the movements in a dorsiflexed state (while maintaining tension in your posterior leg muscles to support the weight rather than letting it rest on your ankle) so that a full range of motion can be used.
  • Doing these while wearing shoes is advisable to help prevent excess pressure/strain being placed on the toes.

Technique:

  • Slowly plantarflex your feet so that the weight is on the balls of your feet at the top of the movement.
  • Then slowly lower your heels back down without bouncing at the bottom of the movement.

Variables:

  • You can adjust your feet to point more inward or outward to see if a specific foot orientation feels best.

Tips:

  • Do these movements slowly and in control with a slight pause in contraction at the top of the movement to ensure you feel them working correctly.
  • These exercises do not take much energy and target different muscles than previously discussed exercises. Therefore you can include these exercises anywhere in an exercise program.

Safety:

  • You should avoid bouncing and jerking the weight to help avoid injury.
  • If you feel your calf muscles spasming at the bottom of the movement (when in dorsiflexion) then you are likely descending too quickly or too deeply; you can adjust accordingly.

Anterior lower leg movements

Video link demonstrations: Set-up:
  • The set-up for these is self-explanatory.
  • With exercises where you are raising up on your heels you may find being barefoot in socks to feel different than being in shoes. Try both to see which works better for you.
Technique:
  • Raise your toes up slowly and in control rather than jerking them up quickly. You can briefly pause at the top of the movement.
  • Do this exercise with very light resistance initially to see what your full range of motion is, then only add more resistance if you can maintain a similar range of motion.
Variables:
  • You can choose how to tradeoff total resistance and the range of motion you can achieve.
  • If you wrap an ankle attachment around your foot the distance of the cable from your ankle will impact the total resistance of the movement.
Tips:
  • These exercises take very little energy overall so can easily be added in at any point of one’s program.
  • Additionally, these exercises work the front of the lower leg, which is not really worked out with any of the prior exercises discussed in this or the previous lessons. Thus, you can add these in anywhere in an exercise program without fear of it impacting recovery for other exercise movements.
Safety:
  • There are essentially no safety concerns with these exercises.

Ankle and foot movements

Most people are not going to receive any benefit from specifically training their ankles or their feet. Nonetheless, for individuals who do want to strengthen their ankles and/or feet, or for individuals with a history of recurrent sprained ankles who may benefit from specific ankle/foot training, considerations include:

Balance training

  • Initially work to be able to stand on one foot for 30 seconds.
  • When you can do this, start working on doing this with your eyes closed.
  • When you are able to do this you can then make it harder by specifically standing on the heel, the ball of your foot, the outer edge, and the inner edge.
  • If you want further training beyond this then hold a weight in one arm and transfer it to the other arm back and forth as you stand on one foot.
  • Collectively this will go a long way in working on balance and foot/ankle strength. You can additionally purchase a wobble board for further training if desired. This brand has good reviews.
  • In general I would work to be able to maintain balance for 30 seconds prior to increasing the difficulty.
  •  

Ankle/foot exercises

  • I already went through anterior and lower leg exercises above which cover dorsiflexion and plantarflexion.
  • You can also perform foot/ankle inversion/eversion as well as rotation of the foot left and right against resistance. This video shows how to do this with a resistance band.
  • Additionally, you can do exercises with a towel on the floor. This video shows this with toe curls and toe extensions; you can add weight to the towel if desired. You can also grab the towel with your toes and move it back and forth using your ankle (with a weight on it for resistance).
  • In general when working on the foot/ankle muscles for stabilization purposes I advise sticking to a minimum of 10-15 reps.
  •  

Walking/running barefoot or in minimalist footwear

  • This is an emerging field of study; it is not yet clear to me if there are any significant benefits to doing this for general health purposes either as a preventive or treatment strategy for foot and ankle pain.
    • There is research suggesting this improves nervous system response rate, foot and ankle strength, hypertrophy of several foot muscles, running biomechanics, and various measures of athleticism.(LaPlaca, 2021) Whether this will transfer in a significant enough manner to the general population to make this a worthwhile investment in money and time is unclear to me.
  • If you choose to do this consider purchasing a minimalist shoe that is flexible, has no heel-to-toe drop, and has a wide toe box.
  • You can consider instead using athletic socks with traction and a wide toe box for various activities.
  • If you choose to perform outdoor jogging/running then start slowly; this can significantly change your gait mechanics and stress your feet/ankles in many new ways. It can take weeks or even months to acclimate to this such that you can do this regularly at higher intensities without risking an overuse injury or strain of some sort.

Example: A sample routine focusing on the abdominals, forearms, hands, and lower legs may include:

Abdominal circuit:

  • Kneeling cable crunches: 2 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Hanging leg raises: 2 sets of 10-15 reps – including at least one exercise that will target the hip flexors is a good idea
  • Dumbbell Russian twists: 2 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Dumbbell side bends: 2 sets of 10-15 reps

Forearm circuit:

  • Wrist curls: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Reverse wrist curls: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Radial deviations: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Ulnar deviations: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Supination: 2 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Pronation: 2 sets of 15-20 reps

Lower leg circuit:

  • Standing calf raises: 3 sets of 15-20 reps
  • Reverse calf raises: 3 sets of 15-20 reps

Hand circuit:

  • Dumbbell holds: 1 set of 45-60 seconds
  • Hand extensions: 1 set of 15-20 reps
  • Pinch grip holds: 1 set of 30-45 seconds

Ankle/foot circuit:

  • One-legged stands: 1 minute on each leg, choose a difficulty level where you are unable to perform this for a full minute without your opposite foot touching the ground
  • Toe curls and toe extensions: 1 set to the point of fatigue
  • Left and right ankle rotations: 1 set of 15-20 reps

In reality most people are not going to put all of these exercises together in one workout. Rather, the abdominal circuit can be done with any other group of exercises, the forearm and hand circuits may be easily inserted into a workout that includes the back and biceps, and the lower leg and ankle/foot circuits can be done at any time. With each circuit 1 set of each exercise can be done prior to repeating the circuit.

Keep in mind your abdominals, forearms, and hands will all be used to some degree with other exercises in your exercise program. You will not want to do these circuits immediately prior to those exercises if the additional fatigue would be detrimental to your exercise performance. Putting these towards the end of a workout is more logical.

Lastly, most of these exercises uses small ranges of motion for relatively small muscle groups. Therefore, there is not much metabolic cost when performing these exercises. You are unlikely to get significantly out of breath and can likely move immediately from one exercise to the next. Thus, even though the forearm circuit has 6 exercises and 12 total sets, if you don’t have to move much to get to the necessary equipment the full 12 sets should only take 5-10 minutes to complete.


Conclusion

You should now have a good understanding of the basic aspects of the abdominals, forearms, hands, and lower legs. We have briefly gone over the anatomy that is relevant for many exercises and we have discussed several different exercises to target these parts of the body. While some direct abdominal muscle and general core work is likely beneficial, directly training the other body parts listed here is not as essential for overall health. This is primarily because these other muscle groups are smaller in nature and you will use the forearms, hands, and lower legs to some degree with the other exercises or everyday life activities. On the other hand, because these body parts are so small they are easy to train quickly, and thus with only 5-10 extra minutes you can effectively train them.

Over these last 4 lessons we have discussed many different exercises and the relevant aspects for safe and effective technique. In the next two lessons we will combine this knowledge with the prior lessons to generate examples of all around exercise programs.

Click here to proceed to Lesson 13


References

  1. LaPlaca D, Seedman J.The Importance of the Foot and Ankle in Athletic Performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2021 Jun;43(3):67-79. doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000598
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