3 hidden muscles that will make or break your physique

We all know some of the hallmarks of a great physique. Broad shoulders, slim waist and muscular arms are some of the first things that come to mind. So what are the most important muscles when it comes to creating an Adonis like physique that turns the heads of men and women alike?

The Major Players

  • Lateral delts- Most people know that a high shoulder to waist ratio is a very desirable trait for an impressive and aesthetic build. It creates the illusion of a smaller, tighter waist and provides the much sought after V-Taper. Adding slabs of muscle to the middle delts is the easiest way to do this (unless you have alot of belly fat to lose)

  • Triceps- While the biceps receive a lot of attention the triceps make up about 2/3rds of the size of your arms and provide most of the thickness you see when wearing a shirt with sleeves.

  • Lats- When you see someone from the back with wings that there shirt seems to hang off of, you just have to be impressed. Lats can add to the V-taper and are one of the largest muscles on our body so having thick and fully developed muscles will lead to one impressive looking back.

  • Pecs- A large muscular chest is one of the most sought after things in all of bodybuilding. Someone can have a nice back, legs, and arms but if they are missing the chest the whole physique suffers. If your pecs are visible in a normal fitting shirt people will know the hard workout you put in the gym and admire it.

  • Abs- Im talking about the rectus abdominals specifically here. The “six pack.” You can have all the muscles you want but if you don’t have visibly defined abdominals your physique will appear lacking, especially to members of the opposite sex! Having bulk isn’t enough, if you want a truly great physique you must be able to see the definition and shape, especially in the abs.

While the body parts above seem to receive most of the attention sometimes muscles that have a major impact on your physique are often overlooked.


The Overlooked “Hidden” Muscle

The lower traps

Hulking upper traps can take away from a physique by causing a rounded forward “caveman” look. If you suffer from this chances are your upper traps are tight and overactive while your lower traps are lengthened and underdeveloped. The lower traps are responsible for the retraction and depression of the scapulae and contribute to having good posture thus they play a major role in achieving the desirable broad shoulder look. The low traps are often overlooked because they are not as noticeable as upper traps and other bodyparts. Most people perform shrugging movements when trying to develop the trapezius muscle but this heavily recruits the upper traps while missing out on lower trap activation. Combine this with faulty posture that is commonly associated with  slumping forward and rounding the shoulders (especially when sitting) and you get some major imbalances leading to very weak low traps.

While the lower traps will certainly contribute to the aesthetics of your body perhaps their largest role is preventing injury. You want to develop those thick delts and pecs we talked about earlier? Pretty tough to do if you are nursing a rotator cuff injury caused by underactive traps failing to maintain stability in the scapula during pressing and shoulder exercises. Having balanced and fully developed functional trapezius muscles will make ones physique appear larger by adding height and width to the shoulders. They will also provide the foundation of stability for many pressing exercises, especially overhead variations.

Best Exercises To Target Low Traps 

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Scapula Abduction and Depression using Cables- Reach across your body and start high. Focus on depressing the shoulder girdle and pulling the blades together, specifically the lower part. There is a variation using the straight pull-up bar but it’s better to perform this movement unilaterally to ensure equal activation.

 

 

Lower Trap Raises- It may be necessary to begin this exercise with no weight, as just performing this movement with straight arms can be extremely challenging for some. Even as you progress it's important to keep the weight light to prevent compensation from overactive muscles like upper traps and anterior delts. Keep the thumbs up through the full range of motion. Make sure your upper traps don't take over, keep the shoulder girdle in a neutral position.

 

The Transverse Abdominals

Everybody wants a defined six pack and tapered waist, but often times we spend to much time and effort on the rectus abdominis. This is the layer of abdominal muscles that makes up most of what we see when looking in the mirror, the “six pack”. While you won’t see the transverse section since it’s hidden beneath the other layers of abdominal muscles, it is still capable of making or breaking your physique.

This is largely because of it’s effect on one’s posture and the role it serves as a stabilizer during movements involving the core muscles of the back, abs, and hips. A weak transverse abdominis(TVA) puts more pressure on the lower back often leading to injury, especially during ab exercises. A strong TVA should be considered the foundation of the core, as it allows you to perform more intense work on the rectus abdominis leading to a more defined six pack.

Also a fully developed TVA will bring your hips into proper alignment with the spine and rib cage, creating a “muscular corset” if you will. This what creates the slim and tapered waist look. The mythical vacuum pose is only possible with an extremely strong TVA. (We could link the definitive guide to ab training here)

Best Exercises to Target Rectus Abdominis

Plank- Whether its done from the hands or elbows, this simple exercise remains one of the best at building a strong core. The TVA is largely responsible for keeping the hips and spine in a braced neutral position. During a plank the TVA is fighting gravity to maintain that neutral position. This exercise benefits beginners as well as the very advanced. As you progress increase the time and add weight either in the form of a vest or simply put plates on the small of your back.

Co-Contraction Crunch- This can be performed on a stability ball or the ground. The goal of this is to not round the thoracic spine and move forward as with a typical crunch or sit up. Instead, think of pushing the small of the back hard into the ground and coming upward toward the ceiling instead of forward, while keeping the spine straight.

Serratus Anterior

Once you have achieved a low enough body fat to see your abs, veins, and striations you don’t want to leave your physique lacking by not having a developed serratus. This little muscles’ striations stand out so much and can make the difference between having an eye catching or an eye popping physique but you’ll never see your serratus if you aren’t lean enough.

The serratus anterior main functions are protracting and abducting the scapula. Having an under active serratus often leads to a winged scapula. Besides being cosmetically unattractive it affects the ability to stabilize your shoulder properly during exercise and also contributes to pain in the upper back.

Best Exercises To Target Serratus Anterior

Boxing- The serratus anterior is sometimes referred to as the boxer’s muscle because they typically are very developed due to the protraction of the shoulder girdle during a punch. So if you are looking to burn some calories through cardio and want to get a stronger more defined serratus, spend some time working on the heavy bag or focus mitts.

 

Incline Dumbbell raise- Position yourself as if you are doing an incline dumbbell press but focus only on driving the arms up by protracting the shoulder girdle. Depress the shoulder girdle back to a neutral position (not retracted) while keeping the arms straight.

 

 

 

 

In Conclusion

Don't be one of those people who only work the "beach muscles" This will leave your physique lacking. At the end of the day these hidden muscles mean nothing if you aren’t able to see them so get your diet in check. While it's certainly important to pay attention to the major players this article opened with, you cannot ignore these three hidden muscles because they will make or break your physique, both in terms of appearance and functionality.