Small Muscles Are Of Big Overall Importance To Strength



This should be something that anyone with hair loss can relate to. You are not solely defined by any one part of your physical appearance. It’s the whole you, your complete package – not just elements of your physique or skin or grooming, but your posture, gait, ready smile, approachable personality, even your integrity – that form the overall impression people have of you. A pronounced weakness or vulnerability in that package, such as a scowling demeanor, detracts from everything else.

Within the realm of exercise, particularly exercise focused on physical attractiveness, there is a strong analogy. Certain muscle groups get star status: a guy’s biceps, chest and shoulders are generally noticed before anything else. But for true strength, health and appearance, hundreds of other muscles need to be developed proportionately.

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” — John Wooden, legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins

This includes what we call the connector muscles. Fail to develop them and you’ll eventually run into problems with overall strength, posture and a tendency toward strain injuries.

For example, you are working your lats with a cable pull down exercise, yet it’s the wrists and forearms that fail first.  Your lats could keep going but the pain in the lower part of your arm stops you cold. Or if you’re a runner and get shin splints (pain in the front lower leg), a chronic condition that can knock you off training for weeks or months at a time, you are deprived of the workout you really want. Perhaps the worst example is the guy with big pectorals and not much else – he’s perpetually hunched over because his chest muscles pull the shoulders forward.

It’s the little things that make big things happen. Except when they don’t.

Wrists and forearms, and ankles, calves and tibialis anterior (tibia, the shin) are small but important connector muscles between your larger muscle groups and, well, the rest of the world. You can’t curl a 10, 20, 30 or 40 pound dumbbell without the wrist and forearm being involved. You can’t execute a single plyometric jump (excellent exercise for skiers, by the way) with no foot, ankle or calf muscles doing their part. These muscle groups cannot be ignored – they are essential links in the chain of muscles that comprise your body.


Chronic tendonitis in the forearms, tibia and elsewhere is often a sign of development imbalance. Another example is plantar fasciitis in runners – generally, this pain in the foot is due to a lack of calf and hamstring muscle stretching. By stretching those muscles properly, you are also strengthening those same muscles and tendons.


Resolve to give your small muscle groups the attention they deserve. It will serve you well in the long run.

First, determine when you should work these muscles. If you focus on legs one or two days a week – and you should – that’s a terrific time to work the forearms and wrists, alternating with leg sets. Or, if shin splints are your problem, work those on days you are otherwise exercising your upper body. Some exercises to try:

Wrists and forearms:

  • Hankido is a Korean martial art. In this video a single cylinder of wood is used to apply this discipline to wrist and forearm development.
  • Plate grips are another means for working the hand and wrist muscles in multiple planes. Any graspable, heavy object will do.
  • Traditional dumbbell wrist curls are most familiar to anyone working out in a health club.
  • Get creative with at-home exercises with a broomstick.


  • You can use an apparatus in your gym like this, or some exercises not involving equipment, to overcome the dreaded shin splints.

Coach John Wooden called it right. Think the big picture, in detail, in everything you do.