These Micro Exercises Will Give You Big Gains

Ditch the heavy weights and focus on some micro exercises that can deliver huge benefits.

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While it’s both important and fun to focus on the big lifts and the major muscle groups in the gym, it’s just as beneficial to pay attention to the smaller, subtler movements that often get lost in the shuffle.

Imagine, for example, you just bought a new TT bike. You’ve got the latest aero wheels and fanciest Di2 electronic shifting, but if every time you pedal your bottom bracket sways and flexes, then you’re literally leaking watts with each pedal stroke. This happens more often than you think, except it’s not your bike that’s the problem (hopefully!): It’s key body parts that sway and flex when they shouldn’t.

This routine not only shores up those vulnerable areas of the body, but it also draws particular attention to developing your awareness and improving your ability to move your body better in all situations—making you a more well-rounded triathlete.

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1. Plank with Wrist Rotations

Illustration by Oliver Baker

We don’t load our wrists enough, especially in extension, so this exercise improves wrist strength, forearm strength, and mobility by exploring your ability to load your wrists in increasingly challenging positions.

  • Start in a plank on your hands with your fingers facing forward at 12 o’clock. Alternate rotating your hands outwards so they move from 12 to facing 2 and 10 respectively, then rotate them to 3 and 9, and finally all the way to 6 and 6. Then rotate the wrists back to forwards. Repeat 5-10 times.
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2. Arch Body Holds and Rocks

Illustration by Oliver Baker

This exercise teaches you how to stabilize your lumbar spine both in and out of extension. The combined strength and skill translates nicely to a smoother run stride and to a more stable and powerful pedal stroke.

  • Begin lying face down. While squeezing your abs for stability, actively squeeze your butt and press your hips into the ground. You should feel increased pressure on the ground if this is done correctly. From here—and while still squeezing your butt aggressively—actively pull your thighs off the ground about 1⁄4-inch. Point your toes and flex your quads for additional tension and stability. From here, and while keeping your hands palm up by your hips, pull your chest and shoulders a 1⁄4-inch off the ground, and hold.
  • To further challenge yourself, bring your arms overhead, thumbs pointing to the ceiling. for better shoulder position. Repeat 10 times, holding each rep for at least five seconds.
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3. Equal Foot Pressure Quarter Squat

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Improve your balance, foot strength, and hip stability all in one go, which will help with foot strike and running efficiency.

  • Begin by balancing on one foot, preferably barefoot, and imagine drawing north/ south and east/west quadrants of your foot on the ground. First, let your body weight shift north, south, east, and west to sense being out of balance and how to regain a perfectly balanced foot with equal pressure in all quadrants. From here, hinge at your hip and lower to a quarter squat. Hold that position for three to five seconds while focusing on equal foot pressure.
  • Challenge yourself by going deeper into a half squat and also by closing your eyes.
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4. Shoulder Scapula Retraction “Push-Ups”

Illustration by Oliver Baker

This exercise helps draw awareness to your thoracic spine and shoulder position.

  • Start in a plank from your hands. While keeping your elbows locked out, allow your chest to sink through your shoulder blades and closer to the floor. Then, while keeping your elbows locked out, press your chest away from the floor to create as much distance as possible. By screwing your hands into the floor, you add some external rotation into the shoulder which is key for good posture and scapular engagement. Alternate between these two positions slowly and with control and as much exaggeration as you can on either end. Repeat five to 10 times.
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5. Big Toe Raise and Press

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Independently flexing and extending your big toe strengthens the intrinsic muscles of your arch and helps improve general toe mobility and toe splay.

  • Begin barefoot by first pressing your right big toe into the ground and lifting your other four toes off the ground. Tip: Putting your thumb on your big toe while raising your four other toes will help if you are struggling. Repeat 10 times, then repeat on the left foot.
  • Next, press your right four toes into the ground while raising your right big toe off the ground as much as you can. Tip: Use your finger to manually help move the big toe if you are struggling. Do this 10 times then repeat on the left side.
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