Mike Boyle: 4 Small Muscles That Can Lead to Big Gains

Train these small muscle groups to improve your overall strength, athletic performance and durability.

Most STACK readers and visitors like to lift heavy weight. It's satisfying to load up a barbell with plate after plate and crush a big lift. Problem is, this might cause you to ignore smaller muscle groups, which play a critical role in your performance and durability.

Training these smaller muscle groups might seem tedious. You'd probably rather focus on your primary lifts than do small accessory exercises. But the good news is, training smaller muscles such as your hip flexors and adductors will make you faster and stronger in your athletic movements. Plus, you'll eliminate potential weaknesses and imbalances that can lead to an injury—and time spent sitting in the stands holding a clipboard.

RELATED: Mike Boyle's 7 Favorite Lower-Body Exercises

Elite strength coach Mike Boyle, co-founder of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, recommends strengthening the four small muscle groups around the hips to help develop balanced, athletic strength. 

1. Glutes/Abductors

Your glutes are the largest muscle group in your body. You probably train them to get stronger and more powerful with Squats and Deadlifts. But your glutes actually comprise more than three muscle groups, two of which are tasked with abducting (bringing your leg out to the side) and externally rotating (twisting your leg outward) your hips—two ranges of motion not trained with traditional glute exercises.

Boyle advises performing glute activation exercises like the Mini-Band Hip Internal/External Rotation and Ankle-Band Shuffle. These moves will light your glutes on fire and make you aware of how they are intended to function.

Mini-Band Hip Internal/External Rotation

  • Wrap a mini-band around your calves just below the knee.
  • Rotate your leg inward and then outward.

Sets/Rep: 3x10 each leg

Ankle-Band Shuffle

  • Wrap a mini-band around your ankles or feet.
  • Take small steps to the side.

Sets/Reps: 3x5 each direction

2. Hip Flexors 

We always emphasize building the muscles on the backside of your body to get strong. This is true, but you can't ignore the front of your body. In particular, your hip flexors play an important role in recovering your leg after a powerful stride and during your knee drive. A faster recovery and stronger knee drive equate to a quicker and more powerful stride.

Boyle recommends training your hip flexors by moving through a progression. Starting with your back on the ground, you teach your deep hip flexors to fire without involving your lower back. Once you advance in this exercise, perform variations while standing to make it more functional to a running stride.

Supine Band/Weighted Hip Flexion

  • Lie flat on the ground and drive your knee to your chest.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

Standing Weighted Hip Flexion

  • Stand on one leg and flex your hips, not your back.
  • Keep your core tight.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

Standing Hip Flexion Adduction

  • Position the resistance to your side.
  • Drive your knee up and to the center.

Sets/Reps: 3x10 each leg

RELATED: No More Weak Links: How to Train the Muscles No One Sees

3. Groin/Adductors

Your adductors—considered part of your groin—help bring your leg toward the center of your body. They are involved in flexion adduction and extension adduction. Strengthening these muscles improves multi-directional agility and helps prevent a dreaded groin pull. To develop complete adductor strength, Boyle recommends the 45- and 90-Degree Adductor Isolation, Slideboard Lateral Slide and Sled Crossovers.

45- and 90-Degree Adductor Isolation

  • Lie with your back flat on the ground.
  • Exhale as you squeeze your knees together.
  • Hold this position.

Sets/Duration: 5x5 seconds

Slideboard Lateral Slide

  • Bend your knees and hips to assume an athletic position.
  • Drive off the block to propel your body laterally.
  • Decelerate your body as your foot comes in contact with the opposite block.

Sets/Duration: 6x15 seconds

Sled Crossovers

  • Lean away from the sled.
  • Crossover your feet to pull the sled.
  • Fully extend your rear leg.

Sets/Distance: 3x15 yards each direction

4. Psoas

Another part of your hip flexors and groin, the psoas attaches to the top of your femur and lower back, traveling through your glute. It's a deep muscle that can be hard to train, but it's important to strengthen it to protect your lower back during powerful lower-body movements. Boyle recommends Psoas Holds and the Plank Hip Flexion, which strengthen this muscle by having your thigh go beyond 90 degrees.

Psoas Holds

  • Hold your thigh up so it's above parallel.
  • Keep your back straight.

Sets/Duration: 3x10-20 seconds each leg

Plank Hip Flexion

  • Slide your leg forward.
  • Do not move your lower back.
  • Isolate the hip action.

Sets/Reps: 1x8-12 each leg

RELATED: 5 Tips for More Effective Workouts

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock