While any exercise is better than none at all, an ideal workout routine includes cardiovascular exercise, strength training and flexibility work for overall fitness. One category of exercise isn’t necessarily better, but they all play a role in making the body function best.

Cardiovascular exercise raises the heart rate for a sustained period of time, and keeps it steady or elevates it and lowers it periodically with intervals. Running, cycling, swimming, stairclimbing and cross-country skiing all are examples of cardiovascular exercise that strengthen the heart, lungs and entire cardiovascular system, as well as burn calories and fat.

Many cardiovascular modalities tend to favor the lower body, such as cycling, jogging, walking, jumping rope, stairclimbing and more. Although these certainly are effective forms of cardiovascular work, exercise that also works the upper body – such as the elliptical or rowing – results in more balanced conditioning and potentially greater caloric expenditure.

An elliptical is a great option for working both the lower body and upper body, and the more of the body’s 650 muscles you work, the better your fitness level. Let’s first look at the major muscle groups of the upper body and what they do.

Major Upper-Body Muscles

Pectoralis major – works to adduct, flex, extend and medially rotate the arm
Pectoralis minor – depresses the scapula (shoulder blade) and elevates the ribs

Latissimus dorsi – adducts, extends and medially rotates the arm
Trapezius – elevates, depresses, retracts, rotates and fixes the scapula; also extends neck
Rhomboids major and minor – retracts, rotates, fixes and slightly elevates (minor) the scapula
Teres major – extends, adducts and medially rotates arm
Erector spinae – extends abducts and rotates vertebral column

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Deltoids – flexes, extends, abducts and rotates the arm
Rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres minor) – extends, adducts, abducts, medially and laterally rotates the arm

Biceps brachii – flexes and abducts the arm; flexes and supinates forearm
Brachialis – flexes forearm
Triceps brachii – extends and abducts the arm; extends forearm

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