May 30, 2021 9 min read

Despite them being extremely important, stabilizer muscles are something we don’t talk about all that often. 

Why? Perhaps it’s because they don’t always include your body’s major muscles, or because they’re not the muscles that give you the power and strength to lift the heaviest weights.

Nonetheless, stabilizers are just as important for heavy lifting as your big muscles are. Without stabilizers, your body wouldn’t be able to handle the high impact of lifting such heavy weights.  Therefore, if you want to keep making gains, you need to pay attention to your stabilizing muscles just as much as you would any other muscle.

Muscular man with his arms stretched out

What Are Stabilizer Muscles?

Your body has many different muscles.  And, those muscles fall into one of two categories: primary movers and stabilizers.  Technically, all of your muscles can act as both primary movers and stabilizers.  But, most muscles tend to spend most of their time being one or the other. 

Whether or not a muscle acts as a primary mover or stabilizer depends on the specific exercise you do.  For example, your gluteus medius spends most of its time stabilizing the hips but it can also act as a primary mover by helping initiate movements from the hip joint.

Primary movers are those muscles that initiate body movements.  When you lift weights, walk, and sit down, your mover muscles are hard at work making those movements happen.  Stabilizers, on the other hand, are muscles that stabilize your body weight as it’s going through a movement. 

And, even when you’re not doing an exercise, stabilizers help keep your body in proper alignment. While your primary movers are where you feel most of the tension from doing an exercise or movement, your stabilizer muscles keep your entire body under control and redistribute some of that tension throughout the rest of your body. 

For example, when you do a squat, your gluteus maximus and quadriceps are the two big primary mover muscles while your gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and abdominals stabilize your body. 

You’ll feel most of the tension in those primary movers but the stabilizers are fired up at the same time in order to keep your body stable and take on some of that tension.

What Makes Stabilizer Muscles So Important?

Without stabilizer muscles, your big primary mover muscles wouldn’t have the support that they need to lift heavy weights or move about their planes of motion.  Moreover, without stabilization, your body wouldn’t be able to move practically at all.

In addition to supporting your body so that you’re able to move, having strong stabilizer muscles is extremely important for several other reasons.  They improve the overall condition of your entire body while preventing potentially debilitating problems from coming about.  Here are some of the top reasons why having strong stabilizer muscles is important:

1. Stabilizers improve body biomechanics: Biomechanics refers to the efficiency of your body movements. Body movements that are efficient flow swiftly from one muscle contraction to the next.  Without strong stabilizer muscles, your biomechanics suffer because stabilizers enable you to easily flow through different movements.  

2. Allows you to lift heavier weights: Having strong stabilizer muscles allows you to lift heavier weights for a couple of reasons.  First, if you don’t have strong stability in your body, you won’t be able to withstand the impact of heavy weights.  Second, stabilizer muscles redistribute some of the weight to other areas of your body.  For example, while squats have the most impact on your legs and glutes, your lower back and abdominal stabilizers take on some of that impact in order to reduce the overall load on your lower extremities.

3. Improves posture:  Strong stabilizer muscles, particularly those in your back, help improve your posture.  When you have strong stabilizers, you naturally stand up straighter and achieve proper body alignment.

4. Improves balance and coordination: Having strong stabilizers improves your overall balance and coordination.  You may ask why balance is so important for people whose goal is to build mass. Our answer is to try and pick up the heaviest set of dumbbells or a barbell without having any balance at all.

5. Prevents body aches, pains, and injuries: Having solid body biomechanics, good posture, and good balance and coordination helps prevent the development of body pains and injuries.  Moreover, all of the other benefits of having strong stabilizers come back around to help keep aches, pains, and potential injuries away. 

Some of Your Body’s Most Important Stabilizer Muscles

Remember, any muscle in your body, including the primary movers, can act as a stabilizer.  However, there are some muscles in which the majority of their job is to stabilize and do little else. 

These are some of the most important stabilizer muscles in your body including muscles that act mostly as stabilizers and others that act mostly as primary movers:

Upper Body Stabilizer Muscles

To start, your shoulders have an entire complex made up of many stabilizing muscles.  This complex includes several different small stabilizing muscles as well as a few primary movers.  The complex can generally be divided into two halves including the:

  1. Glenohumeral stabilizers
  2. Scapulothoracic stabilizers

Your glenohumeral stabilizers make up the majority of the stabilizers in your shoulder complex.  They include the:

  • Deltoid muscle
  • Rotator cuff muscles
  • Supraspinatus muscle

You probably already know your deltoid muscle as a primary mover used for arm abduction exercises such as the upright row, rear delt raise, and lateral raise.  But, what you may not know is that your deltoids work as a stabilizer during many exercises including the bench press and overhead shoulder press. 

During both of these exercises, your deltoids help maintain stability in your shoulders by keeping the head of your humerus in place.The rotator cuff is another commonly referred to group of muscles yet few people tend to know its details.  Four muscles make up the rotator cuff including the:

  • Supraspinatus
  • Subscapularis
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres minor

Sometimes, the rotator cuff muscles help abduct the shoulder but they mostly help stabilize the humeral head during small, fine movements of the shoulder. The last of the glenohumeral stabilizers is the supraspinatus muscle. 

The supraspinatus muscle is considered to be part of the rotator cuff but it also helps perform movements and stabilize the shoulder on its own.  When it’s not coordinating with the rest of the muscles in the rotator cuff, the supraspinatus muscle presses against the glenoid cavity in order to assist the deltoid with shoulder abduction.

Your scapulothoracic stabilizers, also known as your scapular stabilizers, make up a smaller portion of your shoulder stabilizing complex.  The muscles within the scapulothoracic stabilizer group include the:

  • Serratus anterior and serratus posterior
  • Upper, middle, and lower trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Teres major
  • Levator scapulae

Together, these muscles work to help stabilize your scapula.  While they do that, your arms can move and reach overhead. Additionally, some smaller primary mover muscles in the upper body such as the triceps regularly act as stabilizers.  For example, when you do pull-ups or bicep curls, your triceps help keep your entire body aligned throughout the movement.

anatomy chart of posterior leg muscles

Lower Body Stabilizer Muscles

Stabilizer muscles in your lower body are mostly within the hips and glutes.  There are also a few large primary mover muscles in your legs such as the hamstrings that commonly jump from acting as primary movers and switch over to being stabilizers.

The key stabilizing muscles within your lower body hip and glute complex are the:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteus medius
  • Gluteus minimus
  • Tensor fascia lata

Together, these muscles are also referred to as the hip abductor muscles.  Each of these muscles is located somewhere within the realm of your lateral hips.  They wrap around from the front of your pelvis to the upper part of your glute where it meets your lower spine.

First off, your gluteus maximus is a muscle that regularly alternates between acting as a primary mover and stabilizer.  As a mover, it extends and laterally rotates the hips.  As a stabilizer, it has several important functions that help create good posture and protect your joints from injuries including:

  • Balancing the pelvis over the top of the femur
  • Protecting the lower spine
  • Supporting the lateral knee

Second, the gluteus medius is the most important lower body stabilizing muscle.  Its biggest roles as a stabilizer include maintaining correct positioning of the pelvis as well as helping to rotate the hips.  The gluteus medius muscle is very important for basic movements such as walking or doing exercises where you balance on a single leg at a time. 

As you walk or switch your legs back and forth, your gluteus medius keeps your pelvis stable within its frontal plane so you don’t fall over.Third and fourth, the gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata assist the gluteus medius with keeping the pelvis stable in its frontal plane and rotating the hips.

While they are the smallest and deepest muscles within the hip and glute complex, without them being there you would most likely be unable to even do simple movements such as walking.As I mentioned above, certain muscles that usually work as primary movers during some exercises can work as stabilizers during other exercises.

Your hamstrings are a good lower body example of this.  While they act as the primary mover in deadlifts, they flip to a stabilizing role in squats in order to help keep your legs in line with your hips.

Core Stabilizer Muscles

Last but not least, having strong stabilizers in your core is perhaps one of the most essential elements of having an overall strong and healthy body.  Basically, if you don’t have a strong core, you’ll have a difficult time doing almost any type of strength training exercise. 

Your core stabilizing complex, also known as the trunk complex, runs from your pelvic floor to the bottom of your diaphragm.  It is divided into two halves: the local muscle group and the global muscle group.  The local muscles provide joint stability during movements while the global muscles assist with generating movements.

The local muscles include the:

  • Transverse abdominis 
  • Multifidus
  • Pelvic floor muscles
  • Internal oblique muscles

To begin with, the transverse abdominis, multifidus, and pelvic floor muscles work together to stabilize your core.  The way they stabilize the core is by stabilizing the lower spine.  The transverse abdominis helps coordinate lumbopelvic rhythm, which is the coordinated movement of your lumbar spine and pelvis together. 

At the same time, the multifidus stabilizes the spine while the pelvic floor muscles provide support for the lower spine.  Overall, if you want a strong core, you must start by stabilizing your spine.  And, the way to stabilize your spine is by strengthening these local muscles. 

The internal obliques are located deep within your trunk underneath the external obliques.  When you need to channel your core muscles for isometric contractions, the internal obliques flex and stabilize your entire core.

The global muscles include the:

  • Rectus abdominis
  • External oblique muscles
  • The erector spinae

Your rectus abdominal muscles are your external abs that create that 6 pack look.  When they contract, they initiate movements of the spine, vertical column, and pelvis.  Along with the external obliques, they can move your entire trunk area up, down, around, and side to side. 

Just about every exercise you do, whether aimed at strengthening the stabilizer muscles or the primary movers, requires that you engage your rectus abdominal muscles and obliques.The erector spinae muscles extend just about the entire length of your spine. 

They’re important to keep strong because they help you stand up straighter and rotate your trunk from side to side.  Therefore, if you want to have good posture, you need to regularly fire up your erector spinae.

a man training with a resistance band

Exercises Specifically For Your Stabilizer Muscles

You can say goodbye to weak stabilizers with these exercises.  If you’ve been to a physical therapist before, then you’re probably already familiar with some of these as they’re great for fixing body aches and pains as well as misalignment.  Not only are these specific exercises great, but most bodyweight and free weight exercises in general are really great for channeling the stabilizers.

1. Balancing exercises: Exercises that require balance such as yoga are a great way to train your stabilizers.  If you’re not into yoga, try standing on a Bosu ball and doing exercises such as squats or upper body movements with dumbbells.

2. Isometric exercises: Isometric exercises, also known as isometric holds, flex your muscles without lengthening or shortening them.  For example, planks require no movement, yet they require constant work from your stabilizer muscles in order to hold the position.  Other examples of isometric exercises include wall sits and glute bridges.

3. Resistance band exercises: Resistance bands are a fantastic tool for strengthening your stabilizers.  They’re a high-quality exercise because they apply resistance to your muscles throughout the movement’s entire range of motion. Check out out top 15 resistance band exercises for a full-body workout that fires up your stabilizers. 

4. Compound movement exercises: Compound movements require you to engage several muscle groups at once.  As a result, you usually move multiple ligaments for a single exercise.  This requires extra coordination and stabilization from your stabilizers.  Examples of compound movements include push-ups, plank variations, and different types of squats.

5. Unilateral exercises: One way to fix muscle imbalances is to do unilateral exercises targeting your stabilizers.  Unilateral exercises work one side of the body at a time.  Examples of unilateral exercises include lunges and single-leg squats.

The Bottom Line on Stabilizer Muscles

You cannot have a strong body without strong stabilizer muscles.  It’s just as important to pay attention to your stabilizers as it is to your biggest primary movers. 

Without strong stabilizers, not only will your entire body weaken, but you’ll also run into countless different body aches, pains, and imbalances.  Therefore, be sure to make a strong effort to strengthen your stabilizers just like you do your primary mover muscles.

Bonus tip: Need even more hints on how to fire up your stabilizer muscles?  If so, then check out our ultimate list of the best bodyweight exercises.


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