Muscle Groups and Joint Actions

Let's go to school!


While preparing to become a Group Fitness Instructor and pass the GFI exam, it can be very daunting to try to identify and remember muscle groups, their locations, and their joint actions. I'm going to be very honest and let you know that It will take some time if you never really studied anatomy, or if the last time you looked at muscle groups was in AP Bio your sophomore year of high school. But, I promise you, when you put in a little effort to study and apply common sense, you will pick it up in no time!


It's really important for us, as Group Fitness Instructors, to know muscle groups and their joint actions, and not just for passing your GFI certification test. Knowing how the muscles work helps you create balanced and effective class routines and gives your class participants the best workout they could ask for.


Because I am, and forever will be, a teacher, I have created study tools for you. Woo!


For your first study tool, I've created a PDF with two charts: one that shows the muscle groups, their locations, and their joint actions, and one that shows you joints, actions, and primary movers (agonists) and antagonists.







Second, is my set of Muscles and Joint Actions Flashcards on a site called Quizlet. Quizlet is a great tool for studying and learning vocabulary. If you are old-school and prefer real flashcards that you can hold, no worries! Just simply use the print feature that Quizlet offers, cut them up, and ta-da! You have your flashcards! I encourage you to also use the learn feature that Quizlet offers, and even try the matching game that Quizlet makes to aid you in your studies. Quizlet also has an app, so you can study while you're waiting in line at the DMV or for your kids to finish gymnastics practice. Score!


Spending just 5-10 minutes a day while you're trying to learn this material is all it will take to help you retain the information. You definitely spend at least 5-10 minutes on social media every day... am I right? Set an alarm for yourself to switch from your Facebook feed to the Quizlet app and flip through your flashcards. It definitely helps!


Finally, my last piece of advice when learning the muscle groups and joint actions is to really apply some common sense.


First, think about the word families associated with joint actions to help you remember what occurs.


For example:

Flexion = decreasing the angle between two body parts

*** think about "flexing" for a photo to show how strong you are and doing a bicep curl


Extension = increasing the angle between two body parts

*** the word "extend" is at its root


Abduction = moving a body part away from the midline of the body

*** think about getting "abducted by aliens" and taken away into space


Adduction = moving a body part toward the midline of the body

*** think about "adding" your body part back in to the body


Second, my good buddy and fellow Master Instructor, Mara, taught me to think of the joint that is the closest to the muscle group and the actions that the joint performs.


For example, say you are trying to remember that the bicep is used for elbow flexion. Instead of just strictly memorizing the words, think about it in a logical way. Touch your bicep. Which joint is closest to it? Yes, your elbow. How do you make your bicep muscle work (contract)? Curl your hand toward your shoulder (a bicep curl). You are decreasing the angle between two body parts, which is flexion (as opposed to extension, which increases the angle between two body parts). Therefore, biceps are used for elbow flexion.


Let's apply that same method to another muscle group: the quadriceps. Touch your quads. The closest joints to the quadriceps are the knee and the hip, right? To work the quads, think of doing a knee-lift (hip flexion) and straightening the leg out at the knee (knee extension). Therefore, the quadriceps are used for hip flexion and knee extension. Cool, huh?


One more example for good measure? Sure! Let's think about your rectus abdominis (your abs). The closest joint to your abs is your spine. To work the abs, think of doing a crunch or simply bending over. This is spinal flexion.


Physically putting your own hands on your own body and feeling the muscles move can really help you nail it down, and it works every time.


Happy studying!

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