Camels are known for their characteristic humps and amazing ability to go without water for long periods of time, not so much for their strong abdominal muscles. But believe it or not, this desert-dwelling animal may offer new inspiration for core training.
Start the reclining camel exercise. This kneeling movement, which mimics the way a camel moves to stand, not only fires up the core, but also strengthens the quads.
The incline camel “is an excellent alternative to traditional quad isolation exercises and can be performed using only body weight,” says Courtney Burnett, PT, DPT, physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments.
“It’s ideal for someone who wants to target their quadriceps and may not have access to leg extension machines, or is looking for a way to add eccentric loading to their program,” says Burnett.
But this is not all the benefits of the reclining camel, it works the glutes, strengthens the back and also reduces the risk of injury.
Simply put, it can take your fitness to the next level, regardless of your goals. Want to improve strength? Do 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 5 reps, says Burnett. If you want to focus on hypertrophy (ie, building muscle), aim for 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps, he says. Add exercise to your regular routine two to three times a week for best results.
Who should not make a leaning camel
Leaning on a camel is not necessarily the right exercise for everyone. Here’s how you can judge whether it’s right for you.
To perform a movement safely, you need to be able to do the following, says Burnett:
- Can stand comfortably on the knees
- Achieve perfect, pain-free knee flexion
- Thread the weight through the legs in a plantar flexion position
If you are unable to do any of the above and/or experience pain in your knees simply rising to the starting position (long kneeling position), do not attempt to lean into camels.
Instead, stick to safer options like planks that target the core, or seated leg extensions and rear-leg-elevated squats for severe quad burn, says Burnett.
How to make a leaning camel
Core and lower body
- With a soft mat or towel under your knees, start in a high kneeling position so that your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line.
- The knees and feet should be hip distance apart and the tops of the feet should be flat against the floor.
- Start by strengthening your core and squeezing your glutes. You can cross your arms over your chest or leave your arms straight with your arms at your sides.
- Keeping your body in a straight line, essentially in a plank position, slowly lean back as far as you can by bending your knees until you feel a strong stretch in the front of your thighs.
- When you are in your end zone, squeeze your quads to return to the starting position. Don’t let your hips drop back or bend throughout the movement to avoid compensating in your lower back.
If leaning camel is too difficult, you can modify the movement by anchoring a long resistance band in front of you for assistance, says Burnett. Holding the band compensates for your body weight and makes the load less stressful.
Beginners may also find it helpful to place a bench, plyo box, or stacked plates behind them to create a higher control surface, Burnett says. This limits how far you can lean back. As you build strength and range of motion, you can gradually decrease the height of the surface.
On the other hand, if you want to make it more challenging, you can hold a plate or weight across your chest for extra resistance, says Burnett. You can take it even further by constantly adding more weight.
Leaning further back (extending range of motion) also increases the difficulty factor.
1. It works your quads and glutes
Leaning camel is an excellent exercise for developing quadriceps strength and hypertrophy, says Burnett.
To perform the movement, your quads need to work both concentrically and eccentrically, he says. In other words, muscles must shorten (or contract) and lengthen under tension.
“Studies have shown that training the rectus femoris, one of your four quadriceps muscles, in a lengthening position can be significantly beneficial in creating hypertrophy,” says Burnett. This means that incline camel training can build lean muscle in the legs.
Not to mention, the move also requires great gluteal strength. This is because you need to recruit your glutes to stabilize your hips during the exercise.
2. It strengthens the abdominal muscles
Although the quads are the most important muscle group in the game, the core also needs to stabilize its muscles while leaning on the camel. In fact, your core engages isometrically to maintain proper pelvic and trunk position, Burnett says.
In fact, ab activation is essential to performing the movement correctly. “Poor ability to generate intra-abdominal pressure or maintain a rigid body during this movement can lead to stress on the lower back,” says Burnett.
“If you’re experiencing discomfort in your lower back, chances are you need to work your core more,” he adds.
3. It challenges your lower back
Leaning camel strengthens the lower back in the same way that planks do, says Burnett. During the exercise, “you engage the muscles isometrically to increase the recruitment of motor units.” By activating the lower back muscles in this way, you can improve spinal stabilization, lower back muscle endurance and postural control, he says.
Although the reclining camel challenges your lower back, it doesn’t strengthen the muscles in the same way that doing concentric and eccentric exercises (think: good morning), Burnett adds.
4. It stretches the front of your body
“This exercise loads your quads in an extended position, effectively stretching the front of your body at the end,” says Burnett. As a result, it can help improve quad and hip flexor mobility and flexibility, he says.
This is a great advantage as most of us struggle with tight hips and Quads (due to sitting too much). Additionally, tight hip flexors can put strain on your lower back, so keeping them loose and flexible is important to prevent back pain.
5. It can help reduce your risk of injury
As mentioned, the reclining camel includes eccentric movements that work your muscles in an elongated position. This type of strength training can protect you from injury.
“Improving eccentric strength is a great way to reduce the risk of injury,” says Burnett.
Here’s why: “It can improve a person’s ability to adapt to load and better tolerate the forces of rapid muscle lengthening, such as when decelerating or landing from a jump or run,” he says.
Plus, this eccentric exercise can also help improve your coordination (because you have to synchronize bending your knees while keeping your hips straight), says Burnett. Better control of muscle and joint movement can also reduce your risk of injury.
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