Camels are known for their characteristic humps and their amazing ability to go long periods without water not so much for their strong abs. But, believe it or not, this desert-dwelling animal can offer fresh inspiration for your core workouts.
Enter the inclined 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 inclined camel “is a great alternative to traditional quadricep isolation exercises and can be done with just body weight,” says Courtney Burnett, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments.
“This is ideal for someone looking to target their quadriceps who may not have access to leg extension machines or who is looking for a way to introduce eccentric loading into their program,” says Burnett. .
But that’s not all the benefits of the reclining camel it works your glutes, strengthens the back and also reduces your risk of injury.
In other words, it can take your fitness to another level, regardless of your goals. Want to improve strength? Do 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 5 reps, says Burnett. To focus on hypertrophy (ie, growing muscle), aim for 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 15 reps, he says. Add exercise to your regular routine two to three times per week for best results.
Who Should Not Do the Leaning Camel
The reclining camel may not be the right exercise for everyone. Here’s how to gauge if it’s right for you.
To perform the movement safely, you should be able to do the following, says Burnett:
- Comfortably tolerate kneeling
- Achieve full, pain-free range of motion of the knee
- Put weight through your feet in a plantar flexed position
If you can’t do any of the above and/or you experience any pain in your knees just getting into the starting position (a tall kneeling stance), don’t try to do prone camels.
Instead, stick to safer alternatives, like planks to target the core or seated leg extensions and rear-foot elevated split squats for a serious quad-focused burn, says Burnett.
How to Do the Leaning Camel
It’s in between
Core and Lower Body
- With a soft mat or towel under your knees, start in a tall kneeling position, so that your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line.
- Your knees and feet should be hip-width apart and the tops of your feet should be flat on 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 hands at your sides.
- Keep your body in a straight line, essentially maintaining a plank position, slowly lean back as far as possible by bending the knees until you feel a strong stretch in the front of the thighs.
- Once in your end range, squeeze your quadriceps to return to the starting position. Don’t let your hips drop or bend throughout the movement to avoid compensations in your lower back.
If the inclined camel is too difficult, you can modify the move by anchoring a long resistance band in front of you for assistance, says Burnett. Holding onto one arm will help offset some of your body weight so the load is less heavy.
Beginners may also find it helpful to place a bench, plyo box or stacked plates behind them to create an elevated guiding surface, says Burnett. This limits how far you can lean. As you build strength, and your range of motion improves, you can gradually decrease the height of the surface.
Conversely, if you want to make it harder, you can hold a plate or weight across your chest to add extra resistance, says Burnett. You can push it further by continuing to add more weight.
Leaning farther back (expanding your range of motion) will also increase the difficulty factor.
1. It Works Your Quads and Glutes
The inclined camel is a great exercise to build quadriceps strength and hypertrophy, says Burnett.
To perform the movement, your quads must work both concentrically and eccentrically, he says. In other words, your 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 state can be significantly beneficial for creating hypertrophy,” says Burnett. That means doing the incline camel can build lean muscle in your legs.
Not to mention the move also requires good glute strength. That’s because you need to recruit your glute muscles to stabilize your hips during the exercise.
2. It strengthens your Abs
While your quads are the main muscle group at play, your midsection should also strengthen its muscles during the inclined camel. In fact, your core engages isometrically to maintain proper hip and trunk position, says Burnett.
In fact, ab activation is essential to performing the movement correctly. “A poor ability to build intra-abdominal pressure, or maintain a rigid body, during this movement can lead to stress on the lower back,” says Burnett.
“If you’re feeling discomfort in your lower back, you probably need to engage your core more,” he adds.
3. It challenges your lower back
Leaning camels strengthen the lower back in a similar way to planks, says Burnett. During exercise, “you are isometrically engaging the muscles to increase motor unit recruitment.” By activating your lower back muscles like this, you can improve spinal stabilization, lower back muscular endurance and postural control, he says.
However, while the reclining camel challenges your lower back, it doesn’t strengthen the muscles in the same way as doing concentric and eccentric exercises (think: good morning), Burnett adds.
4. It Stretches the Front of Your Body
“This exercise loads your quads into an extended position, effectively extending the front of your body at the end of the range,” says Burnett. As a result, it can help improve quad and hip flexor mobility and flexibility, he says.
This is a huge benefit as most of us struggle with tight hips and quads (thanks to too much sitting). Furthermore, tense hip flexors can put strain on your lower back, so keeping loose and limber is important to prevent back pain.
5. It Can Help Reduce Your Risk of Injury
As mentioned, the inclined camel involves eccentric movements, which train your muscles in the extended state. Strength training like this can protect you from getting sick.
“Improving eccentric strength is a great way to help reduce injury risk,” says Burnett.
Here’s why: “It can improve a person’s ability to adapt to load and better tolerate the forces produced by rapid muscle lengthening, such as when descending or landing from jumping or running,” says he.
Plus, this unique exercise can also help improve your coordination (since you have to synchronize bending your knees while keeping your hips straight), says Burnett. And having better control over the movement of your muscles and joints can also lower your risk of injury.
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