Muscle Imbalances equals excessive wear and tear on your body!
Muscle imbalances when subjected to prolonged repetitive activities or static postures affect the length-tension relationship of muscles making them long and underactive. This is also known as reciprocal inhibition these muscles are reflexively inhibited/weak due to its activated antagonist muscle. Prolonged muscle elongation can lead to “stretch weakness” and postural changes.
Prolonged shorten muscles or “tightness weakness” can become overactive a process also known as adaptive shortening. This leads to a dysfunctional length-tension curve making the muscle readily activated and weaker over time. This leads to the development of painful trigger points. These short and tight muscles will show a decreased in muscle length and strength as active fibers are replaced by noncontractile tissue (i.e. scar tissue) to help counter the pulling forces.
This is where a talented massage therapist can implement massage techniques to break up this tension and reduced the amount of non-contractile tissue that forms.
Left/Right Muscle Imbalances
Muscle balance is defined as the relative equal length and muscle strength between the agonist and antagonist muscle groups. This is necessary for optimal function and movement. Muscle balance is also referred as to the strength of the contralateral (right versus left) muscle groups. If your body has right/left limitations it will find an alternate way of moving and it will usually take the path of least resistance, so tight and facilitated muscles are called upon first in a movement pattern, this is called dysfunctional movement.
For the athlete this means decreased stability, range of motion, flexibility, strength, power, speed and performance. And an increased chance of injury. For the every day person this means not being able to do the simple daily activities such as gardening, vacuuming, picking up the kids, walking up and down stairs or getting up from a sitting position. With some basic exercises and stretches, you can at least slow down the process of developing dysfunctional movement patterns.
Muscle Imbalance Exercises and Stretches – continued
Correcting these imbalances requires that you stretch the tight group and strengthen the weak group and hopefully this article helps you to achieve this. Of course seeking a skilled professional who can accurately evaluate and assess your musculoskeletal system is the best approach but more importantly just listen to your own body and start off slow and easy.
Tall Kneeling Chop and Lift
The tall kneeling cable chop/lift are fantastic exercises because they force our core and trunk to provide stability. These PNF pattern exercises challenged the “isolation” paradigm and, instead, emphasize the use of diagonal and spiral patterns of the upper body that are more function to real-world movement.
Physical therapist and strength coach Gray Cook, founder of Functional Movement Systems uses chop and lift exercises as foundations to developing core stability and strength. I am showing you tall kneeling but this exercise can be done in half kneel, squat and scissor stance positions as well. And they can be done with a cable machine if you have access to one, elastic tubing or a weighted medicine ball.
- Chop - start with both knees on the floor, toes curled in, tall erect spine, head and eyes straight. Draw your belly button in towards the spine, grab the handle with your left hand first and then with your right. With straight arms draw the cable down and across your body to the opposite knee. Repeat for 10 – 12 reps and do the other side.
- Lift - start with both knees on the floor, toes curled in, tall erect spine, head and eyes straight. Draw your belly button in towards the spine, grab the handle with your right hand first and then with your left. With straight arms draw the cable up and across your body to the opposite shoulder. Repeat for 10 – 12 reps and do the other side.
- Chop and Lift videos
- More on chop and lift exercises from Gray Cook (9 minute video)
Plank exercises are a great way to develop your abdominal muscles as well as your core. Since you have stabilize yourself in a one position you are working your abdominal and back musculature.
- Start lying down on the floor with feel about shoulder width apart. Place your elbows underneath you, push up onto your toes and forearms.
- Draw your belly button in towards your spine. And push your neck and sternum up as high as you can.
- Hold for 15 – 30 seconds, lower and repeat for 5 reps. Hold your back flat in a straight line from head to toes.
- Plank video
- Progression plank variation
This exercise is to improve thoracic spine mobility around a stable torso and shoulder. And to increase thoracic extension, your thoracic spine becomes tight and restricted from your daily activities. Most our daily activities are done in front of our bodies this causes your body to hunch forward and in a “flexed” position.
- Assume a hand and knee position with hands underneath your shoulders, take your right hand and place it behind your low back or head. Draw your belly button towards the spine.
- Move your right elbow to your left knee and then moving in the opposite direction, rotate your right elbow and head up looking in the direction of rotation. Reach as high as you can driving with trunk not just your elbows. Repeat for 10 reps.
- Do the other side.
- Quad position thoracic rotation video
- Interesting standing position variation thoracic rotation video
- Foam roller thoracic extension option
The squat movement pattern is essential for proper function. We use the squat pattern in everyday activities and the ability to perform a deep squat is a fairly good indicator of overall movement quality. This is because upper extremity mobility, postural control, pelvic and core stability are necessary for deep squat movement pattern.
- Stand in split stance while holding a dumbbell in each hand. While keeping your chest up, lower your hips to the floor by bending the front knee just before your back knee touches the floor come back to the starting position by pushing up with your front leg. Do not let your knee drift or collapse inside.
- The split is easier than back squatting and it has far less back involvement. Which means less torque and strain on your lumbar region.
- Split squat video
- Get a box or chair that allows you to squat so that your thighs are horizontal or just below when your glutes first touch the chair or box.
- Stand in front of it with your hands in front of you and your feet about shoulder width apart. Start the squat by sticking your butt behind you first, your weight should be back on your heels.
- The box squat is a gauge to make sure that you perform full range of motion and activating correct muscle sequencing while squatting.
- Box squat video
- Stand against the wall with your feet about shoulder width apart and about 12 inches away from the wall. Your low back, mid back/shoulders and head all should be touching or pressing against the wall.
- Place your arms up against the wall and bend your arms at 90 degree’s, your wrists and elbows need to be touching the wall (if possible). Draw, your belly button in towards your spine and hold this position while you slides your arms up over your head and back down to your sides. Repeat 10 times.
- If you have a tight upperback or shoulders muscles getting your wrists and elbows against the wall may be challenging, do what you focusing on drawing your belly button in, go slow and use good form.
- Wall angel video
Swiss ball hamstring curls
This exercise works the hamstrings and glute muscles. Because you are forced to balance yourself on a unstable surface (swissball), you also work some of the stabilizers and core muscles that support the spine.
- Start by lying on your back on the floor with the stability ball at your feet.
- Place your feet up on the stability ball, with your ankles resting against the ball’s surface.
- Raise your torso up off of the ground, by putting downward pressure on the ball.
- Slowly roll the ball closer to you with your legs until the top surface of the ball has come around to rest under the heels of your feet.
- Return to the starting position.
- Swiss ball hamstring curl video
Hamstring Stretch using a wall of doorway
I suggested this stretch because, I feel it offers the average person the best and safest way for stretching tight hamstrings without causing extra wear and tear on your low back muscles. Tight hamstrings will often cause hip and low back pain. They can also cause you to have a “flat back”.
- Lie on the floor and raise your right leg and rest your right heel against the wall or doorway by keeping your right knee slightly bent.
- Gently straighten your right leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh. Move closer of further away depending on your flexibility.
- The goal is to focus on your tailbone, you want to push your tailbone towards to the floor. This is will increase the intensity of the stretch so back off a bit if needed.
- Hold for about 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat.
- As your flexibility increases, maximize the stretch by gradually scooting yourself closer to the wall or door frame.
- Hamstring Stretch using a doorway video
“Athletic Body In Balance” Gray Cook
“Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances” The Janda Approach, Phil Page
“How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy”, Paul Chek