Muscle Imbalances and Poor Posture in the Body are Caused by Misuse!
Muscle imbalances not only cause pain but they can negatively influence your overall health, wellbeing and postural alignment. Poor posture as a result of muscle imbalances causes extra stress on your muscles, tendons, joints and does not sufficiently support your internal organs.
This is a very important consideration especially for women who have had children close together or have had a Cesarean section. Muscle imbalances in the body occur when certain muscles become short and tight while the antagonist (opposite) muscle often becomes long and weak. Short and tight muscles are usually the postural muscles of the body “the workaholics” and the long and weak muscles are usually the phasic or “the lazy” muscles of the body.
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 in terms of muscle balances and movement is the best approach. But more importantly; just listen to your own body and start off slow and easy.
Tonic and Phasic Muscle Systems
Janda identified two groups of muscles based on their phylogenetic development (Janda, 1987). He said functionally, muscles can be classified as “tonic” or “phasic”. The tonic system consists of the “flexors”, and is phylogenetically older and dominant. These muscles are involved in repetitive or rhythmic activity (Umphred, 2001), and are activated in flexor synergies.
The phasic system consists of the “extensors”, and emerges shortly after birth. These muscles work eccentrically against the force of gravity and emerge in extensor synergies (Umphred, 2001). Janda noted that the tonic system muscles are prone to tightness or shortness, and the phasic system muscles are prone to weakness or inhibition.
The tonic system is first used by the human body to maintain the fetal position in newborn infants. Then the phasic system is activated as the infant learns to lift their head to look around. And as we age it seems as though we go back to where we began in the fetal position. But not if you do something about it.
Correcting Movement Imbalances
In “Athletic body in Balance“ by Gray Cook, he talks about how postural habits and activity habits influence the way the body moves. Postural habits can be defined as the way a person holds their spine, but the arms and legs also need to be considered. Activity habits are movement habits. This can be caused by repetitive movement or by a lack of movement.
Here is an important note to consider, what might feel as a natural way to move can be incorrect and what feels extremely awkward can be correct. Gray goes on to say that researchers would rather look at the human body through a microscope as though looking at all the parts they can assume the whole, but the human body does not unfortunately work or move like that.
The whole is always greater than the some of its parts. Movement training is more functional because if a muscle is tested and trained and movement problem still exists the movement must still be trained. Also addressing first the movement pattern problem the muscle imbalance problem is also treated in most cases.
Not for Everyone!
These movements will improve the quality of life of everyone who performs them and will teach people how to move their bodies more efficiently and effectively. Please remember that I can only design a program and make suggestions to you not all these exercises will be appropriate for everyone. I suggest working on your tight muscle imbalances first before working on the strengthening of any weak muscles.
The goal here is to help your body re-learn movement patterns. I tried to select the best exercises and stretches that deal with the most common muscle imbalances that I have seen working with our massage clients, postural and lifestyle habits. Please suggest or comment on any of the exercises or stretches that I listed here, thank you.
4 Point Tummy vacuum
This exercise targets the transversus abdominis (TVA), the deepest of the four sets of abdominal muscles. The TVA muscle provides stability to your low back through the thoracolumbar fascia. And the function of the TVA is suited to giving you a flat stomach because it acts like a “girdle”.
- Start on your hands and knees with your back straight. Gently tighten your abdominal muscles to draw your navel in towards your spine; hold for 10 seconds and relax for 10 seconds
- You must learn eventually to perform this function “drawing your belly button towards your spine” from a standing position to be functional. You can seek a certified Paul Chek practitioner for help with this.
- 4 point tummy vacuum video
This stretch is designed to lengthen the short and tight chest/pec muscle. This muscle often gets tight from having your arms in front of your body. This muscle will also inhibit posterior back muscles (traps and rhomboids) and makes them weak.
- Stand in a doorway or a corner of a room in a lunge position. As you lunge forward be careful to not extend your knee past your front toe.
- While standing in doorway place your palms on the door frames about shoulder height. Elbows are bent and close to your body.
- Lean forward into the lunge until you feel the stretch, be sure to keep your back and head straight. And add a contraction by pinching your shoulders together.
- Draw your belly button in and hold this position for 5 – 10 deep breaths. You can move your hands at different heights for targeting areas on your pec muscles.
- Pec/chest stretch video
Physioball Y & T
This corrective exercise is important for training the posterior back muscles that may be inhibited by the tight pec muscles. Under constant stress they tend to become weak and long altering optimal shoulder joint mechanics.
- Lying face down on a stability ball or this can be done on the floor as well the only difference will be your range of motion. Raise your arms above your head to form a “Y” with your torso and thumbs up.
- Draw your belly button in and pack your neck. Glide your shoulder blades towards the spine and lift your arms off the ball or floor. And hold for 3 – 5 seconds.
- Return to starting position and repeat for 10 reps.
- For the “T” everything will be the same except this time you will glide your shoulder blades together and extend your arms to the side of your body forming a “T” with your torso. Repeat for 10 reps.
- Physioball Y & T video
This exercise is for strengthening the glute muscles. The glutes provide sports performance as well as providing stability for your pelvis and low back.
- Lying on your back with your knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor. Exhale as you draw your belly button in hold and lift your hips off the floor.
- Make sure your hips, knees and shoulders are in a straight line. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds and repeat for 10 reps.
- And if this is too easy for you, you can increase the difficulty by extending one leg out.
- Glute bridge video
- Glute bridge on exercise ball video
Psoas/hip flexor stretch
This stretch is for the iliopsoas hip flexor muscles. The psoas hip flexor group is the biggest contributor to muscle imbalances and poor posture.These muscles often become hyperactive and pulls the lower back into hyperextension.
- Kneel on your right knee, cushioning your kneecap with a folded towel
- Place your left foot with bent knee in front of you. You can place one hand here on your knee for stability.
- Keeping your back straight and drawing your belly button inward lunge forward until you feel a stretch on your right side.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
- Lunge hip flexor stretch video
- Rectus Femoris stretch video
I think the word “deadlifts” scares most people away from doing them but there is no other exercise that will protect your back more in sports or in daily life than performing deadlifts. Simply put deadlifts are functional movements that we perform everyday. Plus if you want aesthetically pleasing glute muscles this exercise is for you.
- Stand over the weight with feet slightly wider than shoulders with your toes slightly pointing out. You want your chest high and start with your hips going back as in the box squat. Your weight is back on your heels and your neck is packed or in neutral position.
- As you grab the weight to start your repetition, bring your shoulders down by contracting your lats. Drive the weight up with your hips and return to the starting position. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
- This can be done with either with a kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell or anything with weight and a handle (i.e. laundry detergent). You are focusing on grooving a movement pattern that has been lost more than worrying about how much weight you’re using.
- Sumo deadlift video
- Bonus sumo deadlift video: this video shows us all what we started with; this is a primal movement but as we age, we tend to lose it. Its time to get back for your backs sake.
Supermans are a safe and effective exercise for strengthening the glutes, lumbar and thoracic portions of the erector spinal muscles. This exercise also requires co-contraction of the abdominal wall muscles to stabilize the pelvis
- Lie on your stomach with your legs straight and the tops of your feet on the floor. Place your arms on the floor in front of you with palms turned inward. From there, you have many options, you can lift both legs a few inches off the floor, and you can lift you arms and head off the floor hold for a few seconds. Return to starting position and repeat for 10 reps.
- Options are alternating superman’s: lifting one leg at a time doing 10 on each side or alternating lifting one (left) leg and one (right) arm and then switching this sequence to lifting (right) leg and (left) arm.
- Superman exercise video
- Alternating Superman’s video
Single Leg Deadlifts with kettlebell or “SLDL”
When performed correctly the single leg dead lift pattern requires the recruitment of all of the muscles up the posterior chain. The gastrocnemius and soleus work to stabilize at the foot and ankle. The hamstring group is stretched at the same time it is working to stabilize the knee joint, while the glutes concentrically extend the hip.
During the single leg deadlifts the lumbar extensors work to keep the spine neutral while the rhomboids and lower traps work to stabilize the scapula and keep the thoracic spine in extension.
- Stand close to the kettlebell
- With a straight back and your head in line with your spine and shoulders back and down, focus on bending at the hips. Then the knees as you reach down for the kettlebell.
- Grab the kettlebell with a firm grip and stable base by creating a tension in the body. Once established squeeze the glutes and power-up to a standing position. Be sure to keep the arms straight and the KB close to the front of your legs.
- Once standing maintain the tension and keep the shoulders back and down keeping your glute muscles activated.
- To lower, reverse the movement, maintaining the tension and keeping the KB close to the front of the legs.
- Single leg deadlifts kettlebell video
- Another single leg unilateral deadlifts with kettlebell video
“Athletic Body In Balance” Gray Cook
“Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances” The Janda Approach, Phil Page