Do You Activate Before You’re Active?

August 14, 2017

How Muscle Inhibition Can Impact Your Training:

First things first. All muscle work in pairs. To put this simply consider a well-known muscle the bicep. Ask someone to show you their muscles and I am sure they are going to go for the old ‘bicep flexion’. I remember when I played football, I would always make sure the biceps were looking as big as I could possibly get them in that team photo. Now let’s talk about the other side of the biceps, the triceps, which sit on the back of the arm. The biceps and triceps are what we call an ‘antagonist pair’ when the biceps tense (such as in a flexed bicep pose) the triceps relax a little and lengthen. The opposite is also true when the triceps are tensed the biceps are in a lengthened and more relaxed position.

The vast majority of the skeletal muscles in the body work like this, when one of the muscles in a pair is contracted (shortened) the other is in a lengthened/’relaxed’ position. On top of this, the muscle that is contracting is receiving a strong message from the brain to work hard and contract and the partner to that muscle is given permission to ‘slack off’ for a bit.

What Has This Got to do With Training??? I hear you say.

Now that we hopefully have some understanding of how muscles work we can move on to how this can impact your training and a common area of the body this affects in day to day life. That’s right, the example I will use a lot of the time, sitting down. Unfortunately sitting down can impact the functioning of your body due to a process called ‘reciprocal inhibition’.  This is, as we explained before, when one muscle is in a flexed position, it is contracting and receiving strong messages from the brain to work hard. When sitting this is a group of muscles called the hip flexors. However the muscle that is the antagonistic pair of the hip flexors is the ‘glutes maximus’. The glue max is therefore spending much of the day (for those that sit a lot throughout the day) in a lengthened position, with the brain giving that muscle the all clear to ‘relax’ for much of the day. Keep in mind this can happen to any antagonistic pair in the body, and this is where the problem lies when it comes to training!

If the glutes are used to taking it easy for much of the day, when it comes to training they are likely going to continue to be lazy and pass much of their job onto a muscle group such as the hamstrings. Both muscle groups help to extend the hip, however the body was never designed to have the hamstrings doing the grunt work for hip extension, that job was for the glutes. The conept of a ‘helper muscle’ doing the grunt work for the ‘main muscle’ is called ‘synergistic dominance’. Synergistic dominance can greatly increase the chances of dysfunction and pain in the body. But we will look at that another day.

Today we want to focus on the messages from the brain going to those glutes. If our glutes are inhibited then they are not receiving the message as strongly as they possibly could and those muscles can’t work as hard as they could possibly work. This is why you should consider activation before exercise. The aim of activation is to ‘wake up’ those muscles that have been inhibited and get the brain to send them strong messages to get them doing what they are meant to be doing.  A classic activation for the gluteus maximus is ‘glute’ bridges’ (check out the video on our website). This is one exercise for one muscle group that is commonly inhibited. Stay tuned with our \ website for regular video updates on ‘activation exercises for commonly inhibited muscle groups. The great thing about these activation exercises is they can be done, almost anywhere and any time. Get activating!

Warning: The training and instructional content contained on this website should be taken as information and not medical advice. Please consult your health professional before attempting these exercises.

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