Creating Muscular Balance
When I first heard of corrective exercise and creating muscular balance, the meaning in my mind was pretty simple. When you have an injury or have been inactive for a while, with help you can get help to regain mobility. Once you hire a physical therapist or personal training they will create an exercise routine to regain the strength you have lost.
When I decided to become a Corrective Exercise Specialist, I realized that there was so much more to recovering from an injury or weakness than just letting the injury heal and getting back to your normal workouts. There are four basic components to a corrective exercise continuum that I bring my clients through, when I help them regain their pre-injury muscular and athletic ability. Following this blueprint has allowed many of my clients to regain mobility and increase strength. In addition, clients see better stamina, and have a general overall increase in ability to move with more energy. They also return to a greater level of functional movement in their everyday lives.
Why is Corrective Exercise Important? There are a number reasons this systematic plan of exercise is so beneficial. We have all heard about the rise in cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes, but the rise of muscular dysfunction and injuries is just as prevalent. More and more of us are on our computers, iPad and Phones, keeping us from physical activity. There are at least one million visits to the emergency room each day for ankle injuries occur and every day at least 25,000 sprain their ankle. The number of back injuries each year is double that number. Two million back injuries occur, with most of them located in the work place. Knee and shoulder injuries are also very prevalent in the general populations with alarmingly high percentages. Due to inactivity and the neglect of training guidelines not addressing potential muscular imbalances, the weakened muscle and skeletal system are at higher risk for serious injuries.
Who can benefit from corrective exercise techniques? All segments of the population can benefit from the corrective exercise systematic steps to help heal from injuries and inactivity. Many athletes and gym members are already using a number of the principles and with a little instruction and healing time, you will be creating muscular balance soon. Basically, Knowing What is Right for You, as you exercise goes a long way when you begin to utilize this information while creating muscular balance.
What is muscular balance? More importantly, what is muscular imbalance? Before I discuss creating muscular balance, let’s chat about anatomical generalities that maybe you haven’t thought about before, I know I didn’t before I started this fitness journey as a personal trainer. Human movement involves three systems in the body; muscular, skeletal and the nervous systems. There can be no movement without all three systems working in conjunction with each other properly. If one of the systems doesn’t function properly, there will be muscular imbalances, which in turn can lead to injury or immobility. You may already know, a muscle which attaches to your skeletal system by a tendon always has an equal and opposite muscle to allow functional movement. (i.e., biceps-triceps, quadriceps-hamstrings, abdominals and back muscles, etc.). This allows flexion and extension of the muscle. When movement fails, one of the nerves, bones, or muscles do not work properly. Therefore, one of the muscles becomes imbalanced, weak, or too tight. I know we have all experienced a pulled groin muscle when we tried to sprint to first base in baseball possibly because we didn’t stretch out properly. The adductor may have been tight or weak and the body further tightens the muscle to protect itself from injury. We are then forced to stop until it has healed. This is somewhat simplified, but hopefully you get the general idea.
What are the Corrective Exercise Steps that help creating muscular balance? Before I get into the steps to healing, I want to mention, typically a movement assessment is used to identify which muscle is imbalanced. Other imbalances in the body are addressed, as the client walks and perform simple movements to determine postural distortions and potential overactive (tight) and underactive (weak) muscles. Once we have determined which muscles are imbalanced, the road to healing can begin.
Step 1 – Self-Myofascial Release – I know many of us have heard of myofascial release. Foam rollers have been in the fitness “buzz” for a number of years and have been used extensively. Another modality that’s been around for 40 years called Yamuna, which utilizes rubber balls to release stress in muscles and create space in joints. Both of these modalities are great for myofascial release of overactive or tight muscle tissue. The best way I can explain this step is when the muscle is tight, the body is protecting something. When an equal and opposite pressure is applied to the tight muscle, a signal is sent to the brain that the muscle is safe and can release. This typically takes 20-30 seconds. I use a systematic approach with my clients that is very effective and one which they can do themselves when they experience muscle imbalances.
Step 2- Lengthening – A short muscle is a tight muscle and a long muscle is a muscle that can gain strength and function properly. So, once we release our tight muscle, we want to lengthen it as well. This will occur naturally from Step 1, but we can increase our range of motion and flexibility by incorporating stretching into our routine, once we have loosened the tight muscles. Modalities such as Pilates and Yoga, which incorporate gentle, mindful, stretching movements are perfect. Careful and guided stretching can greatly improve the healing process. By the way, I have said nothing about strengthening yet. Healing cannot be rushed, so take your time with these first two steps.
Step 3 – Strengthening – Two techniques can be utilized on this step: Positional Isometrics and Isolated Strengthening. Positional Isometrics is performed with the trainer or therapists. You perform isometric exercises in a specific way for a specific muscle. Isolated strengthening, which is simply put, strengthens the healing muscle or muscle group using gentle exercises. These exercises can be on machines or using free weights using props like a Bosu ball, exercise ball, and pulleys. I typically will give the client a list of exercises to focus on and once we see definite improvement we move to the next step.
Step 4 – Integration – Once you have no pain and have regained the strength in the affected muscle, then we add in full integration of movement and dynamic movement. Exercises may include resuming running, biking, swimming, HIIT workouts and for one of my clients, trapeze practice. Basically, performing your workouts at pre-injury levels.
I hope that this information about corrective exercise and muscular imbalance is helpful. I have an amazing resource that you can go to when you find yourself injured. Sam Webster, a professor from England has a YouTube Channel, where he teaches about anatomy. If you type in where you are injured, you can try to figure out what is injured. Sam Webster explains how the muscle, bones, and nerves work together to produce healthy movement. I also recommend a good chiropractor who uses ACT (Active Release Therapy), a sports doctor, and/or a personal trainer with experience with corrective exercise. Have a wonderfully “FIT” day!!
Kathy became a Personal Trainer/Corrective Exercise Specialist in 2016. She currently inspires clients to incorporate habits which alleviate joint and muscular pain, increase energy, and attain their ideal weight. Kathy’s mantra “No Pain, More Gain” is truly exemplified through her coaching technique and expertise. She has recently created a Foot Fitness Program and uses her Yamuna and Pilates Certifications to keep her clients in shape from head to toe.