Improve Muscle Balance and Stability Part 2
Welcome back for the second installment of my three-part series on muscular imbalance and its effects on performance. I hope you took the opportunity to read the first part of this article and perform the assignment. Did you take a look at the postural alignment of your clients? Did you notice the faults that I had mentioned? See anything common amongst them?
This article will start a foundation for understanding misalignment of the head, neck, and shoulder complex. Faulty positioning of the shoulder girdle can be caused by a number of reasons, such as jobs that involve long periods of sitting or computer work, sport specific muscle imbalances, or an excessive amount of volume performed in a workout program such as too much bench pressing without an equal amount of pulling exercises. Faulty positioning of the shoulder girdle will also cause many orthopedic, as well as neurological symptoms, such as thoracic outlet syndrome, numbness and tingling in the hands, shoulder impingement, and shoulder instability. Protraction of the shoulder girdle will also decrease respiratory volume and overload the secondary muscles of inspiration such as the pec minor, omohyoid, upper traps and scalenes. This can lead to painful myofascial trigger points and ischemia in the tissues, causing neuromuscular inhibition of the antagonists and faulty biomechanics in the joints.
Faulty positioning of the head and neck will lead to increased stress on the neck musculature, jaw complex, and will also contribute to myofascial trigger points that can cause headache and migraines. One important factor that I learned from Paul Chek is that females have approximately 40% less neck musculature than their male counterparts and yet their heads still weigh about 8% of their bodyweight, which is the same in males. It seems likely that this could be a reason why many more women, on average seem to suffer from headaches, migraines, and general neck pain. Think about it, if you have weak neck muscles, yet they must support something roughly the weight of a bowling ball, it won’t take long before they become overloaded.
Let’s take a look at the most common misalignment of the head, neck, and shoulder complex. This misalignment is called “Upper Crossed Syndrome” by Vladimir Janda, MD. The “Upper Crossed Syndrome” involves a few distinct features. One being a forward head posture, which in a positive test involves the zygomatic arch under the eye to gravitate more than 3cm forward of the sternoclavicular joint as seen in the picture. The second visual assessment is the position of the shoulders. As seen in the picture, the shoulders appear slumped or rounded forward, and there is a noticeable rounded appearance of the thoracic spine. The third visual assessment is from the posterior view. The scapula appear to be winged and abducted. The normal position of the scapula is about 2-4 inches from the spine.
Through his research Janda has found that certain muscles in the body tend to be prone to becoming facilitated/tight, or inhibited/long and possibly weak. This is the reason why certain muscle imbalance syndromes tend to be so common. The muscles that tend to become short and hypertonic are the suboccipitals, upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, pec minor, lats, and pec major. The muscles that tend to be inhibited or weak include the rhomboids, lower trapezius, serratus anterior, posterior deltoid, external rotator cuff, and the deep cervical flexors.
So how do we start to correct this problem? First of all, we must remind our clients to maintain a corrected postural alignment as often as possible. Cues such as “Pull your shoulders back”, and “Tuck your chin back,” will do well for starters. Have your client perform these corrections every hour on the hour, even when they perform their cardio exercise. Take advantage of correcting them while they are in the gym with you, because they may not do it on their own at home. Stretches should be emphasized on all of the tight muscles listed above prior to their workout.
Because of limited space in this article, find a good stretching book to assist you in the selection of stretches. Performing the stretches for 3 sets each for 30 seconds will serve to decrease neural impulses sent to the muscles and prevent over-recruitment during exercises. Exercises can also be added at the end of their routine to assist in strengthening the weaknesses. Three exercises that I use frequently in my routines are the Prone Cobra, Chin Tucks, and Standing Cable Rows with emphasis on scapular retraction, and depression. For the Prone Cobra and Floor Chin Tucks, your goal is to eventually work your clients up to 3-5 minute straight holds, but to start, hold each for 30 seconds, then rest 15 seconds, and continue in this manner until the client cannot hold for a full 30 seconds. Other variations can be used for weaker or stronger clients. Rows should use a slow tempo and high reps if postural endurance is the goal. Use a 3 second lift, a 3 second negative for 15-20 reps. Remember to keep rest times down under 1 minute to emphasize endurance.
Read Part 1: How to Improve Muscle Balance and Stability for Increased Performance
Read Part 3: Faulty Alignment of the Pelvis