Why getting strong is often not enough. Or not even the right solution!

We have many muscles in our body.  They come in all shapes and sizes and each of them has a unique and important job to do.  Some produce tons of power and move our limbs against high load.  Think of these as the jocks who are strong and eager to do heavy work.  Others don’t move our bodies, per se, but instead either work to control movement and/or provide information about where we are in space.  Think of these as the nerds who are crazy smart and carefully calculate the precise trajectory of our movements so it’s accurate and safe.

When we are injured, have pain due to poor movement, or are too sedentary, the jocks tend to work more and get very “tight” as they overwork.  The nerds tend to go “offline” and actually contribute less to our movement.  As the jocks shorten and work harder, joints and nerves get compressed and we lose range of movement.  As the nerds work less, we have poor control of the limited movement that we still have.  Maybe you see where this is going?  Not only do we lack the mobility to perform daily activities, but when we try, the quality of that movement is poor.  We turn to look over our shoulder to back out of the driveway and we feel a “catch” and shooting pain down our arm as the nerve root gets pinched.  We’re running to our car in the rain and feel sudden pain in our knee as the meniscus gets crunched in a single errant step.

This is not a rare problem.  It’s omnipresent when people have pain and needs to be addressed in almost every client I treat.  It’s also the most commonly missed dysfunction when pain or poor movement isn’t resolving.  Many of us understand that short or overworked muscles (the jocks) need to be lengthened and have tried stretching so stop their relentless firing.  While it’s not always as simple as stretching short and overly tight muscles, it’s the right idea.  The part we miss is the activation bit where we wake up the nerds to get them back “online” and doing their smart work.

A common example of this is the balance between the short chest muscles (pectoralis muscles) in the front of the shoulder and the inhibited mid back muscles (low traps) between the shoulder blades.  This imbalance is common because of our tendency to live with our shoulders and heads forward as we look at our screens.  I posted a YouTube video on how to lengthen the pecs and open up the shoulders and ribs last week.  I often ask my clients to follow up their foam roll chest stretching with this low trap activator.

This jock/nerd phenomenon plays out all over the body from the head to the feet.  It’s critically important that we address both the short and overactive jocks as well as the under-performing nerds as we try to clean up our movement and posture.  Let me know what you think and how this goes for you.

Thanks for reading.

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