Following an injury, we are often told that certain muscles are weak and need to be strengthened. Since most stories have two sides, I want to talk about the other side of the story. It has been my experience that often along with a weak or inhibited muscle lives a shortened hypertonic muscle that is calling all the shots. If your body is being pulled out of balance by one of these ‘bullies,’ strengthening the opposing muscle to find balance can be a seriously uphill battle. Making a muscle pull against one that is already chronically pulling can make for a tug-of-war in your body. Where there is war, there is no peace.
Identifying the bully and pursuing structural bodywork that is aimed at lengthening, differentiating, and reeducating the culprit, can lead you to balance quicker. Once the bully isn’t restricting, it becomes easier to strengthen the weak side and create tonic balance which leads to healthier joint positioning.
Here is an example of my ‘bully theory.’
You might see a person with legs that turn inward toward each other (knock kneed) and think they could use some strength is their lateral hip rotators, and this would most likely be true. However, addressing the medial hip rotators that could be stuck in a shortened or contracted position will make strengthening the opposers much easier. The medial rotators such as Tensor Fascia Latae may also need to be separated manually (facially speaking) from it’s neighbor- the Lateral Quad. Bullies tend to pull in their neighbors as well! Once TFL is not chronically contracted and free, the other muscles can be allowed to do their own jobs instead of always being either recruited or inhibited by the bully (quads to flex, lateral hip rotators to rotate, etc.).
The same is true throughout the body. I often see Transverse Abdominis (TVA), the deepest abdominal muscle, inhibited by the Psoas, the Rectus Abdominis or even the superior Quad tendons. After abdominal or back surgeries as well as pregnancies, TVA is often left needing to reboot. In the interim, Psoas and others are perfectly willing to take on the job!
With lower back pain, sometimes people are sent off to strengthen TVA to help alleviate their symptoms only to discover that the stiffness between their spinal segments (the bullies), have created compressions that might only be made worse by TVA strengthening to soon. In this case, creating length and regaining lower back mobility first, would allow for TVA strengthening that would support the lower spine instead of increasing existing compressions.
Don’t get me wrong, the compensation ability of our bodies is absolutely essential and definitely one that I am personally most thankful for. It’s just that once the body has made an adaptation, it doesn’t just go back to doing things the way it used to. The adaptation becomes the new norm. It is up to us through our own awareness of our bodies, to identify the bullies in order to bring the body back into balance.