Not all muscles were created equal. Some were given the responsibility of strength or speed and some help us to maintain our balance – most of these are the superficial muscles that we can see working under the skin. Some examples are our quads, biceps or deltoids. It is relatively easy to change their shape and tone with strength training (and emotionally satisfying to see their new definition!).
However, the most important muscles are below the surface, acting like flexible nuts and bolts for our skeleton and holding our joints steady when we move. Known as postural muscles, they hold us upright and ensure that the forces we generate in our large superficial muscles can be efficiently transferred across each joint along a kinetic chain. In the context of the average sedentary work day, it is these postural muscles that are likely to have more of an impact on the development of postural imbalances, biomechanical dysfunction and injuries.
It’s definitely not as satisfying for people to work on the strength of these muscles because they can’t ‘see’ the results in the mirror, but programming for these muscles will no doubt reduce their pain, increase function and mobility, and protect against injury for years to come – and who doesn’t want that as part of their training goals?
Here are just three muscles that will make a huge impact on musculoskeletal health and should be addressed in your programming in EVERY training session. It’s like thinking about nutrition – any meal that isn’t a healthy one is a lost opportunity to improve your health. You’re eating anyway, why not add an apple?
Also known as the ‘boxer’s muscle’ for the way it shows itself on the side of the chest during a jab, this muscle inserts onto the medial border of the scapula and originates from several of your ribs. Besides holding the scapula flat against the ribs so they don't wing out and assisting with protraction (scapula moving forward), what’s more important is the SA’s role in scapulohumeral rhythm. It works with the Lower and Upper Trapezius and Rhomboids to rotate the scapula during abduction of the humerus.
If the Serratus Anterior is weak, the Upper Traps pick up the load and can become overactive, which in turn inhibits the function of the Lower Traps and Supraspinatus. During abduction (taking your arm above your head), this causes the head of the humerus to get jammed into the top ridge of the glenohumeral joint, rather than pulled down neatly into the socket as is supposed to happen. The risk is that the client is then susceptible to shoulder impingement injuries and bursitis as the humerus squashes the surrounding soft tissues.
Watch the below video for a Serratus Anterior activation exercise, which you can use for therapeutic benefit before a workout to improve your shoulder stability, positioning and reduce pain.
The Glute Med, which originates from the ilium and inserts onto the greater trochanter of the femur, is the most important of the gluteal group for pelvic stability. If you haven't head of this muscle yet, have you even had physical therapy?!
When your Glute Med is inhibited, your hip drops causing medial knee rotation: this has a detrimental effect on the biomechanics of the leg and increases the general wear and tear on the hip and knee. For knees that are already struggling, a weak Glute Med takes it from bad to worse. Furthermore, the lumbar vertebrae become misaligned due to the rotation, which places excessive stress on the facet joints and vertebral discs.
To correct Glute Med weakness, be sure to start each training session with basic activation exercises such as Clams or Crab Walks with a Bungee. Once you can activate the muscle consistently, you can move onto side holds, step ups, long GM holds and various versions of lunges.
Watch this video for why side holds are great for your Glute Med, help to reduce low back pain and a simple trick to make sure you are doing them right.
The latest statistic I read from the Chiropractors Association Queensland was that 80% of Australians will experience disabling lower back pain at some point during their lives! That is a telling statistic and one I’d believe given the lifestyle choices we make (read: sedentary).
Your TA is your ‘human weight belt’, wrapping around your torso to support your lumbar spine. Show me a weight lifter who can lift heavier WITHOUT a belt on and I'll eat my own sweaty socks! So of course it goes without saying that if we strengthen our 'natural weight belt', we will see better performance across all sports as well as reduced injury risk.
Strengthening the TA also just isn't about adding more weight - it's about making sure it will turn on in any position, no matter if we are standing straight, bending over, stepping up or down, running or twisting. So to really reduce injury risk and improve performance, we need to do both a wide range of movements in our training, as well as lots of movement that is specific to our chosen sport or activity.
If you run, do your core work on one leg to mimic your single-leg run stance. If you paddle board, do lots of rotation. If you are a power lifter, do your core work in bench press or hinge position. And if you are human, do a little bit of everything so you can get the shopping in from the car or empty the dishwasher pain-free.
Here is a video *from the archives* that leaves you no excuses but to add in a TA core finisher to your next training session (and hating my taste in music!).
5 more muscles...
For those who are REALLY keen to learn, here are 5 more muscles that will help you reduce pain! I can feel another blog post coming on....
As Myotherapists and Remedial Massage Therapists, we provide an alternative to physiotherapy.
If you are a runner, a gym-goer, a social sport player or just generally an active person who is struggling with pain, we can help you get back to the activities you love.
We perform clinical assessment, soft tissue therapy techniques and movement coaching to relieve joint pain and movement dysfunction. We provide pain relief and successful treatment for conditions such as:
- low back/disc related pain, hip pain and radiating sciatica
- shoulder pain, bursitis, impingements and pain radiating into the arm
- runners experiencing hip, knee and shin pain.