Assisted Movements Can Lead to Improved Muscle Function
I would like to give credit to one of my clients for suggesting this idea for the blog post. During a workout she commented on how amazing it is that small adjustments in position and a little help guiding a movement can make such a difference in what she feels during exercise. Here is how it happened.
I had her doing a group of assisted abdominal exercises. She was lying on the floor on her back with her knees bent and her feet off the ground as shown below.
I put my hands on her knees (where hers are in the picture) and asked her to push against my hands. She pushed with one leg at a time, alternating legs to work each hip flexor and her abdominals simultaneously from side to side.
Next, we moved to about 60-90 seconds of low intensity abdominal movements. I stood near her feet and held the soles of her feet while she did flutter kicks, ins and outs, bilateral leg lateral swings, and a variety of other abdominal strengthening movements. I directed her to move her legs in specific directions and used my hands to help move her legs and support their weight. This enabled her abs to work at a level that did not fatigue them as quickly as if she did not have my help. We finished with some quick crunches as she held on to a light resistance band to help her get her shoulders off the floor and remind her to keep her head back. The neck muscles really want to help with trunk flexion, and you must consciously prevent them from assisting by keeping your head in a neutral position. If the neck gets tired too quickly, I sometimes provide support by holding the head up from behind to relieve the neck muscles and allow the abs to fatigue even further.
The purpose in helping her was to allow the abdominals to work at a lower level for a longer time, building muscular endurance. This is similar to a concept I learned from a mentor of mine, Gary Gray, called “Functional Manual Reaction” https://www.grayinstitute.com/files/GIFT_FMR_Final.pdf.
As muscles fatigue during exercise, other body parts usually compensate. For example, when abdominal muscles tire during abdominal exercises, the hip flexors, lower back muscles and/or the neck muscles typically take over. Very subtle changes in the position of your neck, shoulders, hip rotation and any number of other joint positions will impact what is being asked to work vs. what is not being engaged during a movement. Gary Gray uses the term “tweaking a position.” If you tweak a position during an exercise you can create a new exercise. These subtle changes make the number of exercises a person can perform increase exponentially.
Here are some things to think about to help you work out more effectively, efficiently, and safely, leading to improved muscle function. That is why we work out, isn’t it?
- When you are doing a movement, pay attention to what you feel.
- You should feel your muscles, not your joints.
- Don’t lift too heavy – the greater the load, the greater the chance of injury.
- If you are lifting light weights, you can modify positions more safely than when you are doing heavy lifts. The risk for injury goes way up as you increase the load, and you need to maintain proper form to prevent muscle strain.
- Speed matters. The slower you go the more fatigued you will get, and more muscle fibers will be recruited.
- As you move faster you will use more momentum and be able to do more reps. Mix it up, varying slow and fast movements while maintaining control.
- Listen to your body, build slowly, stay consistent, do a variety of movements, sleep well, and stay hydrated. Follow these simple rules and you will see improvements in how you move and feel in no time at all.