Compensations and warming up

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Many people are talking about muscle compensations at the moment. Compensations occur when there is less than optimal function of either a muscle, group of muscles and/ or the skeletal and fascial systems of the body.

Without going into possible reasons and scenarios as to why this happens, the outcome can be that one or two muscles from a group can be forced to work harder than others related. This would make the muscle(s), the 'compensator (s)' of movement, i.e if a persons glute max (the biggest muscle of your bum) is not working to full capacity, then your brain may ask the iliacus (a functional opposite) to tighten up, thus preventing the hip from going into full extension. Why? Well in an extended hip position, the glute max will be the main driver, but it will also provide stability. If the glute is not able to stabilize the hip in extension, your brain will simply not allow the joint to move into such a position.

How does this relate to warming up? Well ideally we would like to have all of our fascial and muscle systems working in balance and synchronicity while we flow freely through movement. Believe it or not, these over active muscles I am talking about can and will cause other muscles to underwork. We would call over working muscles 'facilitators'. The under active muscles are named as 'inhibited'. Try this: flex your bicep like you're doing a curl or something (strong man pose!). With your bicep flexed, now try and flex your tricep...you can't! As your bicep flexes, your tricep must relax to allow this movement at the elbow joint to occur.
Although this is a voluntary movement, this same relationship can and does occur involuntarily. Do you have tightness in the same areas constantly? No matter how much you stretch? Maybe you're always having massages on so called 'tight' areas, yet the relief is short lived.

With out getting into the difference between actual tightness and perceived tightness (short and tight vs long and tight), why not think about why a muscle may be over worked; by searching for possible 'lazy' culprits in the surrounding area. If one muscle is constantly over working, instead of stretching and massaging it, maybe look to 'wake up' some of the related musculature. You may just free the 'tight muscle' in question simply by waking up his lazy neighbour. Try this; lie on your back with your arms relaxed by your side and legs straight out, flat on the floor. Now do a sit up. Notice what happens? Do you swing an arm? Do you kick a leg or knee up to pull yourself up? If you are one of those who has to swing a leg in the air to sit up, your hip flexors are compensating for your abs. That was involuntary, if you spotted it see if you can resist. If the answer is no, then maybe you need to release your hip flexors before training your abs.

This subject is far more complex than this article suggests, but as a thought process, maybe stop concentrating on your tight areas and start working your lazy bits! Of course your warmup is where this should take place, the result being; when it's time to climb, your body will be far more balanced and your brain will utilise more muscles for movement and skeletal control. Instead of asking the already over worked muscles to provide everything needed.

So in short, a good dynamic warm up should include muscle activation, as well as muscle release. Of course seek out a suitable practitioner for an assessment if all is not clear!

  • Will Brunnen