Plymouth Personal Trainer

Personal Trainer Plymouth

Personal Training Plymouth

Plymouth Personal Training



Antagonistic Muscle Pairs 10/06/2011

Using knowledge about how muscles and joints operate can help us to create more efficient and effective training session and protocols for aiding muscular balance and improving athletic performance. None of us want to waste our time in the gym so take a moment to understand the concept and application of antagonistic muscle pairs.

Muscles or muscle groups work in that what trainers refer to as antagonistic pairs. These pairs cause opposing movements at a given joint. Take, for example, the hip joint. On the front of the hip joint there is a muscle group called the hip flexors. The hip flexor group is made up of the rectus femoris, illiacus and the psoas major. These are the muscles that the body uses to draw the knee towards the chest when in a standing position. The opposing muscle group for the hip flexors are the hip extensors. The hip flexors are made up of the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings. They perform the opposite movement to the hip flexors. If you kick someone in the shins who is standing behind you then the movement at the hip would be hip extension.

Reciprocal Inhibition

Antagonistic muscle pairs have an incredible relationship. When contracted together both sets of muscles in a pair provides great static joint stability. However, normal everyday activities which involve movement such as walking, running and strength exercises in the gym rely on these muscular pairs contracting AND RELAXING in perfect synchronisation with each other. This synchronisation is helped by a neuro-muscular phenomenom called reciprocal inhibition. The nervous system is programmed to automatically inhibit (prevent) the contraction of a muscle group when its opposing (antagonistic) muscle group contracts. Using our example of the hip joint when the hip extensors contract to move the knee away from the chest the hip flexors are automatically inhibited, relaxing them and creating less resistance for the working extensor muscles. This leads to easier more efficient movement as the antagonistic pair work in harmony to achieve the same goal at a joint.

Training Relevance

When you are looking to increase your performance in a given activity such as running, jumping or squatting or indeed improve your posture it is important to look at improving the movement mechanics at both sides of the joint. For example in trying to improve your sprinting/running speed or vertical jumping ability it is the usual method to try and strengthen the major hip extensors, namely the glutes and hamstrings, in order to increase the force of hip extension and subsequent propulsion of the body. However this is only half of the story. If you have tight hip flexor muscles they will resist hip extension in the movements you are trying to improve and will make both your training and performance far from optimal. Training must be tailored to hit both of the antagonistic muscle groups at any joint you are looking to train. Lets look at a couple of sample strategies for working muscles in their antagonistic pairs to improve flexibility, mobility, strength and athletic performance.

Personal Training Tips

In the table below I have included an antagonistic pair training example to improve hip extension and another to improve scapular retraction. Hip extension mechanics can also greatly improve the posture of the lower back and as such is hugely useful in reducing/eliminating exercise related low back pain. Scapular retraction (the drawing back of the shoulder blades) is also hugely beneficial for postural correction. Doing the scapular retraction exercises suggested below will help to correct any potential imbalances which may have occurred as a result of over emphasising pressing movements such as the bench press or press ups. An added benefit for the muscle building men out there is that improving the mechanics of your scapular retraction will cause your chest to look bigger immediately! It may also hold similar benefits for you girls out there ;-) so try out these combo’s and watch them work for you. Just remember, you try theses at your own risk. The benefit of these exercises is in their detail so if you want to get some expert instruction to improve any aspect of your fitness training then get in touch for a free consultation. Find out how having your own personal strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer can help you!

Perform these pair of exercises for the hip immediately after each other and repeat for 3 rounds. Then move on to the Scapular retraction exercises following the same protocol. If you click on the exercise names below you will see video clips demonstrating the correct performance of these exercises.

Hip Extension – Couch Stretch (60 seconds/leg)/ Hip Thrust (10 × 5 second holds)

Scapular Retraction – Pec Stretch (60 seconds/arm)/ Cable Face Pull (15 reps)

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