Maximal performance happens when you are not closed and guarding, but open and able to respond immediately to the demands placed upon you. Your nervous system underlies this all, controlling what you can and cannot do.
Compensation patterns are often the cause of non contact injuries, as the body shifts primary control from low-responsive muscles to higher-responsive “cheat” patterns.
The body holds memory of how you experience the world, changing and adapting to protect you from future harm and allowing you to continue to move despite previous injury or trauma. Tension and compensation patterns develop to stabilise where stability is lost impacting your mindset, breathing, mobility, flexibility, movement and ultimately performance.
However you CAN change your nervous system state, and IMMEDIATELY change the above.
In the meantime, here is something to think about…
We mostly use the muscles we use the most
The body has a priority to move, and movement requires the stabilisation, flexion, and extension of the hip.
Though hard to imagine in our modern world, if the body cannot move (i.e. hunt, carry, escape, procreate, etc), it cannot survive. Therefore the body will do what it can to maintain flexion and extension even if there is inhibition or dysfunction of the primary muscles involved.
- Hip Flexion: Psoas, iliacus, tensor fascia latae, rectus femoris, anterior adductors (especially pectineus), sartorius
- Hip Extension: Gluteus maximus, biceps femoris (long head), semitendinosus, semimembranosus, posterior head of adductor magnus
Non-optimal strategies come about for a variety of reasons, one of the most common being the inhibition and “loss” of glute response due to our more sedentary lifestyle. As a bipedal animal, the glutes maintain our upright position, have connection with the erector spinae and thoraco-lumbar fascia, and co-contract along with the iliopsoas complex (psoas, iliacus) to provide lumbo-sacral stabilisation.
Problems occur when for whatever reason the flexor / extensor response, muscle fibre recruitment, and subsequent strength is poor. Since the priority of the body is to continue to move, other muscles will be recruited to take over the role of stabilisation, flexion, and extension.
Hip-extension can be initiated from the hamstrings and erector spinae (common in people with lower back pain), hip-flexion from the quads and tibialis anterior (over-developed quads), and hip-stabilisation may originate from the abdominals, shoulder, arm, or even jaw (tension and pain).
If the drivers of flexion (psoas) and extension (glutes) are not responsive and strong, other muscles will be recruited. If other muscle are recruited then they themselves are hampered from doing their roles, other compensatory muscles are recruited, and the dysfunction spreads.
As we move and train, these non-optimal compensatory “cheat” patterns become stronger and we simply get better at cheating. We will always use the cheat unless the primary muscles take over.
- If we are cheating we will eventually get hurt. Muscles should perform their primary roles, not the roles of other muscles. You cannot optimally use your arm and shoulder, if your shoulders and neck are trying to drive inwards and down to stabilise your hips. You cannot walk optimally if you cannot fully dorsiflex your ankles because your calfs are tight from driving upwards to be “pseudo glutes”. If your abdominals are chronically active, your breathing will be short, predominate in the chest, and feed into the sympathetic nervous system response, impeding your ability to relax and have optimal muscle length and tension.
- We want to train what we want to train. If we can get the right muscles to fire in the right patterning, we can train the muscles we want to train, and not the compensation patterns. If we can focus the nervous system response to the primary drivers of movement, this will allow the muscle-tendon structures and motor control patterns to be developed which will ultimately feed back into performance.
Quite simply, if your breathing, psoas and glutes are active from the onset of your warm-up, everything else will improve going forwards.