Have you ever had the experience of releasing tight muscles one day, only to be right back there within a day or two with the same level of tightness in the same place? I certainly have, and have now learned the ‘First Law of NeuroKinetics’! (This is my labelling, rather than a formal academic name!) But it is very useful indeed as a framework for daily bodycare!
What’s the solution?
The challenge of releases – whether a sports massage, stretching or releases is that usually the results are transient. The muscle patterns are leading to overload on that muscle group are not changed by releasing the muscle. So for all that it feels good, it does not change the cause of the tightness and hence it comes back very quickly. So rather than recovering, it can feel like painting the Forth bridge – constantly going back over the same areas.
So I have learned ‘the first law of NeuroKinetics’, ie that releases must always be accompanied with focused activation and strengthening of the opposing muscle in the pair. And then into additional activation that recruits the synergists correctly – probably involving bigger movement patterns than the more focused agonist/antagonist activation exercises. [I have to admit that there are some parts of the body where the interactions are more complex and one muscle may be inhibiting two, three or four others! Still the same principle, but a much more complex unit.]
Looking back I can see that this was in some of the programmes that I have been given. But having it front and centre of my mind is very useful indeed.
Working through a case study
As a ‘for instance’ – if the adductors are tight it suggests that they are doing a lot more stabilising of the hip region than they should be. The simplest opposing movement is abduction, which involves the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor faciae latae (TFL). And the synergist to adduction is the inside edge of the quads, whilst the synergists to abduction are more spread across the lumbopelvic area – involving the psoas, piriformis, quadratus lumborum and rectus femoris.
The first job is to release the adductors – and there are a lot of them. Some people talk of the ‘long’ adductors (which give you the feeling down the inside of the leg between the groin and the inside knee) and the ‘short’ adductors (which you can feel in vertical lines as you move out from the groin across more towards the hip and before you reach the rectus femoris).
There are five adductors and one of the mnemonics to remember them starting from nearest the hip and moving through the groin and into the inside leg is ‘Please Baby, Love My Groin!’ – ie Pectineus and Brevis (the ‘short’ adductors), Longus, Magnus, Gracilis (the ‘long’ adductors).
The reason that it is useful to understand this is in the stretching and releases. The long adductors are normally stretched with the legs more than shoulder width and dropping the weight vertically over a bent knee on one side. However, there are three different foot positions for the straight leg and these stretch the three different adductors. The short adductors are usually stretched with the ‘frog’ stretch, but it will take some hip movements side-to-side and the weight forward and back to stretch both of the adductors involved.
Likewise, using the edge of a foam roller or a ball to get into the areas for release will require different locations to find which ones need the most release and then getting into them to release them.
For completeness, I need to mention that good breathing methods and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) can really make a difference to the quality of the releases and stretches.
Then we need in the exact same session to get into the activation exercises. There is no need to fear that they will tighten up the area that you have just released. In fact, it is the exact opposite! The more the agonist contracts successfully, the better the antagonist switches off and relaxes.
The reason that you do the exercises is two-fold:
- Neuromuscular repatterning. You are programming the nervous system to send the right messages and the muscles to respond to them. It is likely that the body has got out of the habit – and this is why perfect form is so important (you need to teach the body correctly) and why usually it is sets of 15, 3 times with a recovery interval of around 1 minute between the sets (to ensure that the body ‘hears’ the message).
- Muscular strengthening. You will also be putting the demand on a muscle that may not have been working for a little while. So the load over a period of a couple of weeks will ensure that new fibres are made and the muscle strengthens.
So back to the example, side-leg raises are a great starting point and then we can include some abduction movements (opening the hip) either on machines or via the ‘opening the gate movement’. More complex movements can include side plank (or side half-plank if it needs regressing) with moving the top leg up and down, forward and back and then in half-moon movements starting from close to the floor in front of the lower leg and finishing close to the floor behind the lower leg.
Then we can move into some more overall movements to get the synergists moving – for instance a front or back lunge, probably breaking it into stages of movement to make sure that each part of the movement is balanced and strong, whilst moving smoothly between the positions.
If it still remains tight
If after two weeks of a daily programme on both the releasing and the activating is not making any difference to the tightness, then it does not mean that the law is wrong! It just means that with the complexity of the body’s movements and interactions we did not choose the correct opposing movement and therefore probably have the wrong muscle pairing. So we need to go back to the analysis stage and look at what other interactions are going on and simply go again with another pairing. Patience and focus does pay dividends.
Best of luck!
PS – for any Urban Dictionary readers, this is all IRL!