Are Your Muscles Working as a Team?

Let’s talk about teamwork.

I am not necessarily thinking, “Team America” style teamwork right now, but that does make me laugh a bit. The teamwork I am thinking about is how the muscles of our body work in perfect harmony to create movement, provide stabilization, and promote balance.

Of course, you have heard that a team is only as strong as its weakest player, and sometimes our weakest player is the one overpowering the situation. Pain patterns and range of motion limitations in our joints often result from imbalances and weakness in our muscular system. I point out that it’s potentially the “strongest” muscle causing the most problems because it is very easy for that muscle to overpower the stabilizing muscles and the smaller muscles.

It is important to briefly explain how the muscles work together so we can begin to clearly see how they can work together to promote harmony — or conversely, against each other to create pain:

  1. The Agonist: This is is the primary mover involved in an action.
  2. The Antagonist: This refers to the muscle in the action that opposes the agonist. The antagonist primary reaction is to relax, so the agonist muscle can perform the desired function. Secondarily, the antagonist if not required to fully relax, will be used to slow down or stop the movement. The antagonist will slow or stop a movement if the agonist muscle is being overloaded by too much weight, in this case the slowing of the action helps create enough tension to help the agonist muscle complete the task. The antagonist is very important in helping the agonist and synergist deal with the forces of gravity as well.
  3. The Synergist: The primary function is to stabilize the joint around which movement is occurring, which greatly assists the agonist in completing the desired function. The secondary purpose is to help create the desired movement, it assists the agonist.
  4. The Fixator: The primary purpose is to stabilize the origin of the agonist and the joint that the muscle’s cross or moves over during the movement. The majority of the fixator muscles are found working around the hip and shoulder joints.

By breaking down the basic function of a movement, one can see the impact a fatigued or injured antagonist muscle will have on the overall movement of an agonist muscle during a weight-bearing exercise or motion. If that antagonist cannot handle slowing down the motion, then the agonist and the synergist muscle will suffer — most likely resulting in a strain or overuse injury.

To ensure your muscles are working as team and to maximize your muscle potential use these few tips:

  1. take time to recover after exercise
  2. slow down your movements to focus on your mechanics
  3. regular sleep
  4. hydration
  5. break repetitive patterns

Do you you have any imbalances that you’d like bring back into harmony? A muscle assessment will help you develop a complete understanding of your muscle, structural, and postural health.

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