Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Oppositional Muscle Groups Work Together

The body is composed of sets of oppositional muscles that work together to create stability and range of motion. Each muscle group is just as important as its opposing muscle group, but some get more glory than others.

For instance, we love to have strong quad muscles to define our upper legs. But for the quads to be toned, the hamstrings must be flexible and strong as well.

This is because these two muscle groups work together to create movement at the knee. When you bend your knee walking up a steep hill, the quads lengthen and the hamstrings shorten. When you straighten your knee back out (when walking down the hill), the quads contract to strengthen your leg, and the hamstrings relax to allow that to happen.

Here’s where it gets complicated though… the hamstrings can’t relax entirely, or your leg would lose control of the step. Instead, the hamstrings know to relax and extend just enough to accommodate the straightening of the leg, and yet still keep it all under control. A little bit of tension in the hamstring ensures that you don’t hyperextend your knee and lock your leg.

Some other examples of opposing muscles:
• In the upper arms, the triceps and the biceps
• The core muscles and the lower back muscles
• The upper back muscles and the pectoral (chest) muscles

Together, each pair of muscle groups work together in an intricate and harmonious way through an intricate neurological feedback loop that allows for healthy and efficient movement. That’s why it’s important to give equal attention to your opposing muscle groups when planning a workout.

A good trainer will ensure you keep your opposing muscle groups in harmony, and make sure your routine includes plenty of diversity of movement in three planes of motion.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  • Balancing pushing and pulling exercises in the upper body is a good place to start.
  • In the lower body we make sure you bend at the hip without movement in the spine, and that your knees ankles and hips can flex and extend in tandem.

Lark Miller
phone: 415.250.5236

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