If you experience pain or feel like you don’t move and function as well as you used to, you may have been told that certain muscles in your body are tight, weak or inactive.
As a Clinical Somatic Educator and holistic Personal Trainer, I’d like to explain exactly what tight, weak and inactive muscles are. I’ll also introduce a simpler, gentler way that you can have greater voluntary control of your muscles in order to move well and, therefore, live well.
Weak muscles are muscles that are not strong. Strong muscles can lift, push and pull against resistance. Tight muscles are that way due to being chronically contracted and, therefore, shortened. Tight muscles can be a result of inactivity or poor posture and alignment. They can also result from an imbalanced strength training program.
To explain inactive muscles, let’s look at a bit of physiology. Most muscles work in opposition to each other. For example, the bicep and tricep muscles of your upper arm interact to bend and straighten your arm. As one set of muscles contracts and shortens, the opposite ones lengthen.
When you feel like you can’t get your muscles to contract, or “fire,” you most likely have inactive muscles.
Most methods for correcting tight, weak or inactive muscles typically rely on force, such as stretching, massaging or strengthening, and using force actually works against achieving your goals.
Somatic Education (SE) offers a simpler, gentler approach for reclaiming full voluntary control of your muscles so they can contract when needed and relax when not.
It is not bodywork or fitness training, but rather neuromuscular re-education addressing the root of all motor patterns (the brain), because what you do is under the control of your brain and nervous system.
SE views how the whole body functions, as opposed to isolating certain body parts or individual muscles. The body should move like a well-orchestrated system of levers and pulleys. However, if an area of the body, such as the low back, chest or lateral waist and rib cage, is chronically contracted, that tightness hinders your freedom of voluntary movement.
So, from a whole-body perspective, let’s consider the lower back, which is a common area of tightness. When the lower back is tight, quite often so are hamstrings, calves, soles of the feet and the shoulder blade region.
You might feel like your abs are weak and hard to engage, perceiving them as inactive, but in fact, the abs are just lengthened due to a bowing of the back.
Other therapeutic modalities would likely recommend that you do abdominal “core” work to address this problem. Stretching the low back may also be encouraged, but science now knows that stretching does not get muscles to relax to their natural resting length.
Alternatively, Somatics addresses releasing the low back tightness with gentle, mindful movements called pandiculations – natural, instinctive movements that serve to re-educate the brain, to release muscle tension without fighting it.
With the low back relaxed, there is no reason to tighten the abs. Somatic awareness makes natural alignment easier to achieve rather than harder.
If you’ve grown weary of working hard to feel better, consider SE as a way to achieve a more enjoyable life.
Kristin Jackson, CCSE,