The best thing you can do before and after your workout is to stretch. The biggest problem I see in the gym is that most people do not stretch mostly because it takes too much time. Personally, I have always understood the importance; however I never realized the criticality of stretching at a neuromuscluar level until I worked through my certification. At the surface most people just see a sore muscle, but it goes much deeper than that.
Force-Couple relationships are muscle groups moving together to produce movement around a joint in the body (I.E Biceps / Triceps). Muscles work in coordination with each other to perform actions and this is called Neuromuscular efficiency. This is the ability for the bodies Central Nervous System to take neural sensory input, integrate that data, and produce a result in which all of the correct muscles are activated to perform movement in all three (3) planes of motion (the Sagittal plane, the Frontal Plane and the Transverse Plane). These are the classifications we have for muscles:
- Agonist muscle – your primer movers (responsible for a particular movement)
- Antagonist muscle – the opposite muscle of the Agonist
- Synergistic muscles – these muscles assist the primer mover muscles
- Stabilizer muscles – needed to support the body or various limbs.
For more information on these types of muscles click here
The result of a sore overworked muscle will result in an under-worked muscle, and this creates muscle imbalance. This is one step closer to working towards an injury if not taken care of. In the illustration below you can see what this looks like.
As I mentioned above, the Central Nervous System is always monitoring sensory input 24×7. Let’s take a Bicep curl for example. You pick up a 20 pound dumbbell and do your last 10 repetitions of the day in the gym. As you are performing these repetitions you start to feel a burn in your bicep. As your body burns ATP for energy there will be byproducts such as lactic acid, which causes that tingling, heavy, or burning sensation, and lets you know when your muscles have had enough. After your workout this can result in sore spots and you will need to take some time off from working your biceps to rest and repair.
Let’s take a deeper look at what is happening when you are preforming the bicep curl (high level overview):
- The Central Nervous System is monitoring your activity. (high level overview)
- Afferent neural impulses are sent to the brain because you touched the dumbbell.
- The CNS develops a response and sends the Efferent neural impulses back to the muscular system, as a result you pick up the dumbbell and start to curl.
- You have 10 repetitions to perform. You are using a slow tempo of 4/2/1 because you are working on your muscular endurance and proper from.
- You will start to produce force which is causing elbow flexion by bringing the dumbbell upward.
- This is where your myofilaments (Myosin & Actin) work together in to produce a muscle contraction. This is known as the Sliding Filament Theory.
- At the top of the movement you will isometrically hold that position for 2 seconds making the contraction stronger.
- Lastly you start to eccentrically lower the dumbbell (elbow extension). This will stretch the muscle out and cause the muscle contraction to stop as the muscle lengths return to normal.
While you are doing these repetitions there are two critical components of the muscles that are doing the work here.
Muscle spindles are the major sensory organs of the muscles. The key thing to note here is that Muscle spindles have one responsibility, and that is to prevent your muscles from overstretching (at the bottom of the eccentric portion of the bicep curl). They are able to do this because they monitor the muscle fibers and sense the change in muscle length and the rate of how fast the muscles being worked are stretched.
This is where the second component the Golgi Tendon Organ comes in to play. The GTO’s job is to be on the lookout for changes in the muscle tension and rate of tension. When the GTO is stimulated it will force that muscle to relax. This is a self defense mechanism and stops you from getting hurt (I.E tearing a muscle). In the bicep curl this would help to avoid injury if you were lowing the dumbbell way to fast (note an injury could still occur here if something went wrong).
Now the next day rolls around and you notice that your biceps are really sore. This is normal because you caused inflammation to the muscles (a part of tearing them down and rebuilding them). However, when you have muscles that are overworked the bodies natural response is to activate it’s pain receptors (nocieptors) will be activated and the body goes in to a protective mode. Repeat tension on that muscle will cause the body to tighten that muscle up in a protective manor, and the result of the increased muscle tension is a muscle spasm.
During your resting period your body will try to repair the muscle damage from the bicep workout and knots or trigger points start to form. These are very isolated areas that are super sensitive to the touch. I will talk in a minute on how to get rid of this pain.
There is a something called Autogenic Inhibition that we can use to help restore the muscles we just worked on.
In layman terms Autogenic Inhibition allows us to relax tight muscles to remove knots that caused sore spots. If you remove the knots which are the sore spots you can then proceed to lengthen the muscle through static stretching. Once this is done through a few sessions you can have a greater success in correcting your muscle imbalance(s). Wooola, no more pain and your muscles are back to a normal length!!!
We can invoke this principal ourselves using a technique called Self-Myofascial Release (SMR). We can use of a foam roller or a tennis ball which both can aid in the recovery process.
So what is the technique and how do we do it?
- Grab a foam roller and if you don’t have one you can use a tennis ball. (A foam roller is highly suggested).
- Locate the knot or sore spot that hurts the most. (You may have multiple spots)
- Get the roller under that sore spot and apply pressure for approximately 30 seconds.
- Repeat to other spots and or the muscle worked out on the opposite side of your body.
The KEY here is to relax and breath while you are performing this SMR technique. This can be a bit painful depending on how bad the knots are, but after a few times you should feel the muscle finally relax. This will get you ready for static stretching.
If you do not stretch before and after your workouts you will eventually invoke a principal called Synergistic Dominance. This is a neuromuscular event that happens when other muscles take over the function of a weak or inhibited prime mover. A prime example of this would be the bench press. When someone attempts to lift more weight than they can handle and or they do not use proper form, they will have a propensity to use their Anterior Deltoids as the prime mover instead of the pectoral major (which is the primer mover for pressing movements). This can lead to a rotator cuff injury or other serious shoulder problems. This is due to the fact that the rotator cuff is meant to aid in stabilization, not the actual pressing movement.
I hope this helps a little bit! If you like this article please share it and give it a like 🙂
- Journal of Human Kinetics by J Hum Kinet. 2012 Mar; 31: 105–113.
- NASM’s Flexibility Continuum