It’s almost too basic for us to really focus on: we want the stabilizers to stabilize and the movers to move. We don’t want the stabilizers to be locked up tight or at the other extreme weak and unresponsive. We don’t want the movers to be doing to whole job, getting over used, tight and hurting, inflamed, torn and worse.
I think stabilizers are what many of us have been really wanting to “work on” when we give our lists of practice and outcome goals. Whether It’s neck, shoulders, back, butt, calves, wrists or even our racing thoughts that are screaming out at us. If what developed to prevent the undesirable movement of a bone or a joint is not doing that, for what ever reason, there will be a downstream effect.
So, using the above mini snippet of video from Muscle and Motion, the idea of the exercise is to strengthen the red and purple muscles- shoulder girdle muscles. To do that, we want those muscles to be fully contracting, in other words, doing the work. The tan (beige, brownish) muscles on the mannequin in this exercise (and a lot of other exercises and yoga poses) are the “stabilizers”- they should be isometrically contracted, preventing movement. In this circumstance we (and the mannequin) want the shoulder girdle to move independently of the torso. However, as you can see when the mannequin moves, it is getting a lot of movement by bending forward just a little bit and then arching it’s back and flaring it’s ribs. So, it’s working the muscles of the shoulder blades a lot less yet getting the sensation and the idea that it’s doing a lot of hard work. To top it off, because the shoulder blade muscles aren’t getting all the intended load of work, the muscles in the arms are going to end up doing more, getting tired fast and even over time inflamed or injured.
Then, years down the road, the mannequin wonders why after years of training and practicing, it’s having shoulder and / or back and/or breathing problems. After all, it’s been going to class, working out, staying committed. Or, the flip, because it had all these aches and pains and injuries, it went to yoga or the gym diligently, but the problem never resolved.
I could be that mannequin (well, except that it has the XY chromosomes, creating a “male” pelvis….). Some of you could be that mannequin, too.
So, our task is to back up, slow down, pay attention and focus on learning how to contract and then relax these stabilizer muscles, get to know the sensation of them contracted, relaxed and all the scale of degrees between the two. Our task is to focus on those sensations even though our arms are moving apart in space or pressing down into the floor.
The arms are a really only a distraction, as I like to say in class. They move easily, they are external, a sort of “hey, look over there” lure we can easily focus on. Don’t take the bait. No matter which mode of movement you are doing, the strength and mobility come from progressive stability.