Why “regress to progress”? That always seemed like such a pejorative phrase to me. After all, regress is defined as “Verb. (intransitive) To move backwards to an earlier stage”. Why spend 30 minutes a day doing “corrective exercises”. How about 20 minutes of “Activation”?
I’m trying to gain strength, move better, have more endurance. In my mind I used to translate "regress to progress" into “You aren’t good enough.” It brought back old feeling of shame around my lack of physical ability.
However, back in 2003 a botched abdominal surgery came a lot of seemingly unrelated chronic pain, followed by a steady progression of minor injuries and decreased mobility. Just a couple of years ago a shoulder injury that would not go away landed me at physical therapy. There, for the first time I was introduced to the concept of “Inactive Muscles”. For some reason, all those years in yoga, and a couple at the gym, it seemed the thinking was all the muscles fired, they just had to be brought to conscious awareness or strengthened. I had been given the impression that my body knew how to fire everything needed, I just had to chose to do so and then diligently train for increased strength.
Or the reverse, relax.
Just last spring, I took a 14 week class that focused on identifying and strengthening “The Core”, including the pelvic floor, internal, external obliques and their effects upon the body as a whole. I wrote a newsletter on some of the exciting (to me) information I had learned, “WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT ALL THIS ANATOMY GEEK STUFF?. In it, I highlighted just the tip of the iceberg on the nuances and intricacies of activating the pelvic floor muscles. I wrote of the tendency to overuse the deep lateral hip rotators as pelvic stabilizers. Little did I know I was in fact writing this newsletter for my own compensatory muscular tendency.
Here now, I arrive at my past months' adventures: discovering just a few benefits of engaging “lateral abdominals” to release the deep lateral hip rotators.
This past September, my doctor referred me to a Pelvic Floor physical therapist (without me asking or mentioning my recent studies, coincidently). I jumped on the opportunity to learn more, arriving with an open mind and an agenda to get stronger. The Physical Therapist assessed me at “very strong”, and then added a biofeedback device which showed the pelvic floor muscles constantly activated. “Relax!”, she directed. I tried, nothing changed. I spent the week paying close attention, and reported back, “I don’t know how to 'relax'”. Hooked backed up to the biofeedback, I followed all her instructions, but nothing changed. Finally, I ask, "Can try doing a postural corrective I learned?", What do you know- the meter on the biofeedback ticked down into “relaxed” number range and remained there. That corrective practice of keeping my front ribs from "flaring" when I inhale and stabilizing my shoulder blades creates enough support that the gripping muscles in my pelvis can let go.
The funny thing is earlier in the month, my personal trainer had me do a plank with reach during the workout. My body rocked side to side as each hand reached. “Stay tight in the core”, he cued me. “I can’t”, I responded. “Where do you feel it?” he asked. “In the opposite hip- the muscles in the opposite hip clench”, I answered. The closest I came to not rocking was by keeping my front ribs from "flaring". Aha.
What do these two seemingly disparate events have to do with each other?
Trying to figure out how to understand and write this out, I asked the big question, “What do the Deep Lateral Hip Rotators and the Lateral Obliques have in common, and how are they different?” Side to side balancing- they each can be engaged to create side to side stability. Hence the nominal “stabilizers”. How they differ, though is kind of dramatic: hip rotators are intended to rotate the legs primarily, stabilize the pelvis secondarily. As you can see in the graphic above, they also draw to the backside. Held in constant tension, they can abet in preventing the pelvic floor from relaxing and expanding, in my body contributing to a lack of diaphragmatic inhalation and digestive organ movement.
The lateral obliques draw forward to the front, working together with the ribs (intercostals), the shoulder movers and stabilizers, along with stabilizing the pelvis and spine. The magic is they allow the body to stay strong while the diaphragm and pelvic floor move together to draw breath in and push breath out of the lungs. (Again, an oversimplification for which I hope you will give me some grace.)
Returning to the question "Why regress to progress? Why “move backwards to an earlier stage”. Why spend 30 minutes a day doing “corrective exercises”. How about 20 minutes of “Activation”? Because if I cannot get the muscles I hope to fire in a situation of less load, less fatigue, less complication, my body is going to compensate by firing the muscles it can. (The MacGyver Principle- use what is available and gets the job done.) Unfortunately, the results won’t be harmless- over time and with increased load and fatigue, they will ultimately be injurious.
The idea is to experiment with methods and means of feeling the muscles work and to discern the ones that are compensating. Do this in a posture where there is support and gravity is helping (i.e. NOT a plank with arm reach!) Then, increase the level of difficulty and the time engaged, finding where the edge is, backing up, finding it, loosing it, finding it, loosing it, finding it. Progress, even just a little bit, by backing up, just a little bit.