Second: Start activating the inactive muscles
As you make progress in releasing the chronically tight antagonist muscles, you should find that it gradually becomes easier to use your inactive muscles. And while our focus in Clinical Somatics is always on releasing tension, you can actually use the exercises to start gently activating your muscles as well. This part is a mental workout—you’re training your nervous system to use muscles that you haven’t in a while—and the more slowly you move, the more effectively your nervous system will be able to learn.
If you feel like you’ve begun to release your tight lower back muscles, you can start spending some time gently activating your abdominals. The exercises that will best allow you to do this are (all from Level One):
Arch & Flatten
Arch & Curl
One-sided Arch & Curl
Diagonal Arch & Curl
Flowering Arch & Curl
Always start with the Arch & Flatten, which will gently wake up your abdominals and back muscles. Take the time and attention to explore how it feels to hollow out your belly as you flatten. Hollowing out the belly engages your transverse abdominis, which many people rarely—or never—engage consciously. The transverse abdominis compresses the contents of the abdomen, and flattening the back and hollowing out the belly is the best way to engage it. You may feel your rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) contracting as well.
After doing the Arch & Flatten, you may find it helpful to turn over and do the Back Lift to release your lower back muscles. After releasing the lower back, the Curl exercises should feel easier.
As you get into the Curl exercises, your rectus abdominis and obliques will be doing the work. Start by moving as slowly as you need to, and making your Curls as small as you need to, in order to feel that you have total control over your rectus abdominis. Try to feel the whole length of it contracting: from the bottom where it attaches to your pubic bone, to the top where it attaches to your ribs. You can start curling up farther as you feel able to. But, don’t speed up! You’re still training yourself how to have total voluntary control of your abs, and you need to move slowly.
Be sure to release down as slowly as you can, as you always do with these exercises, in order to fully release your abdominals. Even though you’re teaching yourself to activate and use these muscles, that doesn’t mean you want to start building up excess muscle tension, which you’ll do if you focus only on the contraction phase. And, the more fully you’re able to release your muscles, the more you’ll be able to use them through their full range of motion: fully contracting when you need them, and then fully releasing when you’re done moving.
When you feel that you’ve made some progress in releasing your hip flexors, you can take this same approach to train yourself to activate your gluteus maximus. Start by doing the Hip Rotation, Iliopsoas Release, and Quadriceps Release to release your hip flexors. Then, do the Back Lift, paying special attention to how your gluteus maximus engages as you lift up your leg. You can even skip the rest of the Back Lift and just focus on the leg lift if you want. Lift up slowly, just a few inches, feeling the muscles in your buttocks and lower back gently contract. You can reach around and put your hand on your buttocks to feel the muscles contracting—bringing the sensation of touch to a muscle can help you contract it. Then, release down as slowly as you can.
You can gradually lift your leg higher each time in order to contract your gluteus maximus more fully. But, keep moving as slowly as possible, and don’t force it. There’s no benefit to lifting your leg high if you don’t have full voluntary control of the movement.
The Gluteal Release exercise (Level Two) is the other exercise that will help you activate your gluteus maximus. However, this exercise works with external rotation. If you feel that your gluteus maximus is inactive because your inner thigh muscles are tight, pulling your legs together, then this exercise will be helpful for you. Be sure to start by practicing the Internal Hip Rotator Release (the part of Hip Rotation in which you slowly lower your knee out to the side). Then, practice the Gluteal Release with the same approach as described above. Start by making the movement very small, and only make it bigger as you can while maintaining full voluntary control. Contract up and release down as slowly as you can.