Q&A Video #1: What should I do if I feel myself recruiting other muscles?

Transcript of video:

Today I’m going to answer a question I get pretty frequently from students, which is: What should I do if I feel other muscles engaging while I’m doing a movement?

So, when I instruct every movement, I always bring your attention to the muscles that you should feel engaging. These are the muscles that you’re pandiculating in that particular movement. You’re slowly, gently contracting them, and then releasing them very slowly in order to retrain your nervous system to reduce your muscle tension. Those target muscles are the ones that you should feel contracting and releasing during the movement.

But often, especially in the beginning of this learning process or when you’re learning a new exercise, you might feel other muscles contracting while you’re moving. This is called “recruiting.” Your nervous system is automatically recruiting those muscles to help you do the movement or to brace your body as you do the movement. This might be happening because you’re not able to do the movement exactly as I’m instructing it—because you don’t have full voluntary control over the muscles that you’re trying to pandiculate.

It could also be because the movement is triggering one of your deeply learned patterns of tension. For example, engaging your abdominals might automatically trigger your hamstrings to contract, because you tend to do that in your daily life.

So, what should you do when you notice this happening. First of all, give yourself a pat on the back, because it’s great that you’re tuned into your internal sensations and that you noticed those muscles engaging when they don’t need to be.

Next, you can start the process of training your nervous system to not engage those muscles unnecessarily. The best way to do this is by taking a step back and practicing the exercise as a micromovement. A micromovement is an extremely small, slow version of the exercise. You stay in a very small range of motion, just moving a fraction as much as you would if you were doing the full movement. And even though you’re doing just a tiny movement, you still contract and release just as slowly as you would if you were doing the movement through your full range of motion.

Now, as you’re doing the micromovement, you have to notice at what point you start recruiting those other muscles. You have to keep the movement small enough that you can avoid recruiting those other muscles. You’re teaching yourself a new movement pattern; you’re forging new neural pathways in your brain.

As it starts to feel more natural to keep those unnecessary muscles relaxed, you can start gradually making the movement a little bigger…and then a little bigger. If you make the movement too big too soon and you feel those other muscles engaging, then make the movement smaller again.

Take it slow—there’s no benefit to trying to rush this learning process. It might take you days, weeks, or months to retrain this movement pattern, but it will be worth it.

If you want to learn a little more about micromovements, you can read my blog post and watch my video on micromovements.