Something we see commonly in treating and training movement is the chronic use of high tension movement strategies (aka over-recruiters; aka high threshold movers). These are the people with excessive amounts of muscular tone and contraction when trying to move. Literally, these are the people who can't perform a squat slowly, struggle with relaxing onto a foam roll, are super inaccurate with limb movements (shooting a basketball, kicking a soccer ball, etc.), and can't fall asleep at nite.
But they can typically produce some monstrous short-term power output - which is great and 100% necessary for going after a 1-rep max and all-out efforts. The problem is they can't perform a movement without so much tension. It's not an adaptable system because not every movement is a 1-RM. Even most competitions have rest breaks and slow portions.
Think about it this way: if all you ever did while driving was mash on the gas and then slam on the brakes, you might get places quickly but pretty soon you're gonna damage the engine (or the chassis? I don't really know much about cars, man...). That's essentially what using unmitigated high tension movement is: flooring it to a red light.
The most excellent and injury-averse movers are still able to generate massive amounts of tension but only when necessary - like a rattlesnake, bro. Using high tension all the time only threatens the system and is inefficient and expensive - both physiologically (joint compression, tendinopathies, neural tension, etc etc) and neurologically.
There are several reasons why the use of unnecessary high tension strategies occur:
How to address these:
1. Restore diaphragmatic breathing. As I've written before, a hyperinflated breathing pattern pulls us into extension. And extension = excitation and tension. By facilitating neutral - via flexion patterns - we can better access a relaxed state which is much easier to move out of. Restore posterior ribcage expansion and anterior abdominal control to get us to a neutral spine and we can breathe thru the diaphragm without increased stress on the system.
And as Gray Cook would say, if you can't breathe during a movement, you don't own that movement. Unless you're going for a PR on your squat.
From Dr. Quinn Henoch:
2. Achieve nervous system balance. Moving from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state brings us closer to neutrality. Neutrality is a place or state of transition. When moving from one end-range of motion to another we should naturally transition thru neutral - like a pendulum. From this state of balance we can quickly and easily move into all 3 planes of movement - with the capacity for max tension and max output when necessary. There's some tension left in the tank for when we really need it. Otherwise you're just red-lining it all the time. Approaching nervous system balance = decreased threat = decreased rigidity and tension.
So how do we do this? Reduce asymmetries, restore diaphragmatic breathing patterns (see above), maintain healthy brain maps and motor control (see below), get more sleep! Kids who get less than 8 hours/nite are almost 2x as likely to get injured - that's not a balanced nervous system.
3. Improve motor control. The inability to perform the movement with the right muscles at the right time and in the right sequence often results in excessive muscular tension. Extensive literature supports that untrained, poorly learned movements use excessive muscle contraction. We see this often because people are chasing capacity instead of competency or only playing one sport while growing up and before ya know it, they use the same amount of muscular tension to pick up a pillow as they do a loaded barbell. If we really take the time to understand and actually practice moving, sequencing improves and the tension threshold is lowered.
Maybe we need to practice movements more slowly in order to reduce excess tension. This does a few positive things:
An efficient movement pattern is one that adapts to the demands placed upon it. One that creates tension when necessary and an appropriate amount of relaxation when it's not.
P.S. BONUS PRO TIP: Stretching doesn't work for these people (or anyone really) because it doesn't shut off the tone. Stretching only serves to amplify the forces acting on muscles and, if anything it just amps up the tension more. Just ask one of these high tension movers: stretching often feels terrible for them. Why? Because it's just another threat to the system.
The year 2014 has seen a lot of growth at this here website (what's up, 114 countries) so I wanted to share the top posts based on website traffic.
Top 5 Articles
1. Using Grip Training to Hack the Nervous System and Improve Strength and Stability
The hands have such a major cortical representation it would make sense to target them with our training to optimize neuromuscular competency and capacity.
2. The Short Foot Position and Neuromuscular Readiness
The ability to maintain a stable foot position is a strong indicator for readiness for load due to the feedforward relationship between the feet and the pelvis.
3. Movement Baseline Series: The Hip Hinge and Optimal Jaw & Head Position
Mastering the basics of movement, including the foundational ability to load the hips and the competency to maintain jaw and tongue position is crucial for resilient and efficient movement.
4. Hyperinflation and the Stressed-Out System: Why It's Important to Get Air Out
Noticing a theme with the neuro-centric articles being most popular? A rigid, threatened system brought on, in part, by overbreathing is a fragile and inefficient one at best.
5. How to Get the Most Out of Coaching Cues: Use an External Focus to Increase Performance
Focusing the athlete on external cues produces marked improvements in movement performance and accuracy - it's on oft-missed art of coaching
Top 5 Guest Posts
1. How to Develop and Progress the Power Clean and the Snatch by Keith Scruggs, CSCS
Great work here by my friend Keith, a PhD candidate, on a tier-based approach to improving explosiveness in the Oly lifts.
2. Thoughts on Motor Control, Dry Needling, and Some Advice From My Interview with Seth Oberst, DPT, CSCS from CinemaSays.wordpress.com
I really enjoyed my interview with CinemaSays and what great company to be in as he has interviewed some true leaders in our profession.
3. 3 Ways the Aussies Use Physical Therapists the Right Way by Dr. Danny Matta
Dr. Matta spent some time teaching the MobilityWod seminars in Australia and brought back an interesting take on the value of physio and how we're dropping the ball here in the States.
4. Save Your Spine by Learning How to Assess and Correct Deadlift Patterns by Dr. Dan Pope
An excellent systematic approach from Dr. Pope on addressing the deadlift pattern which is fundamental to function and performance.
5. DPTs after the Leading Indicators by Jeff Ford
I was fortunate to chat with Coach Ford and his group at Conviction Training Facility in Hilton Head, SC and his piece on integration within physio and S&C was a great one.
Thanks to all the readers of, and contributors to, SethOberst.com in 2014!
Look for more advanced topics and musings in 2015 including more topics on how to better involve/evolve the nervous system as well as more excellent guest posters all in an effort to improve resiliency, efficiency, and adaptability in sport and function.