Activating Weak Muscles: What are you really doing to your athlete ?

What we see is almost never the problem, we see their strategy to compensate. We all need reminded of this on occasion.

If an athlete is falling apart at the end of a workout it is possible he COULD either not have enough strength and endurance in the primary central pattern or in the compensation pattern that he is employing.

Without precise neuronal pattern assessment and detailed muscle testing we are all guessing. If a client keeps training on the pattern he has available to him, he is just reinforcing it further and too much eventual strength on a faulty pattern is what leads to the big injuries late in the season as strength peaks.

We worry when those with not enough education or experience in this field utilize activation on their athletes. It is no one’s fault, facts are just facts.  We just don’t like people to get incomplete care.  Often times, trainers, coaches and even some doctors and therapists are simply short on time and a few moments of local assessment and activation quite possibly can lead one to forks in the road that one might not want to go down. Trust us, we have made these same mistakes early on and it is likely we still make them from time to time, we are just as human.

Just because a muscle shows you it is weak on a challenge does not mean it should be activated, activated at that particular time or the primary site of activation focus. Neurologic inhibition is not always a local phenomenon, it can and often does, originate from a change in the central integrated state of the organism. Furthermore, muscle strength assessment in any plane, no matter how specific you try to be, is never delivered by a solitary muscle rather there is a team effort to stabilize around the joint(s) challenged.  Remember, when you find something weak, it is talking to you and saying “i am weak because the parameters for my optimal function and joint stability are not being met.” If you activate that muscle it is really a far cry different than using the old analogy “no pain no gain”.  Meaning, making that muscle spring to life from a local activation does not mean you have addressed the problem, rather you may have just forced a wounded player to go back on the field when what it needs is a deeper solution. Stimulation of that local muscle can change the ascending and descending integrated state of the organism and may offer many changes in many areas, some in the area you wish and some other changes you may not wish to occur.  It is like reprimanding the screaming kid in the back of a car when there is someone else sitting back there with 2 bloody fists. We have extended our assessments to be almost a third to a half of a 45 minute visit now. And making the activation as precise as we can. In reality, we realize that many do not have the muscle and neuro background necessary to be good at this game, heck we are still learning on our end.  So, this makes it very difficult for anyone, especially when the clock is short, to get it right. Better results come from being more precise and understanding the grander scope of the story the body is telling us from the examination.  We say this because, as we have also found in our work, you very well may be activating weaknesses that are funded by a faulty pattern.  So by activating what seems to be weak one could be perpetuating and reinforcing a secondary and less effective pattern.  Remember, a weakness is present for a reason and quite often because a primary pattern is not engaged or appropriate motor skill has not been reestablished.  Thus by activating what seems to be weakness in muscles one is essentially just resetting a breaker switch, and continuing to fund  and reinforce a faulty pattern or circuit,  instead of finding out where in the loop the problem exists that keeps blowing the fuse.

Shawn and Ivo, the gait guys


Here is a supportive article to give our commentary some “legs” to stand on. A locally weak ankle from a sprain or strain can change the whole picture.
Chronic ankle instability alters central organization of movement.

Haas CJ, Bishop MD, Doidge D, Wikstrom EA. Am J Sports Med 2010 Apr;38(4):829-34.

Epub 2010 Feb 5. Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology,University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA.

This would be an excellent example of restoring function (ie skill)  for rehab, rather than just increasing strength. If fine motor control is not mastered 1st and you do not change the central pattern, you are carving a turnip with a chainsaw.

We are…. The Gait Guys