Pro Tip: Waking Up Inactive Muscles

July 3, 2017

As a trainer, I see people beat themselves up a lot during the first few sessions because of a perceived lack of conditioning, because it feels too hard.  They sometimes think they just need to suck it up and get used to it, and in all fairness there may be 2% truth to that.   HOWEVER.  Fitness results from progressive conditioning, and conditioning is not about just sucking it up!  It’s about science, really, and knowing the hows and whys can positively change not only your results but also the experience you have on the way to hitting those goals.



Most people are familiar with the concept of progressive conditioning when it comes to muscle load, ie. adding weight and reps over time, or cardiovascular endurance, ie. adding a little distance each week to your run.  But did you know that some strategic attention to the nervous system can actually boost your efforts to a whole new level?  Yes, a little bioelectrical planning in your workout can go a long way!  Here’s why:


Our bodies are meant to conserve energy for survival, so if a muscle is used infrequently or is inhibited from its function for some reason, the body will only send the minimal amount of neurological (and other) energy there.   Muscles are made up of units that fire to create movement, and what happens in a dormant muscle is that only some of the muscle units actually fire, like only a couple people on a team doing all the work to score in a game.  Let’s take glutes as an example, because we all sit so much, which positionally stretches and inhibits the glute muscles, rendering them inactive for most of the day.  So we sit at the office for 8 hours then head to the gym for our Butts and Guts class because we’ve heard about how important glute strengthening is.  Somehow, though, our glutes never seem to change, never seem to get stronger, and definitely only feel sore on the rare occasion .  We are doing the work but not receiving the benefit where we want it.  In fact, because the body still makes an effort to accomplish the action, other muscles entirely will habitually compensate for the inactive muscles, making those muscles perpetually overactive, which is a problem unto itself (the hamstrings, for example, often “take over” for inactive glutes to accomplish leg extension, leaving the hammies always needing a stretch and the glutes always needing to wake up).  The answer is in training our nervous system to recruit more team members – motor units – from the bench so that the whole group is involved every time, which not only boost performance but, because of the increased energy output – metabolism as well!  Directing a certain muscle to fire more completely requires initiating patterns of movement that target the activity of that muscle particularly and then repeating that pattern over and over until the electrical system is primed to send impulses to not just a few muscle units, but to the whole team.  Once the muscle is firing well in an isolation exercise,  more complex patterns which integrate the particular muscle action with other body movements may be used effectively.  I have seen time and time again that individuals who have never even been able to feel their glutes working before (in spite of having done squats, lunges, and donkey kicks galore) are able to feel them plenty after “priming” the electrical system first by recruiting the maximum number of motor units and then doing the more integrated moves like squats and lunges after everyone is in the game!  I regularly use banded monster-walks to get my glutes going before I practice sprinting, otherwise they will stay dormant and my hamstrings will do all the work.


So next time you think maybe you just aren’t trying hard enough, consider that you may just need a bit more strategy.  Train hard, yes, but also train SMART to save both time and frustration and to have the best results!

*For a great glute wake-up series, make an appointment with Laura today!

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