The Yin and Yang of Muscle Therapy
Yin and Yang
A basic explanation of Yin and Yang is that that they are two opposite forces that put together, make the whole. They are represented as a perfect circle that is split into what can be described as two fish, one black and one white, endlessly chasing each other. If you look closely enough you will see that both have a ‘dot’ or an eye of the other’s energy within them, this tells us that nothing can truly be defined as being 100% this side or that, that they always contain a part of the other and that they in fact complement each other.
So where am I going with this I hear you say?! Well on this outing my Yin and Yang are flexibility and strengthening.
Physical training is one of those things where everyone has their different take on it. Some people prefer strength training and others flexibility training. These two parts are just that - parts of a whole. It isn’t a matter of saying this one is better than that. Fundamentally it is finding balance between the two.
Many people have a balanced approach to their training, combining strength and flexibility elements effectively. Problems occur however, when there is dominance of one side compared to the other.
So what happens if you have an imbalance in training aspects?
Ultimately imbalances in training can create muscle imbalances. There are many ways in which this can play out, one situation is that you can have an imbalance resulting in a short muscle versus a long muscle. If you were to imagine two muscles on opposite sides, then in this set of circumstances, you would have a dominant muscle (short) that is stronger than the other and which pulls the weaker muscle and stretches it. It would look similar to the way a plant that is restricted to sunlight to a certain angle, would therefore lean and grow in that direction. A second imbalanced muscle situation is where you have a short versus short muscle, an example of this is where strength training is prominent, with no stretching. You find that because the target muscles are continually loaded, they become short and thus have less range of movement in more than one range, this would result in compression of the underlying tissues and structures.
In both the above examples an imbalance has been created, reducing functionality and movement. This may create problems and this might be in the forms of pain and injury. One such problem that may manifest itself is that you may find that the overactive muscle(short) is active during movements that it is not meant to be, resulting in a loss of function to the muscle that is actually meant to be active!
Stop, Example Time
Let’s take for example, somebody who is protracted in the shoulders. In relation to the centre of their body, their shoulders would be slightly forward, which may be a result of work habits (they may sit at a computer for a lengthy time, with their arms in a forward position), it may be to do with leisure activities (cycling, martial arts) or it may be emotional (protective mechanism).
In some cases the pectorals, anterior deltoid and medial rotators, among others, may be tight, restricting movement. What this then does is pull and stretches the muscles on the back out of balance, effectively putting them in a longer position. The muscles on the back may then have to work harder to keep their position, this one expends energy, but it also creates more tension and potentially restrictions. In this sense the problem has caused a referral of pain, away from the source of the problem.
For this type of scenario the muscles that are causing this anterior pull and rotation first need to be addressed. Space will need to be created in the tissue so that the range of motion is increased that produces a balance. This can be achieved through a wide range of stretching and manipulation techniques. After this is achieved some of the muscles on the upper back, that have been stretched, lengthened and potentially underactive will need to be strengthened through target exercising.
The above example hopefully gives you an understanding of the interrelationship between the balancing of tissues through flexibility and strengthening, and shows you that both are equally important if you wish to have balance.
Like Yin and Yang, your training and lifestyle need a balanced approach, as one cannot truly exist without the other. Achieving balance involves many factors. Your physical training and lifestyle should include strength and flexibility training that complement each other and you might find this through different aspects such as yoga, pilates, massage and personal training, the list is quite exhaustive. Sometimes it’s hard to find the correct balance, but when you do the results are well worth it.
Although I’ve spun the meaning ever so slightly, Dr Seuss was wise when he said:
‘A tree falls the way it leans. Be careful which way you lean.’
Ask yourself the question, ‘How often do I strength train and how often do I stretch?’ If the answer to this question is roughly the same, then that’s great.....as long as the ratio isn’t zero-zero!