A very common issue addressed by fitness professionals and physical therapists is muscular compensation. Muscular compensation refers to the process of a muscle becoming overactive or tight due to inhibition of another muscle.
Essentially, a muscle may step in to perform an action when the muscle(s) that normally perform the action are too weak or inhibited. Understanding compensation patterns is extremely complex. However, a basic understanding of common compensations can help people exercise more effectively and with much better form.
To better understand common muscular compensations, I interviewed professional running coach and certified personal trainer John Goldthorp. John has a BA in exercise science and a strong understanding of neurokinetic therapy. He is also certified through Functional Movement Screen, Anatomy in Motion and Original Strength. I asked John to explain some common muscular compensations and how to address them at the gym. The following are 3 of the most common compensations seen in the general population, according to Goldthorp.
- The Compensation: Low back muscles compensating for a weak core.
- Why It’s a Problem: The low back muscles are too small and weak to take on the role of the core muscles for extended periods of time. If this compensation is not addressed, lower back pain may become an issue.
- The Solution: John suggests performing the dead bug exercise to strengthen the hip flexors and abdominals. See a video demonstration of this exercise by visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5xbsA71v1A. He also suggests the child’s pose stretch to lengthen the muscles of the low back.
2. The Compensation: Diaphragm compensating for the transverse abdominus (a deep abdominal muscle), multifidus, and pelvic floor muscles.
- Why It’s a Problem: Ideally, during breathing, the diaphragm would descend and the transverse abdominus, multifidus, and pelvic floor muscles would all engage. However, many people engage in very shallow breathing. Because of this, the diaphragm does not descend and the aforementioned muscles “take a vacation.”
- The Solution: John suggests massaging the diaphragm to help it relax. After the massage, he asks clients to practice taking deep breaths so that they can feel their diaphragm descend as the pelvic floor muscles and abdominals engage.
3. The Compensation: Calves compensating for weak gluteal muscles.
- Why It’s a Problem: When calf muscles become tight and short, the feet may turn out during normal gait and there may be an excessive forward lean when squatting. Both of these movement patterns can trigger joint pain if they are not addressed.
- The Solution: John suggests rolling the calf muscles with a foam roller or lacrosse ball. To strengthen the glutes, he suggests performing glute bridges. To view this exercise, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzYSjkqmqL4.
These are just a few of many compensations that may occur in the body. John suggests that every person get assessed by a qualified personal trainer to identify compensations and learn how to address them.