Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Without any ado, I’ll get straight to the point, and I’ll use the shoulder as the example to give you this key knowledge that will help everyone - yet the vast majority don’t do it.
The exercise to consider will be any form of cable pull or free weight pull movement.
Simply put, there are a huge number of muscles involved in stabilising the shoulder joint and producing movement when performing these exercises.
One of the main muscles responsible is the Serratus Anterior and this muscle will help the shoulder lift more with efficiency when used correctly - remember this for later.
The law of facilitation
For many reasons, a muscle can become very short and tight. The result is that the muscle pulls on bones, changes posture for the worse and does one more thing that really affects what you can lift.
This one thing is the muscle becomes ‘facilitated’. Let me explain: If the pectoralis minor muscle becomes short and tight it can subsequently become facilitated. It will then steal the neural drive to other muscles in the shoulder. The thing about this muscle is it is one of the most common muscles to do this.
What this means is that as you do a cable pull exercise the brain sends a message (neurologically) to all of the working shoulder muscles to move and stabilise the joint. The message goes to the area, but the facilitated pectoralis minor muscle steals way to much of the neural drive information.
What happens then?
The shoulder muscles that are needed to give maximum efficiency when lifting (serratus anterior etc) don’t get as much neural drive and so can’t put forth as much strength.
The serratus anterior gets directly inhibited by the pectoralis minor and over time becomes weaker and weaker, yet this muscle is key to shoulder exercises.
The overall picture is that facilitation in this scenario means:
- You can’t lift as much weight due to facilitation from the pectoralis minor.
- The serratus anterior muscle becomes progressively weaker over time, leading to more problems.
- The pectoralis minor changes the joint angles leading to an increase in joint wear.
- You fatigue faster.
So, how do I train more effectively?
Find out through correct assessment, from a skilled professional, which muscles are likely to be facilitated due to being short and tight.
Get sports massage treatment and effective personal training program design from someone who has a solid, in depth background in both disciplines. Knowledge of only one is not going to cut it.
Stretching out a specific facilitated muscle prior to exercising the area can have the affect of reducing the amount of neural drive being stolen, leading to a more balanced movement, leading to more effective exercise.
This will enable you to:
- Make better gains in stability, strength and power.
- Improve you range of motion about the joint.
- Reduce the risk of injury due to joint wear and tear from poor exercise technique.
How do I resolve the above shoulder scenario?
In the above scenario, you would require deep friction sports massage on the pectoralis minor muscle and a stretch program that targets this area to lengthen the muscle.
You should also stretch the pectoralis minor muscle before lifting so that you give every chance of reduced facilitation to the shoulder area so that the muscles can distribute load effectively. Very importantly, the serratus anterior muscle will have more chance of doing it's job correctly.
Lastly, your shoulder needs re-educating, through scientific shoulder training, so that the serratus anterior muscle can understand what it’s roll is in movement. This roll often gets lost due to the pectoralis minor being facilitated for so long.
A final thought
Why did the pectoralis muscle get so tight in the first place?
Knowing that is knowing the cause and not just the symptom (unless you just want to always treat symptoms and end up right back where you started over time).
Treating causes is the true way to health and you definitely need a skilled professional with a sports massage and C.H.E.K personal training background to resolve that.