There is only one correct way for humans to move. We all have the same muscles, and they are designed to work in one way, with only minor variations for factors like limb length, muscle insertion points, etc. So why, you may wonder, do humans move so differently from each other? The answer is compensation patterns. If you are an athlete or active person, compensation patterns can rob you of your physical ability and must be overcome by proper training.
For our purposes, a compensation pattern is an adjustment in muscle activation made by the body. Sometimes the body adjusts to use different muscles to work around injury, sometimes it pulls new muscles into a movement because the muscles that it wants to use are too weak.
Let’s look at one way a compensation pattern can develop. Say you have pain in your hip. This pain is caused by your muscles not being able to absorb force properly, and your body senses that weakness or inhibition. In response, your body causes other muscles to tighten up in order to protect the joint. The conventional thought process is to stretch the tight muscles, but that does nothing to address the underlying cause.
Now let’s take the example one step further. If one of these muscles that tightens up is the psoas (one of the primary hip flexors), several problems can occur. For instance, tight hip flexors act as brakes on movements that involve hip extension, like a vertical jump. These brakes will rob you of your power. Tight hip flexors can also lead to anterior pelvic tilt, which will cause the femur to internally rotate. This internal rotation inhibits the functioning of several muscles, such as the hip adductors, which can in turn lead to knee and back pain.
If you are a sprinter trying to run down the track, and your body has to call on three or four muscles to do the job of one, you are going to be expending much more energy than you need to be. To improve your performance, you have two options. The first is to keep training the body to work as well as possible with the compensation patterns, which wastes a lot of effort and energy in activating those improper muscles. The second is to reprogram your nervous system to restore correct movement patterns, with the end result that you will use the correct muscles to run with less effort. We’ve seen time and again that the second option will produce better results than the first.
In the next post, I will address ways of training the body to move as efficiently as it can with as few compensation patterns as possible.