Whether your daily activities include sitting at a desk or biking on a mountain trail, both under-utilized and overly-active muscles can lose their extensibility over time. A shortened muscle will lead to faulty movement patterns that limit your ability to move your joints through a full range of motion, compromising your performance and putting you at risk for injury.
You may be surprised to know that some of the smallest muscles in your body can have the biggest impact on the way you move. No matter what your lifestyle, you can benefit greatly from mobility exercises that address tightened joint capsules at your shoulders and hips as well as strength training that teaches the body to move as one functional unit.
The pectoralis minor is a thin, triangular shaped muscle that can be easily aggravated by daily activities. This small but powerful muscle connects the top of your rib cage to your shoulder blade, and is the primary muscle that guides downward pushing motions.
A rounded shoulder and forward head posture causes this muscle to shorten, making it difficult to engage the trapezius and rhomboids of your mid-back that upwardly rotate your shoulder blades and make it possible to pull down or back on an object.
The internal obliques are located along your sides, deep in the abdominal wall. They work to stabilize your trunk during bending and rotation movements, and assist in compressing the abdomen as you exhale.
It’s important to actively engage your core to support your spine and resist possible injuries. Practice contracting the muscles in your abdomen as you move and breathe and avoid letting your chest and shoulders slump forward throughout the day.
The psoas muscle runs through your hips to connect the lower portion of your spine to the inside of your thigh. Your psoas is one of the main stabilizing muscles of your lower back and hips, and functions to flex your hip to bring your knee up to your chest.
Long periods of sitting, or past injuries to the lower back, can cause this muscle to lose functionality and remain in a shortened, under-active state. Short psoas muscles can tilt your pelvis forward, making it difficult to stand straight without overextending your spine as well as limiting your ability to fully engage your hip flexors and quadriceps.
The piriformis is located deep beneath your glutes and runs through your hip bone to connect the base of the spine to the top of your leg bone. Like the pectoralis minor, it’s a small, powerful muscle that acts as one of the primary hip stabilizers responsible for outward rotation of the thigh.
The piriformis muscle is extremely important for anyone who runs or plays a sport that requires sudden changes in direction, such as tennis. An overactive piriformis can cause increased stress and twisting force on the knee as the body struggles to change direction in side-to-side movements, turns, squats or lunges.
The tibialis anterior governs foot function, affecting the way you walk, run, squat or jump. Located on the front portion of your lower leg, it serves to dorsiflex your foot, pulling your toes towards your shin as move forward.
When this muscle is weakened, you will be unable to get the toe lift you need while running, which often results in shin splints or plantar fasciitis. Conversely, an overactive tibialis anterior can affect the function of your calves, making it difficult to pull your heel upwards and push off from the toes as you move forward.
Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services. She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.