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Mobility Series: Muscle Activation Sequence

Because science is beautiful.

In order to know what to stretch and mobilize, it’s important to seize what exactly happens when you contract a muscle. That’s called the Muscle Activation Sequence, and has nothing to do with the “muscle activation” buzzword thrown around nonchalantly by all those Instagram fitness experts. This short piece is to inform you on the rationale behind why I’d stretch this or that muscle when doing a certain movement.

Enter the Reciprocal Inhibition Reflex

The reciprocal inhibition reflex is the process by which the muscles on one side of a joint will relax to accommodate a contraction on the other side of the said joint. For example, in the case of a bicep curl, once you start moving the weight up, the triceps will relax to allow movement. If it didnt relax, you’d be stuck with a weight half-way up with little to no movement. Maybe some shaking if you’re lucky.Following that logic, in order to allow a joint to move in a specific direction, you need two things: contraction of the agonist muscle and relaxation of the antagonist muscle. To follow our bicep curl example, the brachialis muscle, responsible for elbow flexion, is the agonist, and the triceps muscle, responsible for elbow extension, is the antagonist. As soon as the brachialis contracts to move the weight up, the triceps will start relaxing to allow it to move.So basically, in order to make a movement more fluid and reach full range of motion, you need to know what the antagonist muscles are, and just make sure they allow the movement to be performed to full range. Simple, right?

Now go mobilize!


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