Are Your Pecs Too Short and Strong?
Soft Body Structure Problems — How Shortened Muscles Affect Structure.
This is what a Sports Massage Teacher and master of the Fascia (shout out to Ann Pauley) taught us in Massage School. Many times, when a muscle gets strength trained, it gets shorter. I have found this statement to be true. Not just true. True and mostly ignored by the average person. That’s why I like yoga because as you make the muscle stronger you are alway working on lengthening that muscle. Some weight lifters will say, “I stretch after weight lifting.” I would rather the stretch be a main focus of the workout. Strengthening without lengthening is dangerous because it can warp your structure. It is especially dangerous to Softbodies, because their bodies are easily warped. When the body is hard, if a specific muscle gets strengthened but not lengthened it makes less impact on the person’s structure. This is because all of the muscles are hard and pull on the structure with equal force. A softbody, for instance, a woman who decides to strengthen her pecs and her biceps only. She is in danger of warping her structure because the opposing muscles are soft and are easily pulled. Are you with me so far? If you don’t know what I mean by Softbody, read some of my other articles.
Ok, lets use pictures. Think of the shoulder blades or the scapulae.
This picture shows retraction and protraction of the scapulae. Bringing your scapulae together is retraction. Try to do it. Try to make your shoulder blades touch. How did you do that? By moving muscles.
Muscles move bones. They do this by contracting(shortening) or lengthening. So how did you make your scapulae move together? You did it by contracting/shortening (temporarily) your Rhomboid muscles which lie between the spine and your scapula. The origin is the bone the muscles are anchored to. The insertion is the bone they move. The spine is the origin of the Rhomboids and the insertion is the Scapula.
You also made the Scapulae move backward by relaxing the Rhomboid’s opposing muscles. They are the Pectoralis Major and Serratus Anterior.
The Pectoralis Major muscle originates at the sternum bone and the clavicle/collarbone. The insertion is the Lateral lip of bicipital groove of the humerus. This is the front/top of the arm seen at the left. So you relaxed this pec muscle to make your scapulae move closer together.
You also relaxed the Serratus Anterior muscle. The Serratus Anterior muscle attaches to the anterior/front ribs and inserts into the medial border (near the spine) of the scapula. This huge muscle must relax and lengthen to bring your scapulae together.
To make the scapulae move forward is called protraction. You would do the opposite of what you did to move them back towards the spine. You would contract/shorten you Pec Major Muscles and Serratus Anterior Muscles. You would lengthen your Rhomboid Muscles.
We unconsciously shorten muscles or lengthen muscles to create movement. Our body does it for us. We don’t have to think about it. We just reach for the glass. Or, put the glass back down.
Now that you understand how we can affect movement of the scapulae, let’s talk about how strength training can affect the resting position of the scapulae.
Our muscles will have a resting position that can affect structure if they are too tight. Many times I will see someone lying face down on my massage table and the scapulae will look as if they are being pulled around to the front of the body. The person’s Pecs are too tight and the Rhomboids are being stretched too far. The scapulae will look as if they are too far away from the spine. Usually when I turn that person over and examine their Pec muscles they are very tight and short. Often when I begin asking questions to the client, I find out it is because they have been trying to make their Pec muscles strong. Remember what I said in the beginning. Many times strengthening a muscle will make it shorter. Strength training must be done with length training or you may affect your structure. Many times when I see these people face up on the table the shoulders (the very top of the arms/head of the humerus) will be rounding up off the table. I would like to see their shoulders lying flat on the table. Their Pec muscles are in a shortened state and it makes them appear to always be trying to bring their shoulder blades away from their spine(protraction). This condition is more likely to occur in a Softbody than a Hardbody. Softbodies are easily warped.
If you’ve read my other articles, you know that I am always saying the softer the body the better. True that. But Softbodies can be easily warped if you began a strength training program that is not well balanced. Stick with a good yoga program that works each part of the body in a method or system. I have experience taking Baptiste Yoga and Bikram Yoga. I have found both routines or series of postures to be well balanced. Be careful with barbells, weights, even pushups.
I’ve simplified the scapula for this example . Other muscles can affect this rounding posture/structure. Check Wikipedia or look up some pictures of the Biceps and see where they attach. To the scapula. Many times Softbody types are trying to have nice toned biceps and they end up pulling their scapula around.
I assess the body for overall tone, flexiblity, structure and knots or tight areas. I think structure is the most serious of the categories. Even a hard body is generally balanced structurally. That’s because a rock is hard to change. If your body is a rock and you start doing a bunch of bench presses a few days a week you probably won’t change the resting position of your scapula too much. Rocks don’t budge. Softbodies are healthy, but they are soft, pliable, rubbery and elastic by nature. Make changes to them in a smart way.
Since structure is so important, I often think to myself that there are two “opposites” showing up on my massage tables. The first is the person who works a lot in a stressful job and doesn’t have time to work on their body. These are the Hardbodies, those with the hard container or hard overall tone. The second of these “opposites” are the Softbodies who are holding no stress. Living the good life, but working out in a not great way. They create structural problems by being health minded but doing the wrong workout. Like someone trying to eat a too much of something that is supposed to be good for them. They need to have balance in their workout. A good example is when you go to some of these spin classes and they have you pick up a barbell to do some strength training for the last 10 minutes of your ride. It’s not balanced. I skip that part and just ride the bike. Remember cardio softens.
Marty Kunsman is a graduate of the Academy of Somatic Healing Arts (ASHA) (Atlanta, Georgia). He currently writes and practices massage therapy in Charlotte, NC. He is the author of two books.
Hard Body Pain/Soft Body Bliss 2006, 2014
Hard Body Pain and Massage Therapy Solutions 2014
Available at Amazon.com