If you’ve had the misfortune to need any significant physical therapy, you may have caught your therapist lightly jabbing or poking at a muscle that just wasn’t cooperating. Despite its amateurish appearance, it’s actually a bona fide technique to jump-start muscles that have shut down for one reason or another. And used appropriately, it can help you optimize your Functional Health.
Whether from discrete injury, chronic disuse, or just natural tendencies (e.g. phasic vs postural), muscles or parts of muscles sometimes get turned off. They’re there, they’re just dormant. This commonly happens with the glutes (phasic, plus disuse from being sat on them all day), inner quads (phasic) and abs (phasic muscles), to name a few key muscles. Unfortunately it becomes a self-perpetuating problem because once asleep, these muscles only become more difficult to strengthen as your body becomes accustomed to substituting other muscles. This can create or worsen muscle imbalances. So it’s a good idea to wake up those stubborn muscles before doing exercises that involve them (e.g. ab/core routines, squats, leg lifts). Remind your body that those muscles are there and should be used.
This is where the gentle jabbing can come in surprisingly handy. Repeatedly poking a muscle near where it attaches to the bones (i.e. towards either end of it) will help wake it up and prepare it to engage. More specifically,
- for abs, this would be just above the bony brim of the pelvis (all the way out to the sides) and just below the ribs;
- for the glutes, typically along your backside under the rim of your pelvis (extending out towards your sides just above your hips).
- for the inner quads, this would be the inner, front thigh towards the knee end.
The technique takes advantage of how the nerves of the muscle are wired. Think of it like a computer that has drifted into hibernation mode–it’s not dead, but you have to jigger the mouse or push on the keyboard to get it working again.
This poking technique is a little insider trick that can help make some of your exercises more effective and is fairly easy to do. However, it’s no cure-all. If you have pain or a more complex problem, you will likely need a therapist to tease out which muscles are problematic and to provide more comprehensive treatment.
FH TIP: To get a specific muscle or part of a muscle to engage more, stimulate it by gently poking it several times near its attachment.