Professional relationships are about adding value. As long as the buyer perceives that they're receiving more value than they're giving up, they will continue to pay you.

What this means is that you're trying to share as much information, in as digestible a format as possible, with the client at all times.

To that end, allow me to introduce the concept of postural and phasic muscles.

Here's three reasons why we want to explain this to our clients.

  • It helps the client connect to what they're doing and what they want to achieve. Activating explosive phasic muscles will increase metabolism because they burn more calories than postural muscles.
  • It helps clients understand why they might not feel an exercise in the right place, and know that eventually they will. This is very important with new people because often they're afraid that they are doing it wrong and need a lot of reassurance.
  • It explains why rest intervals and breaking the stretch shortening cycle are important to increase learning rate. It also helps to battle the myth that making things harder, i.e., taking less or no rest, is always better.

The Janda Approach

Muscles were originally classified as Postural and Phasic by Janda. This summary on Wikipedia does a great job of explaining them:

Postural muscles act predominantly to sustain your posture in the gravity field. These muscles contain mostly slow-twitch muscle fibres and have a greater capacity for sustained work. They are prone to hyperactivity. 

Phasic muscles contain mostly fast-twitch muscle fibres, and are therefore more suited to movement. They are prone to inhibition. They are also more easily fatigable. 

Postural muscles tend to shorten in response to over-use, under-use or trauma, whereas phasic muscles tend to lengthen and weaken in response to these types of stimuli. These effects can lead to musculo-skeletal imbalance and joint instability when postural and phasic muscles are located on opposing sides of the agonist-antagonist relationship. 

These relationships are the key to understanding common patterns of postural imbalance such as the upper-crossed and lower-crossed syndromes.

Sitting At Your Desk All Day

The problem is that the nature of our inactive clients' environments is most likely to favor the recruiting of postural muscles.

The body is a dynamic system (that just means it can change how it works), and it adapts to the things it is asked to do. If you're constantly asking it to sit at a desk all day and only squat when you need to go to the can, it's going to begin to default towards using postural muscles.

Additional point - the body doesn't understand that we got a desk job.

Evolution is playing catch up right now -- if we're inactive the body interprets that as a sign something is amiss (as in we are living in a cave and there is no food around kind of thing). So it also lowers mood, cognitive functions and sex drive to name a few.

Basically it slows everything down and gets good at being miserable and storing fat to conserve energy and help us "survive."  Sound like something you might want to reverse?

Unfortunately this also means that the brain will essentially disconnect from the phasic muscles.

This is bad because when we start to exercise again, we won't be able to use these muscles. So as mentioned earlier joint stability will be poor, and furthermore, we'll instead ask postural muscles to do things that phasic muscles should do.

An example of this is people trying to do push-ups with their elbows up way too high, because their pecs are being recruited and their lats and triceps are not. Or even worse, the hams and glutes are phasic muscles (mostly) and the erector spinae (lower back muscles) are postural.

This is why people claim deadlifts and squats are bad for their back. They can't activate their glutes and hamstrings after years of sitting in a chair, so when the small back muscles contract over a bent over spine they get quite sore.

There are several more examples, and basically in any functional movement the body should attempt to recruit phasic muscles as the prime movers. That just makes sense. Clients may explain to you that they tried to do resistance training in the past but got sidelined to the couch by knee, shoulder, or back pain, and went back to safe, happy cardio land.

This is why explaining to them the concept of phasic and postural muscles is so important. It will reassure them that because of your knowledge in how to turn these muscles back on this time they will get results, not injuries.

Fixing Imbalances

So you and your client now understand what is happening. Now we have to address how we fix it.

As we mentioned, phasic and postural muscles have some different properties.

Postural muscles contract slowly and have great endurance. They're also prone to over activity and finally tend to tighten when they're overactive.

Phasic muscles contract quickly (yes this is due to fibre distribution) and have poor endurance. They're prone to lengthening when they're weak, and this coupled with the tightening of an overactive antagonistic postural muscle about a joint can cause misalignment in the joint. Fixing this can have a massive impact on alleviating joint pain. Failing to fix it will result in you losing a client to injury.

Based on this we should do the following.

1 - When at all possible break up the stretch shortening cycle of exercises. This will more quickly teach explosiveness, in lieu of stored energy, and thus send a stronger message to the brain that it should fire up the big phasic muscles. Relaxing also helps to shut OFF the postural muscles which tend to like to stay kinda contracted the whole time.

So when doing push-ups or incline push-ups have the client pause and actually let their chest rest on the bar in between reps.

In the squat, use a box. I use them with new clients. I can control range and break up the stretch shortening cycle and cue explosiveness.

In deadlifts use a rack and reset every rep. On dumbbell rows, set the dumbbell down in the bottom position.

2 - Use rest intervals that allow the neuromuscular system time to process.  When we exercise, we aren't just burning calories or building muscle. Both of those things are great, however, the most transformative aspect of the first phase of training is the change in the stimulus we send the body.

We're sending it a message that even though we sat in an office chair all day, we still want to connect to our explosive phasic muscles. What this means is that we should allow for enough rest between sets so that we see performance of the exercise improving, because we have allowed the fuel systems to replenish adequately, and we have allowed the neuromuscular system time to change. The brain is dynamic and powerful and learns quickly, however it's not instantaneous.

To gauge this I cue one change per set, and if they are able to make improvements I know I've allowed for enough recovery time. Initially it's less than a minute, as they gain strength from neural adaptions they use more fuel and need a bit longer.

3 - Preach the mantra of powerful contractions are preceded and followed by powerful relaxations. When you break the stretch shortening cycle apart cue relaxing the muscle. In between sets try to keep the person calm and focused on the next set and what they need to work on.

I find a lot of people that have struggled the hardest to lose weight will be constantly dancing around and trying to fit extra calorie burning in. This is just distracting the brain from the transformative task that it needs as much energy as possible to perform, so encourage focus not fluster.

I hope this article helps you to better communicate with your clients, educate and empower them, and ultimately help them move faster down the path of success.