One of the problems that is often identified in sports training, athletic performance, or rehabilitative medicine is when a muscle or muscle group isn't firing to its potential or is firing asymmetrically compared to the opposite side.
When muscle recruitment is less than optimal, that can be a sign of anything from injury to compensation to poor motor learning. Neuromuscular patterns are akin to thought processes or computer programs. Over time and without proper education/training/debugging, corrupt bits of "code" sometimes pop up in the program, making the execution of the program, thought process, or movement dysfunctional.
To deal with this from a neuromuscular standpoint, therapists, trainers, and clinicians sometimes employ a strategy known as Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT). RNT operates on the premise that the body will do what it needs to maintain balance - homeostasis.
WHAT'S AT RISK
However, with faulty movement patterns, the body doesn't recognize that the pattern it's maintaining is sub-optimal. Left unchecked for a long time, these simple proprioceptive errors (such as being unaware of the knee position) can lead to a plethora of other compensative mechanisms and injuries (meniscal tears, TFL & IT band pathologies, etc., etc.).
Think of it like a person driving a car who doesn't realize that the passenger side wheels are drifting into the next lane because he's using his driver's seat perspective to keep HIMSELF in the middle of the lane instead of the vehicle. Now on a countryside dirt road and at a low rate of speed, there's not much that could go wrong aside from scraping up the side paneling a little. On a Los Angeles freeway, where speeds can hit well over 80mph during non-rush hour times, such a mistake in proprioception can be fatal.
So to assist the "driver" in recognizing the error in proprioception, the therapist, trainer, or clinician simply "feeds the mistake" with barely enough force to get the movement pattern to correct itself.
In other words, if the knees tend to drift medially from the midlines of the feet during a squat, then pushing the knees inward while instructing the patient/client to resist the push will cause him/her to activate the muscles that externally rotate the femur (thigh) in the hip more intensely. Instead of telling the body "not" to do something, you give the body something to push against, forcing it to react neurologically and muscularly to implement a better, safer, stronger muscular recruitment pattern.
In this way, the movement pattern in question is used to clean itself up, rather than reverse engineering the movement down to isolating a single muscle in a fixed axis machine. As Gray Cook often says, "Does turning on your glute give you a better squat, or is giving you a better squat a better way of teaching you to fire your glute?"
RNT is a quick means of training the brain & the nervous system to recognize and implement new movement patterns quickly and efficiently, helping them become habituated faster when the body must perform a given fundamental movement.
DON'T THINK... FEEEEEEEEL!
These cues rely on tactile stimuli for maximum learning. So if you're performing a hip bridge and can't quite get the glute to fire the same way on the right as it does on the left, then...
1. Bridge up,
2. Tighten your abs and make sure you're not arching your lower back to cheat a little more hip height,
3. Relax your neck (so that you focus all that much more neurological energy down into your hips & legs), and
4. Have someone gently press down on your hip at the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) as if they were dribbling a basketball.
That irregular pressure will give your body something to react to, giving you the tactile cues needed to activate the glutes and create the hip extension against the bouncing push.
Need a more self-sufficient way of experiencing RNT? No problem. Gray Cook has designed elastic bands that allow you to rig up tactile feedback cues for yourself or with a therapist. Click on the pics below to find out more about them!
His exercise tubing program DVD helps take all the guesswork out of it for you, so if you want to fast track your progress, grab this as well...
Hope that helps, folks! We'll be covering RNT, as well as the ins and outs of Hard Style Russian kettlebell training in the workshops that I'll be teaching on my East Coast kettlebell workshop tour from June 20 - 24!
Please check the sidebar on the right for more info on these workshops!