This post is updated do to an error in my education and a comment by one of our readers. The post is really about Reciprocal Inhibition and not Autogenic Inhibition, which is cool as well.
What is Autogenic Inhibition?
Well Autogenic inhibition is the process of a muscle relax due to a tremendous amount of stress being applied to the muscle. Think of someone doing a bench press of weight they could not push up. Eventually the muscles basically give up and “relax.” They basically just turn off.
Autogenic Inhibition vs Reciprocating Inhibition
Autogenic inhibition can cause extreme injury. Many times when this mechanism doesn’t take place it results in a rupture of the muscle, for example an Achilles tendon rupture that sounds like a shotgun when it tears.
Reciprocal inhibition is explained below in great detail and is pretty cool!
One of the more common problem areas for athletes and non-athletes is low back back pain. This pain can come from millions of different reasons. While I am not going to give you a rehab plan on how to treat your back pain I will give you a theory to help you possibly relieve some of the pain you are feeling.
The term is call Reciprocating Inhibition
Reciprocating Inhibition is when the opposing muscle (the antagonist) relaxes so that the other one can do its thing. Time for an example. If you were to do a bicep curl right now, DO IT! Your tricep relaxes. Go ahead poke each muscle group. You can see that your tricep is very loose and relaxed while your bicep is flexed and tense.
This concept works pretty much with every muscle group except the hamstring and quadraceps muscle groups. (if you want more information on this concept let me know and I will explain why in more detail.) In the image you can see that we always have an opposite muscle group. Some groups are MUCH bigger than their opposing group for example the pectroalis muscles are much bigger than their antagonist the rhomboids, which is why in swimmers you see the shoulders rolled forward issue.
How to use this to our advantage
If we know that by firing a muscle group we can relax the opposing muscle then it is possible to figure out which muscle is hurting, fire the opposite and we can potentially stop the pain spasm cycle.
In the story of our low back the opposite muscle is our abdominal muscle groups. If you fire your abs hard enough you can support your bodies weight on that muscle group. This will allow for your low back muscles to relax enough to potentially decrease the pain you might be feeling in your back.
I have to state that this doesn’t work all the time, but sometimes it does and it is a good trick to use when trying to heal sore muscles or to prevent a muscle from cramping or spasming.
This concept of Reciprocating Inhibition is the reason we do an activity called a “Super Set.” In our Full Body Fitness classes we mainly focus on opposing muscle groups. So while you are doing your bicep curls your triceps are actually resting. Then we switch to a triceps workout and your biceps get the much needed rest. This allows for a much faster workout without having to wait around for a clock to tick. It also allows you to keep your heart rate up unless you are doing some time of interval training work, where you actually want your heart rate to go down a bit.
If you have questions or want more examples of this autogenic inhabition concept let me know by commenting below and I will do my best to answer them.