Injury? Look for Weak Synergist

This idea comes from Shirley Sahrmann (brilliant physical therapist) and who I first started hearing about while at Endeavor.  Mike Boyle call her “the smartest person you never heard of.”  I am itching at the idea that I will soon get to read Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes. If there is an injury, look for a weak synergist, just one idea that she been known for.   Ok, it is a Sunday and you might ask “Why the hell are you writing a blog post!? Grab a beer and watch a baseball game!”  Well, you may be right, but Wrestlemania is on tonight so I may just go to a friend’s house and watch that instead.  Anyways, I’ll keep it short.

This has to be the next book I read, even if it takes me 5 months.

Sahrmann’s take on this concept is simple.  We have muscles that should act as prime movers and other muscles that assist in that similar movement (synergists).  When the prime movers stop doing their job, the synergists (or secondary movers) are forced to compensate.  For example, how many times do we hear of people who have tight hamstrings and think that doing isolated work for the hamstrings is the way to prevent strains?  I forget what strength coach I was listening to, but in short, he had a NFL pro-bowl wide receiver come to him in the off-season who had a history of hamstring strains.  They tested his hamstring strength = incredibly strong.  They tested his glute function= significantly poor.  Classic example that the prime mover of hip extension (should be gluteus maximus) wasn’t strong enough to do it’s job therefore the hamstrings and probably adductor magnus were doing double time to compensate.) This is also a concrete example of why hamstring curl machines should never be used due to lack of hip extension and glute firing during the movement.

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

This is just one exercise by Ben Bruno, along with glute activations, that can be used to allow the hip extensors to work in a more functional manner.

Strengthen that posterior chain

Have a pec strain, look for weak subscapularis.  Strained hip flexor or  “quad pull”, look for weak psoas.  These are just some of the injury problems that are occurring due to overuse of the synergists and lack of contribution from the prime mover of that particular movement. Often times, tightness is a result of weakness.

Have a great Sunday,


Categories: Injury Prevention, Strength Training

Tags: , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Hi Matt. What does one do if they strain and or tear the weak synergist muscle (glutes)? I’ve read all about treating hamstring and groin strains with muscular balancing, working (PGM, lateral rotators/ glute max etc.), but what does one do when they strain one of them? I’m guessing rest, but that’s kind of hard to do with symptoms on both sides and just walking involves all of those muscles. Cortisone injection an idea? Thanks. Hope all is well.

    • DP,
      Where specifically is the pain? Also, what were you doing when this occured? Are there certain movements that cause major irritability (if it’s specific movement, please let me know). Even the groin and hamstrings are constantly involved with walking and moving in single leg stance along with the glutes and rest of the lower body.

      • Most of the symptoms I feel is an intense nerve burn and tightness with some numbness in the hip, lateral/posterior thigh, sits bone, BACK OF KNEE, lateral/posterior calf and foot. The tenderness I feel is on the posterior side of the greater trochanter (kind of where the attachments are for the lateral rotators).

        Exercises were: side hip lying abduction with the leg externally rotated and extended, glute bridges with feet in and knees out to target GM and daily movement patterns to ensure proper alignment (standing, walking, sitting, squatting). Squatting while focusing on activation of the glutes really intensifies the burning sensations. These simple exercises were done in excessive amounts in the beginning. They seem to help in some bio-mechanical aspects like less snapping and popping in joints, however the burning sensation increases.

        I’ve tried all sorts of deep massage treatment on my own and from specialists to dig out knots, but deep massage just doesn’t feel right anymore, kind of like a dull/burn ache sensation instead of that oooo that’s a knot sensation. Now it feels like the other muscles (hams, quads, groin etc) are working overtime. Hoping not to damage those due to whatever is going on. Thanks again Matt.

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