Muscle imbalances and retractions

The objective of this article is to shed some light on a topic that is sometimes forgotten or misunderstood among athletes and coaches. We will talk about how to prevent and remedy muscle retractions and the postural problems associated with them. We should first clarify what we mean by the concept of ” muscle retraction “: It is the specific shortening of a muscle or muscle chain . They are usually accompanied by postural problems such as hyperkyphosis (exaggerated dorsal curvature), hyperlordosis (exaggerated lumbar and / or cervical curvature), scoliosis (misalignment of the spine in the anteroposterior plane), etc.

By tradition, the belief has been famous that to avoid these imbalances or even remedy them, the solution is to do strength work directed at the antagonist muscles. For example, someone with hyperkyphosis was advised to perform latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rear deltoid work, etc. Under the belief that his poor posture was due to repeated and excessive work of the pectorals and the tonic musculature and posture were not taken into account. So they forgot to advise postural education work and stretching of the retracted muscle chains. With what was given as a solution, cause the same problem but on the opposite side … What do you think will happen to that subject if he practices more muscle-building exercises but with poor posture? The problem, far from being solved, will worsen …

We cannot expect bad positions to resolve themselves “by themselves” by doing weight exercises without paying attention to how our body is positioned. The solution passes through the awareness of our organism, knowing what we have and how we have it and then consciously correct it. That is, to eliminate a forward rolled shoulder, for example, we will have to know that it is rolled and that it is not a natural or healthy position. Only in this way can we mentalize ourselves and try to place it in the best possible position. Performing the well-known rear deltoid “birds” will not magically set you right.

In order to remedy these problems, the person must be aware of how their posture is and try to change it. It is useless to work the antagonist muscles without thinking about how our shoulders, lower back, etc. are positioned. For this there are different techniques and exercises. Here we will focus on the method devised by the French Phiippe Souchard, Active Global Stretching (SGA). Which reminds us of Yoga, but with the advantage of being much simpler and more practical. The method is based on the work of muscle chains. These are groups of muscles that work in the same direction and that are very interrelated. So if something happens to one of them (a retraction, injury, etc.) the entire chain will be affected.

We distinguish different chains: two master and six complementary.

Normally, postural decompensations are associated with the retraction of one or more muscle chains.

In the SGA there are different positions to treat the different retractions. They can be open (treatment of the anterior master chain with the wide hip angle) or closed (for the posterior master chain with the reduced hip angle) and under load (bearing one’s own body weight, usually standing or with the trunk close to the chest). vertical) or discharge (with the spine close to horizontal, resting on the ground).

The open postures would be aimed at people with problems such as dorsal hyperkyphosis, very common among the general population, retraction of the hip flexors, very widespread among runners, etc. While the closed ones are recommended to deal with posterior shortening, such as people with problems in the hamstring muscles, triceps surae, buttocks, erector backs, etc. Once the position is chosen (open or closed), modifications can be made by keeping the upper and / or lower limbs adducted or abducted to affect the complementary chains.

A session usually includes a closed posture and an open posture, one being loaded and the other unloaded. The duration can be around 40 minutes. It is recommended to maintain the loaded posture for less time, because they are usually more exhausting and difficult to maintain. The ratio could be 25 minutes for the unloaded position and 15 minutes for the loaded position. The weekly frequency will be a weekly session for healthy athletes without serious problems and at most two for difficult cases.

When maintaining the postures, we must breathe deeply and during the exhale try to elongate our body in the axial axis, as if we had a rope in the highest part of the head and they were pulling it. The guidelines for proper breathing are:

As you inhale:

1. Widening the rib cage (bringing the ribs to the sides)
2. Inflate the belly (making the navel rise)

As you exhale:

1. Shrink the rib cage (hiding the ribs, bringing them to the center of the body
2. Shrink the belly, bringing the navel towards the spine and contracting the abdominal muscles moderately

Practitioners of the Pilates method call it “breathing like the ocean” and this type of work can also be found in Yoga.

The best results are found when we practice this method with the assistance of a professional or colleague with experience in SGA who corrects and stretches us, but we can also obtain results (especially at a preventive level) by practicing alone, if we have previously been properly trained.

These are the recommendations of the creator of the method, although we can also include the postures before or after training, for less time and more regularly in order to prevent retractions. For example, after a hard workout it is very pleasant to lie on your back and stretch the anterior master chain.

Many athletes and coaches are adept at combining global and analytical methods. For example, we can hold a posture for the posterior master chain and then perform an analytical stretch to further focus the stretch on a certain area. But here each one with their choice …
We hope we have clarified some doubts on this subject, and remember that to prevent back problems, pain and others, the key is to live with the best possible posture and train with impeccable technique.


  • SOUCHARD, P; Active Global Stretching (I): From muscular perfection to sports results. Paidotribo, 2010.
  • SOUCHARD, P; Active Global Stretching (II). Paidotribo, 2010.
  • SOUCHARD, P; RPG: Principles of Global Postural Reeducation. Paidotribo, 2005.
  • Active Global Stretching