The Dominant Muscle Debunk

This is a subject that has multiple layers and facets. I am going to cover the most commonly cited which are: being “quad dominant” and being “trap dominant”

Depending on where you’re at in your training and how in depth your interest is, you could be believing a bunch of well-intentioned misinformation that actually will hinder what you get out of training, your recovery and how much you spend on physical therapy for the rest of your life.

For instance, sometimes you will go and get a massage, that person may say that they notice your quads are very tight and possibly use a phrase like ‘quad dominant’ and your brain will automatically latch onto this diagnosis and decide that’s the way you are.

I don’t know why we do it, we just do - it’s a natural thing for people to search for what’s wrong with them, to have a label and a diagnosis rather than what they can do to change and improve.

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So you think you’re quad dominant?


Quad Dominance is often synonymous with Hamstring Laziness.

The quads have 4 components - the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the rectus femoris, which are all easily worked without much effort when it comes to form as simply bending/straightening the leg, walking up stairs and standing up will put pressure through these muscles and force them to work.

The hamstrings however take a little more practice, patience and awareness with pelvis positions to get them to actually work correctly and effectively. It’s a potential side effect of our seated lifestyle, but the lower back just loves to take over. Even people who don’t feel like they have a problem with ‘quad dominance’ or ‘hamstring activation’ can generally make improvements with further coaching; the slightest tuck or movement from the pelvis can have a major impact on your ability to create tension or explosiveness.

When I’m training coaches, I’ll always try and make them aware of this: just because someone’s back is straight when they are deadlifting, are you 100% sure that the muscles are working in the correct order?

This is something that can take YEARS to learn how to spot - let’s face it, unless all of your clients are under 5% body fat and train naked, you have to really be aware of catching subtle differences in form… and I’m pretty sure there are rules against training people in the nude.

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So how do we work around this common misconception that you simply have dominant muscles that do their own thing and that other muscles are just naturally going to be weaker …and you have no control over either?

I don’t know if there is a way to tart this up a bit but here goes...

“A bit of effort”

If you don’t address a problem, it won’t change… why would it?

Like, right now my 3 year old daughter won’t pick up her toys until being asked 90 times. If I only tried once and didn’t ask the other 89 times, it definitely wouldn’t get done - unfortunately during those 89 times you’ll almost certainly end up losing your shit at some point, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it - it is never time wasted.

How do you fix it?
Firstly you need to make sure you have your ranges in your hips to be able to effectively work the hamstring muscles. Two of which are your straight legged toe touch and the deep lunge test:

Toe Touch:
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Deep Lunge Test:
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If you struggle with either of these then retraining your muscles will be less effective; not a waste of time, just if you cannot use a muscle throughout its full standard range it will always be limited. These two examples are just normal flexibility for function, not advanced flexibility. If you are miles away then I would advise stepping things back a bit and making this a primary focus before trying to force activation.

If you’re fine with, or close to passing the Deep Lunge test and doing a comfortable toe touch then working on your muscle activation will be ok.

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The most simple thing to do when retraining quad dominance is to start your workouts with more hamstring focused movements and really make sure that you are doing them correctly. Some of my favourite hamstring based movements are:


Single leg deadlifts:

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Hamstring sliders:

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Kettlebell deadlift:

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Hamstring focused step ups:

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It takes a bit of work and multiple sessions but why not work yourself through it now to avoid issues later on? Take it from me, people that always feel that they are quad dominant and never do anything about it generally end up with back and/or knee pain. It makes sense to avoid these issues with good warm ups and great exercises.


So you think you’re trap dominant?


Overactive traps are often closely related to lazy lats.

If your shoulders are slumped forward all of the time then you are missing the adequate ranges for all of the muscles in your shoulders to work correctly - therefore making the traps feel overused and as my daughter has started saying, they get “very very very very very very very very very very very very very very cross”

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How do you fix it?
For muscles to work correctly - posture comes first which is why The Simplistic Mobility Method has exercises directly related to where the shoulders sit at rest. After that, we want to know how to feel our lats, which we can start to learn by using the deadlift lat raises from End Range Training:

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 This stuff doesn’t need to be complicated: simple fixes and basic movements are what teaches your body better movement patterns.


Do you have to do this stuff forever and ever?


No, in fact when I meet up with people to train with them they are always surprised that my warm up usually consists of a coffee. When you put the work in and know your body better you earn the freedom to skip out on warm ups and constant stretching and foam rolling. It took me a few years and some hard(boring) work to get to that point but I don’t regret any of it!

When someone I have been coaching moves more competently it really makes me feel like I’ve done a great job - regardless of numbers on a board! People get stronger and fitter all of the time, but showing someone how to move well so they avoid injury easier and feel awesome all of the time? Now that’s rewarding!

Have you ever been told you have something “wrong” with you? Has this blog sparked a more curious mindset with you? We would love to know! Email us at hello@tommorrison.uk, or leave a comment! 

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