Manual muscle testing is a skill that takes time and practice to perform with reliability. However, it is a valuable tool for fitness professionals.
There are visual and verbal cues that can be used to perform an exercise properly but looks can be deceiving.
Let’s use the squat exercise as an example.
If you were to instruct a client on how to properly perform the squat you would probably explain the proper stance width, foot, trunk and head position, staying back on the heels, etc.
And, from what you can see, it appears that they’re doing the exercise correctly but they feel lower back pain. Now, you could simply modify the exercise or substitute an alternative.
But, what if the pain wasn’t caused by the exercise itself but from the inability to activate the core stabilizing muscles?
Since this isn’t something that can actually be seen, and verbal feedback from the client can be misleading at times, manual muscle testing can help to determine whether or not an exercise is achieving its main purpose.
This is particularly true when performing core stabilization exercises for the abdominals because many times the client will recruit the rectus abdominis but fail to recruit the deep abdominal stabilizing muscles (ex: transverse abdominis).
The client might feel their abs working however without manual muscle testing it’s difficult to know if the right muscles are being activated.
Below are 2 manual muscle tests for assessing abdominal stability:
Instruct the client to try to hold this position for 30 seconds and ask them what area or part of the body they feel most. Prior to the test, place your middle finger inside their belly button and feel for contraction of the TVA. If it’s working properly you’ll feel the belly button move away from your finger (toward their spine).
Next would be to test this in standing to see if they have TVA recruitment during functional movements (ex: bending forward).
Sitting ‘V’ Position
Instruct the client to hold this position for with a slight backward lean of the trunk for 60 seconds and notice any changes. Believe me it’s harder than it looks. If the chest drops, they feel burning in the thighs, cramping in the hips and/or the lumbar extensors this indicates weakness or inhibition of the abdominal muscles in the role of stabilization.
Also, feeling the quadriceps will provide important feedback. If you feel the quadriceps contract strongly this is an indication of the quadriceps compensating for weak or inhibited abdominal stabilizers.
These tests take time and practice to learn but manual muscle testing is a valuable skill for fitness professionals that can help correct muscle imbalances, prevent injuries and improve the effectiveness of an exercise program.
Unfortunately, muscle testing isn’t taught in most personal training certification courses however there are some excellent resources available on muscle manual testing and core stabilization exercises