In Alexander’s writings antagonistic action may refer to the stretch obtained when two parts are releasing away from each other; however the term appears too infrequent to deduct any useful definition.
In anatomical terms the antagonist is the muscle which, if activated, would oppose the work of the agonist. In most situations the antagonist would reflexly be inhibited and be passively stretched when the agonist is being activated. For example, if the biceps muscle (agonist) is being contracted, the triceps (antagonist) would relax so as not to interfere with the workings of the biceps. There are also situations where both agonist and antagonist would work.
The phrase ‘antagonistic action’ first appears in 1906 and last appears in MSI, where the phrasing ‘antagonistic muscular action’ also appears twice.
At present I simply state the great principle to be antagonistic action, perfect employment of which is the forerunner of that control which ensures the correct use of the muscular system of the thorax in its fullest sense as the primary motive power in the respiratory act, also adequate muscular development, non-interference with the larynx and nasal dilatation.
In the 1910 edition of MSI The following text preceded ‘Re-Education of the Kinæsthetic Systems’. Both were, however, omitted from later editions of MSI.
The Doctrines of Antagonistic Action and Mechanical Advantage: In the process of creating a co-ordination one psycho-physical factor provides a position of rigidity by means of which the moving parts are held to the mode in which their function is carried on. This psycho-physical factor also constitutes a steady and firm condition which enables the Directive Agent of the sphere of consciousness to discriminate the action of the kinæsthetic and motion agents which it must maintain without any interference or discontinuity. The whole condition which thus obtains [sic] is herein termed ‘antagonistic action,’ and the attitude of rigidity essential as a factor in the process is called the position of ‘mechanical advantage.
The specific control of a finger, of the neck, or of the legs should primarily be the result of the conscious guidance and control of the mechanism of the torso, particularly of the antagonistic muscular actions which bring about those correct and greater co-ordinations intended to control the movements of the limbs, neck, respiratory mechanism, and the general activity of the internal organs.
Jeroen Staring argues that antagonistic action refers to a diaphragmatic press breathing method as set out by other voice teachers at the time (Major Austin, William Aikin, William Shakespeare).
The phrases ‘antagonistic action’ or ‘antagonistic pull’ are rarely used in the Technique.
‘Antagonistic action and position of mechanical advantage’ by Ezra Eyal discusses antagonistic action and mechanical advantage.
Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity by Seán Carey.
See also Antagonistic pull.