Hey there, m’lady! Have you ever felt like your body is playing a sneaky game of tug-of-war, with some muscles being overzealous while others lag? Well, you’re not alone. Muscle imbalances are a common occurrence among many lifters, but fear not—I’ve got you covered.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the nitty-gritty of muscle imbalances, their causes, identification, and, most importantly, how to fix muscle imbalances. So, let’s embark on this journey to learn how to fix muscle imbalances, one muscle at a time.
What is a Muscle Imbalance?
Muscle imbalances is the unbalanced game of strength, size, and flexibility between opposing muscle groups. It’s like a tug-of-war where one side is all beefed up and the other side is just hanging on for dear life.
Picture this: your left glute is the Hulk of the group, flexing and showing off its impressive size, while the right glute is feeling left out, contemplating its life choices. Or maybe your chest muscles hit the gym more often than your upper back muscles, causing a bit of an imbalance showdown.
Now, here’s the scoop: muscle imbalances can happen to anyone, from gym buffs to couch potatoes. There are plenty of factors that can contribute to this uneven party. It’s like throwing a wild mix of lifestyle choices and repetitive movements into a blender and hitting the “imbalance” button. Not the tastiest smoothie, I must say.
Muscle imbalances can also have a serious impact on your performance as an athlete, particularly if you are involved in sports with repetitive actions such as running, cycling, or weightlifting.
Unfortunately, these pesky imbalances can wreak havoc on your posture, physical performance, and overall well-being. Poor posture becomes your unintentional signature move, and your body starts performing a not-so-stellar rendition of a hunchback.
And let’s not forget the party crashers—chronic pain and a higher risk of injuries. Trust me, you don’t want those gate crashers showing up at your body’s party uninvited. They’re like those annoying neighbors who keep asking to borrow your lawnmower.
And don’t get me started on trying to find a healthcare provider who can properly diagnose and treat muscle imbalances and any injuries or chronic conditions caused by muscle imbalances.
Finding a physiotherapist or exercise specialist who understands how to fix muscle imbalances can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Especially if you have a complicated diagnosis or a history of injuries.
But thankfully there’s a glimmer of hope amidst the muscle imbalance chaos. These imbalances may be a common, but you can correct them with proper training and targeted exercises. Stretching tight muscles and engaging in strength exercises designed to balance out the opposing muscle groups can work wonders.
Now that you know what muscle imbalances are, let’s find out what causes them.
What Causes Muscle Imbalances?
So, how do these imbalances happen?
Muscle imbalances happen when some muscles are stronger or more flexible than others.
Lack of Exercise
One way to develop an imbalance is by not giving your muscles the exercise they deserve. They’ll start to lose both strength and size. It’s the classic case of “use it or lose it.” And let me tell you, losing it is not the path to wellness. These imbalances can creep up on you, leading to mobility issues, chronic pain, and even injuries.
If you mix a sedentary lifestyle with poor posture, you’re just adding fuel to the imbalance fire. Picture this: you’re slouched over your desk, glued to your computer screen, oblivious to your posture crimes.
By not giving a hoot about good posture and remaining active, you’re practically asking your pec muscles to shrink and your rear delts and other upper back muscles to throw in the towel. With a weak back and shoulders pulled forward, you might end up resembling a question mark instead of a person.
Repetitive motions are another guilty party here. Take tennis players, for example. They have that one arm they favor, their trusty sidekick in all things racket related. By repeatedly whacking the ball with that dominant arm, they’re training it like it’s going for a gold medal in the arm Olympics.
After a few months, their dominant arm is all beefed up and ready to flex, while the other arm is left feeling abandoned and neglected. Talk about muscle favoritism! By repeatedly favoring the one side and neglecting the other, you’re inviting muscle imbalances in your life.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the exercise enthusiasts who bravely tackle workouts with incorrect form. When you don’t perform exercises with proper form, you end up recruiting the wrong muscle groups or not engaging the target muscle like you’re supposed to.
It’s like trying to send a superhero team to fight crime, but accidentally picking a bunch of sidekicks instead. By repeatedly working out with poor form, you’re strengthening the wrong muscles while neglecting the ones that truly need your attention.
An Unbalanced Training Program
Last, but not least is the neglecters. You know, when you only train your upper body or lower body. By skipping entire muscle groups, you’re angering the God of Muscles and Strength and you’re going to pay dearly for it-at some point.
Of course, you’re never going to have perfectly balanced muscles. That’s not how we work. So, if you have a slight muscle imbalance, there’s no need to panic, if you’re making sure not to exacerbate your imbalance or add new imbalances to the mix.
Now that we’ve uncovered the mischief behind muscle imbalances, let’s dive into the detective work and discover how we can identify muscle imbalances.
Identifying Muscle Imbalances
Before you learn how to fix muscle imbalances, it’s important to learn how to identify them first. Thankfully, it’s simple to identify muscle imbalances.
One way to determine if you have a muscle imbalance is to ogle yourself in the mirror. Stand in front of a full-length mirror and check if one shoulder is higher than the other or if one thigh is bigger than the other. You get the picture.
You’re looking for asymmetries and misalignments that are noticeable to the naked eye. You can also check the alignment of your knees and hips when standing, walking, or running to spot any irregularities. It’s best to phone a friend or trainer for this part because it’s difficult to spot these by yourself. If you know a good physiotherapist, that’s a good option too.
Check for Pain and Stiffness
You’ll also need to pay close attention to how your body moves during exercises or physical activities. Do you feel discomfort or pain in certain areas?
Maybe one side is all loosey goosey while the other is all uptight and grumpy? These are all clues that you may have muscle imbalances, and identifying these patterns can help you find which muscle groups need further attention.
Functional Assessment Tests
Another way to test for muscle imbalances is by performing functional assessment tests, such as the single-leg squat test. To complete this test, stand on one leg like a majestic flamingo and complete a one-legged squat.
Notice how you perform the squat—can you complete it with finesse, or does your knee decide to cave inwards or outwards, doing its own interpretive dance? Then repeat on your other leg and compare your performance.
If you noticed you struggled more with one side, then you most likely have a muscle imbalance. If you struggle to maintain your balance, it could be a sign of poor stability and strength in your lower body muscles.
Team Up With A Physiotherapist or Corrective Exercise Specialist
Alternatively, work with a physical therapist or corrective exercise specialist who can perform a series of assessments to see if you have a muscular imbalance.
They often have cool tools that can measure muscle activation and so forth, so you’ll get a more accurate result. But make sure you go to someone reputable who knows what they’re doing because, well, existing is expensive and wasting money on an ineffective physio sucks.
Types of muscle imbalances
Yes, there are different types of muscle imbalances.
The two main types of muscle imbalances include symmetrical and proportional imbalances. Symmetrical imbalances are common since it’s impossible to be completely symmetrical. The only women who are completely symmetrical are the ones on Instagram and we know how they got that right *cough filters and editing *cough.
You’ll often see proportional imbalances in people who only train certain muscle groups, like upper body while neglecting their lower body.
Symmetrical imbalance (left to right)
A symmetrical balance happens when your one side is stronger and larger than the other side. For example, having a larger and stronger bicep on your right arm is a symmetrical imbalance. You can also have various symmetrical imbalances simultaneously, like an imbalance between your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Usually, when you have an imbalance with your glutes, for example, the hamstring and quads of the same leg will also be affected.
This scenario typically happens because you have one leg that is much more dominant and takes over during bilateral movements like squats and deadlifts. The less dominant leg doesn’t get recruited as much, so the muscles don’t strengthen and grow at the same rate.
Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll never be completely symmetrical, because that’s not how our bodies work. Which honestly feels like a scam. But what can we do?
Proportional imbalance (Lower vs upper, back vs front)
You see this type of imbalance the moment you walk into the weight section at most gyms. Not to pick on men, but many men prefer training upper body and often neglect their lower bodies. So they end up developing a proportional imbalance because their upper body balloons and their lower body is left looking a bit deflated. Sort of like a Dorito.
But hey, ladies, we’re not off the hook either. We tend to fall into the trap of obsessing over our lower bodies while forgetting to give our upper bodies the love they deserve. Luckily for us, it’s not as noticeable because men can pack on a ton of muscle, so the disproportion is far more noticeable to the naked eye. But because we can get away with it, doesn’t mean we should.
You can also develop a muscle imbalance between the front and back of your body. An example would be if you train your chest but don’t train your back. Not only will your back be underdeveloped, but you’ll likely have issues with your posture. A double whammy with painful consequences.
Proportional imbalances are no laughing matter. They can cause a bunch of issues down the line. The problem with solely focusing on upper, lower, front, or back is that you end up neglecting entire muscle groups and not allowing your muscles to work harmoniously.
Our muscles are like interconnected trains, running across our bodies, supporting, and stabilizing us in different exercises. By favoring one side or performing only isolation exercises, you’re throwing the delicate balance off track and inviting those pesky imbalances to take center stage.
So how do you fix muscle imbalances when you’ve developed them?
How To Fix Muscle Imbalances
Now we get to the most important part, how to fix muscle imbalances. First, you need to apologize to the Goddess of Muscle and Strength. Just kidding. Sort of.
The best way to fix a muscle imbalance is with targeted stretches, strength training exercises, and mobility drills. Armed with these three exercise types, you’re well on your way to kicking muscle imbalances to the curb.
Here are some ways to fix muscle imbalances to prevent injuries and chronic pain:
Use unilateral exercises
Unilateral exercises work one limb at a time, giving special attention to the weaker side. We’re talking single-arm chest presses, single-leg squats, lunges, and even daring lateral raises.
These moves help even out the playing field, allowing the weaker side to catch up to its dominant counterpart. By adding unilateral exercises, you work on each side of your body individually, and it means your dominant side can’t take over while you complete each movement.
Always start with the weaker/smaller size
Begin with the underdog: When you’re trying to correct muscle imbalances, always start with the weaker side. Give the weaker side the spotlight it deserves while you’re fresh and full of energy. That way, you don’t end up neglecting the weak side when you’re exhausted. This prioritization will help you build it up and correct any imbalances that may exist.
For example, if your left quad is weaker than your right, do all your sets and reps for your chosen exercise on the left side and then complete the sets and reps on the right side.
Add more volume to the weaker/smaller size
To make the weaker muscle mightier, you need to increase the volume. Think more sets, more weight, more reps, longer time under tension, and shorter rest periods. By intensifying the workload on the weaker side, you’ll see it grow in size and strength at a faster pace.
For instance, if you’re doing Bulgarian split squats, you can up the ante by adding an extra set, a couple more reps per set, or even heaving a few more pounds onto the weaker side.
Address the root cause of your muscle imbalance
I call this the Scooby Doo moment. You know when the gang finally catches the monster, they pull off the mask, and the culprit was right in front of their noses all that time? Same principle. You need to channel your inner Mystery Inc and find out what’s causing the muscle imbalance, expose it, and address it.
Poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, improper exercise form, and a bad exercise program can all contribute to imbalances.
Implementing any of these methods to address a muscle imbalance won’t help if you sit at your desk like the sloth from Zootopia. Or if you exercise with poor form.
While you may be tempted to race through your workout like an F1 driver at the Grand Prix, it’s crucial that you focus on the quality of your reps. By repeatedly performing an exercise with poor form, you’re cementing that movement pattern in your brain, and it becomes extremely difficult to rewire your brain after that.
Address mobility and flexibility issues
To get results, you must also address mobility and flexibility issues if you have any. Poor range of motion can inhibit your muscles, and if the muscle you’re trying to target won’t turn on, other muscles will step in to do the job. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Forcing your body to function in a way it’s not supposed to is a recipe for months in physio.
Stretching and foam rolling are your allies in your quest for mobility and flexibility. You may find it surprising, but many women who start weight training neglect these crucial aspects.
If you prioritize your flexibility and mobility from the start, you’re less likely to run into problems later.
And if you suspect any issues, it’s wise to seek the guidance of a professional to navigate the treacherous waters of mobility. Savvy?
Unilateral Exercises to Fix Common Muscle Imbalances
Whew! Now that we’ve covered the nitty-gritty of how to fix muscle imbalances, it’s time to dive into some unilateral exercises that can work wonders in correcting those common imbalances. Trust me, these exercises are the secret sauce you’ve been waiting for.
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite — lunges. These bad girls are fantastic for evening out the strength and muscle size between your legs. They work by emphasizing the glutes, hamstrings, and other stabilizing muscles of the lower body while promoting symmetry between the left and right legs.
How to do it:
Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart and step forward with one leg. Lower your body until your rear knee nearly touches the ground, and your forward thigh is parallel to the floor. Push yourself back up and repeat the movement with the other leg. Do two to three sets of 10 to 12 repetitions for each leg.
Next up, we have bicep curls. Wait, what? Bicep curls? Yes, you heard me right. While primarily known for their arm-sculpting prowess, bicep curls also play a role in fixing muscle imbalances. If you’ve noticed a muscle imbalance in the size or strength of your biceps, then bicep curls should be in your routine.
How to do it:
Stand holding a couple of trusty dumbbells in each hand, with your arms gracefully hanging by your sides and make sure those elbows are cozy and close to your torso with your palms facing forward.
While keeping your upper arms steady and strong, channel your inner superhero as you curl those weights up, up, up, until they reach shoulder level. And then slowly lower the dumbbells down again.
You can do these with both arms exercising simultaneously, but it’s best to do one arm at a time if you have an imbalance so you can give extra attention to the neglected side.
Single Leg Deadlifts
Now, brace yourself for the mighty single leg deadlifts. This exercise is a powerhouse when it comes to restoring balance between your quadriceps and hamstrings, all while giving your glutes and lower back some serious attention. It’s a must-have in the toolbox of athletes who lift weights or engage in activities demanding lower body strength and mobility.
How to do it:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell on the ground in front of you. Bend your hips and knees to grip the bar with an overhand or mixed grip, keeping your back straight.
Stand up while lifting the bar and extend your hips and knees until you’re standing straight. Lower the bar back down to the ground and repeat. Start with a light weight and work your way up, doing three to four sets of six to eight reps.
Other unilateral exercises include:
- Single leg bridges
- Single leg hip thrusts
- Single arm dumbbell rows
- Single arm dumbbell presses
- Lateral raises
- Bulgarian split squats
- Single leg curls
- Single leg squats
- Reverse lunges
And pretty much any exercise where you can train one side at a time.
These exercises target various muscles, promote symmetry, and help you achieve better posture and overall performance. Include them into your workout routine, and you’ll be strutting around with balance and confidence.
Remember to start gradually and progress slowly and listen to your body. If you experience pain or discomfort, seek medical attention, and adjust your exercise routine accordingly.
Preventing Muscle Imbalances
You’ve heard of the adage prevention is better than cure. Well, that’s true. Taking steps to make sure you don’t develop a muscle imbalance is a helluva lot easier than trying to correct it later.
Since muscle imbalances can lead to pain, injury, chronic muscular or neuromuscular conditions, and poor performance, it’s super-duper important to implement some strategies to prevent these muscle imbalances and maintain a healthy, balanced body.
Let’s dive right in, weak muscles first!
Train full body
Firstly, it’s important to include a range of exercises that target different muscle groups to ensure balanced muscle development. For example, while squats are great for developing the quadriceps, they don’t work the hamstrings and glutes as effectively as deadlifts and hip thrusts.
So, it’s important to include exercises like lunges, deadlifts, hip thrusts, and leg curls to target all the muscles of the lower body. But don’t forget your upper body. Even if you don’t want to be Lady Jackton of the Jacked Isles, you still need to train those upper body muscles.
Train opposing muscle groups by using the primary movement patterns
Following on from the first point, it’s important to include exercises from each of the primary movement patterns categories. The primary movement patterns include knee dominant, hip dominant, vertical pull, vertical push, horizontal pull, and horizontal push exercise.
These movement patterns target the various muscle groups in your body and by selecting a few exercises from each category, you’ll be sure to train your full body and prevent muscle imbalances from reoccurring. It also means you won’t look like a Dorito or have a super muscular front side and a very weak, sad looking back side.
Take care of your mobility and flexibility
As I mentioned before, it’s important to stretch regularly to improve flexibility and prevent muscle tightness. Tight muscles can increase your risk of injury and decrease your range of motion, which can lead to muscle imbalances. Stretching exercises, such as yoga and static stretching, can be valuable in preventing muscle imbalances.
Foam rolling regularly also helps tight muscles to relax and mobility drills will ensure that you get a proper range of motion through your various joints.
You may think you’re young and indestructible now, but when you’re older, poor mobility becomes a huge problem and a major contributing factor to chronic pain and falls. Don’t skip the flexibility and mobility aspect of training, it’s important and helps with recovery.
Ensure you lift with correct form
Again, lifting with the correct form means you’ll recruit the correct muscles and prevent imbalances from occurring. Trust me, it’s a long process to correct a flawed movement pattern, so it’s best to prevent them from developing.
Include unilateral exercises
We already discussed how using unilateral exercises can help to correct a muscle imbalance, but it’s also important to include some unilateral exercises in your routine once you’ve corrected any imbalances. This well help prevent future imbalances from developing, saving you from the frustration and potential injuries.
In a nutshell, all you need to correct a muscle imbalance is a combination of exercise, stretching, posture, and rest. And patience. Quite a bit of patience. Okay, maybe a lot of patience.
Learning how to fix muscle imbalances is only half the battle. By including a variety of exercises that target all the major muscle groups, maintaining good posture, stretching regularly, you can reduce your risk of muscle imbalances and enjoy a healthy, balanced body. As always, if you experience pain or discomfort, seek medical attention, and adjust your exercise routine accordingly.
Can muscle imbalances be corrected?
Absolutely, you can totally whip those imbalances into shape with the right mix of stretches, foam rolling, and targeted exercises. However, if the problem persists despite your best efforts, it is important to seek professional advice from a physiotherapist or corrective exercise specialist.
How long does it take to correct a muscle imbalance?
Well, it’s a bit like growing a bonsai tree. Minor imbalances might straighten out in just a few weeks, while more stubborn imbalances can take a few months or even longer. But hey, good things come to those who work those muscles.
Should I ignore muscle imbalances?
Hmm, it’s like pretending that pile of laundry in the corner will magically disappear. Proportional or major symmetrical imbalances? No, you don’t want to sweep those under the rug. Ignoring muscle imbalances can lead to injuries and performance hiccups, so you shouldn’t ignore them. If it’s a minor symmetrical imbalance, then it shouldn’t cause issues but monitor it just in case.
Does sleeping on one side cause muscle imbalances?
Muscle imbalance can happen if you only sleep on one side, but that’s usually because of poor posture or a mattress and pillow that isn’t supportive enough.
Are muscle imbalances a big deal?
Picture a tightrope walker trying to perform with wonky balance. Not really going to work, is it? So yes, muscle imbalances are a big deal because they can lead to decreased performance and increased risk of injury. So, it is important to prevent muscle imbalances and correct them if they occur. With the right combination of stretches, exercises, posture, and rest, you can correct your muscle imbalance and reduce your risk for injuries.