How to Correct Muscle Imbalance: Tips for Optimal Symmetry
Have you ever felt that one side of your body is stronger or more flexible than the other? Or you may wonder why your right arm is bigger than your left. This could be a sign of muscle imbalances.
Muscle imbalances are pretty common. Everyone has them to some degree, whether you are a seasoned lifter or a complete beginner. After all, we all have our preferred or dominant body side.
However, you may be surprised to discover that muscle imbalances could hold you back from achieving your fitness goals. Often hidden in plain sight, these imbalances impact your workout efficiency and can increase your risk of injury.
This article will dive deeply into the nature of muscle imbalances and how you can correct them to optimize your training.
Muscle imbalance happens when certain muscle groups are overdeveloped or underdeveloped compared to other muscle groups. You have probably already seen them in people who have overdeveloped chests, biceps, and other mirror muscles but neglect their back muscles.
When you have a set of bigger and stronger or smaller and weaker muscles that affect other muscle groups and the quality of movements you can do, then you have a muscle imbalance.
Different opposing muscle groups have an ideal ratio of strength and length that they need to coordinate for optimal movement. However, since your muscles are attached to your bones and joints, this optimal ratio is disrupted if they are too strong or weak, leading to impaired athletic performance and faulty joint mechanics.
Significant muscle imbalances can affect the stability of your joints and limit the maximal force your muscles can produce. This means it can impact how much load you can lift and eventually slow down your gains in the gym.
Long-term impairment in the muscles, joints, and tendons due to muscle imbalances can lead to compensatory movements during exercises, uneven physique, poor posture, and injury.
Certain muscle groups become weak and tight if you spend tons of hours sitting daily or are physically inactive. For example, sitting for extended periods can lead to tight hip flexors and weak glute muscles.
Beginner lifters who have a sedentary routine and are always on a computer tend to have an imbalance in their upper body, as exemplified by forward-head posture, tight neck and chest muscles, weak upper back muscles, and discomfort on the traps that may come and go.
It’s common for lifters to develop a favorite set of exercises they enjoy doing more often or with greater intensity. However, concentrating on specific muscle groups too much and neglecting others may create a disproportion in the development of different muscle groups.
Many lifters prioritize the anterior chain muscles (chest, biceps, abs, and quads) in their workouts. For example, doing too many lunges or squats increases the focus on the quads, leaving the hamstrings weak and tight, and can affect the knee joint.
Ever wonder why the same foot tends to get tripped or sprained again when you sprain an ankle? Without proper rehabilitation, strength, and ankle mobility training, you are predisposed to a recurrent ankle sprain due to muscle imbalances
This is because when you experience an injury, your body protects the affected area. This involves altering your movement patterns or compensating with other muscles to reduce the strain on the injured area.
As other muscles pick up the slack for the injured area, they may become overworked, leading to tightness and overuse. Recovering muscles, on the other hand, tend to become underused and weak. In the long run, these compensatory movement patterns can become ingrained, making it difficult for the body to return to its original and balanced state.
Some individuals may have inherent anatomical differences, such as spinal curvatures and leg length discrepancies, that can predispose them to muscle imbalances. Physical therapy rehabilitation and orthotic devices can help in these kinds of situations.
Follow a balanced training program
Ensure that your training routine targets your major muscle groups. For example, if you work on your biceps, you should also emphasize your tricep. Working out multiple muscle groups with an optimized training program will give you the right amount of symmetry and overall strength.
If you have overdeveloped anterior chain muscles, you must add exercises targeting the posterior chain (back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves). Using a roman chair or GHD exercises is an excellent option to be added to your routine.
While squats, deadlifts, and presses offer huge gains, the body tends to “cheat” to accomplish a lift. You’ve probably seen this on lifters who struggle to lock out an exercise on one side.
Including unilateral exercises (single-leg squats, single-arm dumbbell rows, Bulgarian split squats, etc.) in your routine will improve muscle development and balance, as they help identify and correct any strength discrepancies between the two sides of your body.
By isolating one side at a time, you can ensure that both sides work equally hard, preventing dominant muscles from compensating for weaker ones.
Once you find out which muscle groups are weak, you can increase the volume and intensity of your weekly workout on the non-dominant side to catch up with the stronger side.
Another tip is to start with your weak side first in any set of exercises when your energy and focus are at their highest. This will allow you to ensure the quality of exercise movements on your weak side.
The mind-muscle connection or internal focus can influence the quality of your workout and muscle growth. Try this, focus on contracting the biceps of your dominant arm and compare it with the contraction of the other arm. You’ll instantly notice the difference in muscle definition and contraction of your muscles.
To improve mind-muscle connection, bring your full attention and focus on the contraction of your target muscles each rep, particularly during unilateral exercises.
Include regular stretching and mobility exercises into your routine to maintain flexibility and range of motion, preventing tightness that can contribute to muscle imbalances.
Here’s a workout program that will help you isolate muscle imbalance:
Proper posture helps distribute the force of gravity evenly across the body, reducing stress on muscles, joints, and ligaments. Good posture and workspace ergonomics can prevent muscle imbalances due to tightness in certain areas and weakness in others. It can also help prevent the development of chronic pain and discomfort.
Give your muscles adequate rest and recovery time between workouts. Remember, rest is a crucial part of the fitness process. This can help reduce the risk of overuse injuries and muscle imbalances. In addition, prioritize sleep, hydration, and proper nutrition to support optimal recovery.
Addressing and understanding muscle imbalances is essential to optimizing your fitness routine. By strategically doing the tips above, you can correct muscle imbalances, paving the way to better exercise quality and strength development and reducing risks of injury.