Fixing Muscle Imbalances

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

Muscle imbalances can be seriously annoying, I've been dealing with a weaker left side in my glutes which really doesn't want to play ball when performing hip thrusts or squats. Muscle imbalances can lead to less optimal movement and may even lead to injury if not properly corrected. The knee extensor and knee flexor strength relationship for example has been an important factor for establishing a persons risk of a lower limb injury.

What are muscle imbalances?

Our body and joints work optimally in a state of balance. If one side of the body/joint is considerably stronger/larger than the other side we have a muscle imbalance. It should be noted that this does not always lead to pain or discomfort but strengthening weaker muscles generally leads to better joint mechanics and musculoskeletal health.

What could be causing the imbalance?

- Bad posture, sitting at a desk all day with a slumped posture, crossing your leg only on one side, leaning on one side continuously when sitting.

- Certain everyday habits, repetitive movements in your job, sitting for long periods of time, our sleeping position, carrying a bag on only one side.

- An unbalanced exercise programme only focusing on certain muscles or planes of motion.

- Inactivity, your body loves to move and holding prolonged postures can lead to muscle and joint discomfort.

Fixing muscle imbalances

- Unilateral exercises

It is hard to balance lagging muscle groups when working along side the stronger side. It is common for the stronger side to take most of the resistance, taking you further away from the goal. Unilateral or single sided exercises can therefor be a great option as it takes away the ability for the other side to do all of the work.

Exercise alternatives

- Single sided dumbbell chest press instead of barbell bench press.

- Bulgarian split squat or lunges instead of squats.

- Single leg dumbbell hip thrust instead of barbell hip thrust.

- Single arm dumbbell rows instead of barbell rows.

- Start with the weaker side

I always get my clients to perform unilateral exercises on their weaker side first. The logic behind this is that you always have a little more gas in the tank when starting an exercise. After you finish one side you will be a little more fatigued and the performance may decrease on the other side. Therefor starting with the weaker side gives it a fighting chance to gain a little more strength and create more balance between the sides. Also avoid performing more reps on the stronger side just because you can, match the weaker side to avoid increasing the imbalance.

- Gain a better mind muscle connection

In your warmup or before you start a set work on squeezing and feeling the muscle that is weaker. generally this works better with lighter or no weight and higher repetitions. For example if you had a weaker left glute, performing a set of prone glute lifts on the left side for 20 repetitions for 2-3 sets before starting a leg session. Using no load with this lift should activate the left glute without fatiguing it prior to your workout. It is also possible to do this very frequently, even daily to ensure the left glute becomes more in balance with the right.

- Do more volume overall with the weaker side

The more mechanical stress on a muscle the greater the growth response will be for that muscle. Therefor working the weaker side harder by performing double the repetitions or increasing the sets on the weaker side can help you create balance between the target muscles.

- Increase flexibility AND strength

Muscles work in pairs as agonist and antagonist muscle groups. The bicep and triceps in a bicep curl for example, as you lift the arm one must lengthen as the other shortens. If one muscle is lengthened and weak there is often a muscle on the other side that is shortened and tight. Short tight muscles can often limit the range of motion you can get for the weaker side and so stretching tight muscles is key. Now the issue is that if you just stretch the tight muscle and neglect to strengthen the lengthened weaker side, you run the risk of that tightness coming back. This is why I would do a little some dynamic stretching of the tight muscle before strengthening the weak muscle.

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