Muscle Imbalances and How-To Fix

Muscle imbalances are something that I see a lot of in my business. One shoulder sitting higher than the other, one arm stronger than the other, one leg more dominant than its counterpart.  It’s a common occurrence with the human body, and one that does more harm than good.

Gray Cook, a physical therapist and leader in the field of functional movement (www.graycook.com), claims, “left-to-right asymmetries seem to be the most common problem associated with the risk of injury.” This holds true for the athlete as well as for us mere mortals working out in the gym.

In addition to contributing to injury, muscle imbalances can also cause day-to-day pain. For instance, weakness in certain muscles of the abdomen can create back pain because the muscles of the stomach need to be strong to help to support the back. The same holds true with the knee. If the muscles of the front of the thigh (the quadriceps) are more built up than the muscles at the back of the leg (the hamstrings), then you may be making an appointment with your physiotherapist in the near future.

One tip to remember when training at the gym:

  • When you workout one muscle group, be sure to train the opposite muscle group immediately after.
  • For example, a chest exercise in my gym equates to two back exercises (because most people tend to have poor postures related to daily living), a bicep curl is always followed with a tricep extension, an abdomen crunch with a low back extension, and a quadricep driven exercise is always followed with at least two (and sometimes three) hamstring and glute exercises.

Why so many glute and hamstring exercises, you wonder? The front muscles of the leg, in most people, usually tend to be stronger – while the poor muscles of the posterior are neglected and left out. This leads to everything from back pain, knee pain, and hip pain, to poor core instability and inefficient knee tracking. All nasty little things that will put an end to your workout.

Another trick I recommend to offset any imbalances is to train each side of your body individually:

  • Perform your chest press one arm at a time.
  • Use a D-handle for your lat pulldown and work each side independently.
  • Instead of a squat, do a one-legged squat.
  • A hamstring curl becomes a one-legged curl.

Here are three of my favourite single-sided training techniques for the lower body. Give them a try and see if you have one leg stronger than the other. How do you know if you do or not? Well, if you can perform one side easier and with better balance then you’ve got some kinks to work out.

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Pendulum Lunge is just like a forward lunge, except when you are coming back to start, keep the leg lifted and swing it behind you into a reverse lunge. This is one rep. Aim for ten and then switch legs.

Single-leg straight deadlift (picture 1) has you standing on one leg with the dumbbells in front of you. Keeping the shoulders back and down, hinge forward from your hips balancing on your right leg and lifting your left leg behind you. Maintain a neutral spine and when in mid-rep your body should look like the letter ‘T”. Perform 10-15 reps and then switch legs.

Picture 1 – Single Leg Deadlift

One-legged squat (picture 2) is performed on one leg (hence the name of the exercise – brilliant eh?) with your chest lifted and your arms down by your sides. As you squat down, try not to touch the ground with the non-working leg, and hinge from the hips so that your fingertips can come down and touch the ground beside the foot. Slowly come back up to a straightened position and perform again. Aim for 10 reps and then switch legs.

Picture 2 – One Legged Squats

 

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