Break Free From Muscular Imbalances

Shannon Clark
by Shannon Clark
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Break Free From Muscular Imbalances

Most people naturally have one side of their body that is slightly stronger than the other, which is is normal. When that strength imbalance starts to grow larger, that can lead to problems.

These can develop due a number of reasons – working in an occupation that has you moving one side of the body more than another, playing a sport where you are constantly shooting from one side only, or simply always using barbells and never noticing that one side is stronger than the other.

While a side to side imbalance isn’t as big of a problem, if your chest is much stronger than your back, or your quads are much stronger than your hamstrings, injuries can results. Learning more about muscular imbalances and always being on the lookout for them is critical.

Let’s go over what you should know.

How To Adjust Your Training To Fix Muscular Imbalances

The very first step is to identify your muscular imbalances.

When it’s an imbalance between two sides of the body (your right bicep is stronger than the left), dumbbells can be used to identify the issue. While barbell training is a great way to build strength, it covers up muscular imbalances like this. Switch to dumbbells and each side of the body is responsible for its own weight. If one side is clearly weaker, you are going to know almost immediately.

If you notice one side is stronger than the other, you’ll want to perform your standard number of sets on both sides and then do 2-3 more sets using just the weaker side. So you could perform single arm lateral raises, single arm bicep curls, single arm shoulder presses, and so forth.

Slowly work on building up the volume and total weight lifted with your weaker muscle group. Eventually your muscles will equalize themselves out.
Increase the weight or reps for the stronger side once the weaker side is caught up.

When it comes to different muscle groups (your back versus your chest for instance), it’s easy to see how much weight you are lifting with each muscle. If you’ve got imbalance in this area, you’ll want to have a quick look at your workout program. You should be doing about the same volume for any opposing muscle groups. This includes the back and chest, quads and hamstrings, or biceps and triceps.

While you catch the strength imbalance up, you may wish to perform slightly more volume for the weaker muscle group. Once they’re at the same level, keep them equal from there.

How To Prevent Further Imbalances In The Future

In order to prevent future imbalances, make sure you have a good exercise program. Work similar volume levels for each muscle group and alternate between barbell and dumbbell lifting. If you work in an occupation or play a sport that favors one side, you may always need to do a little more volume for that weaker side in order to keep them equal.

Learn your body and adjust your program accordingly.

Don’t let muscular imbalances stop you from seeing progress. Use these tips and you can quickly get past them.

About the Author

Shannon Clark
Shannon Clark

Shannon is an AFLCA certified personal trainer with a degree in exercise science. She has written on the topics of health, fitness, and nutrition for nearly a decade, and her thoughts and advice are regularly published on Bodybuilding.com, shannonclarkfitness.com, and FitRated.com, a leading fitness equipment review site offering fitness insights on equipment, workout plans, and weight loss strategies.

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5 responses to “Break Free From Muscular Imbalances”

  1. Avatar DJ says:

    Thank you for this article. This is something everyone who lift, strength train, etc shoukd read. I had been training with someone who never paid attention. His concern was more reps with much more heavier weights. My right bicep became stronger and more developed than my left. Being he has more experience, this is something he should have identified. I’ve been exercising alone and once again paying attention to my body rather than focusing on more reps and heavier weight. That’s when I learned of my imbalance. Since then, I’ve been doing 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps before I begin bicep training. Focusing more on slow and controlled contractions and extensions. It’s a slow process but I’m seeing change and feel the bicep getting stronger.

  2. Avatar Tina Hoff says:

    This was a good article. However, there is another kind of imbalance that is often overlooked by trainers and many others — scoliosis. I have an “S” curve that never needed correction or caused me pain. BUT, once I hit my 40’s and started weight training with barbells, I hit a point which my coach called my ‘strong enough’ place. This was the weight threshold for my squat, deadlift and bench press where going beyond that meant over-strengthening my dominant side, and therefore emphasizing my curve and causing pain. After that point, I was not getting stronger, I was getting more debilitated. It took a good orthopedist, a good physical therapist who practices dry needling, a good trigger point massage therapist — and most importantly — my fantastically in-tune and knowledgeable coach who never stopped asking questions, changing my workouts, and letting me tell him what was working to get me back to being strong, moving well, and staying as fit as I can be without pain or injury.

    The reason I mention this, too, is that my coach as seen a large number of women in their 20’s, 30’s and beyond who have undiagnosed scoliosis — he ends up finding it while observing their movements during lifts, and seeing muscle groups compensating for the imbalances. If someone starts to notice an imbalance in the back muscles, it could be a structural issue that takes an integrated approach and not just a few extra reps on the “weak” side.

    • Avatar John Doe says:

      Scoliosis is not an imbalance, it is a condition with irregular curvature in the spine due to trauma, posture, or irregular activity. Scoliosis can cause muscular imbalance and also have an impact on muscular performance, but the actual homeostatic imbalance of Scoliosis affects the skeletal structure of the spine; muscular imbalance follows.

      • Avatar Tina Hoff says:

        Yes, you are right that scoliosis itself is not an imbalance. I am well aware that my imbalance is caused by structure, not by the other way around. My point was that imbalances like the minor ones discussed in this article are often natural — if I am right-handed, for example, my right bicep may be stronger than my left because I have forged a stronger neurological / physiological response in that side, and I have simple worked it more than my less dominant arm/hand. Those work themselves out with regular workouts and weight routines. However, structural imbalances that you cannot “make up for” may be something more important to notice and/or pay attention to while training to avoid injury and/or further imbalance.

  3. Avatar Opeongo says:

    It would help if there were some more details. Side to side imbalance is easy to test for, but what about details for, for instance, quads vs hamstring, or chest vs back? What is the correct ratio? Should the quads be 1.5, 2 or 3 times as strong as the hamstring? And how do you figure out where you stand? I have tried for years to find some guidelines for the relative strengths of opposing muscle groups and how to measure them, without success.

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