Everyone has at least one or two muscle imbalances; maybe you have noticed that one arm is stronger than the other and seems to push faster on bench press or shoulder press, or that you push more through one leg when you squat or deadlift. In this article we are going to cover some common questions regarding muscle imbalances and training with them.
Can you workout and train successfully with a muscle imbalance?
“I have a muscle imbalance but I want to workout.”
Are muscle imbalances a big issue and do I need to get assessed by a physical therapist? Or are they naturally occurring and I’m ok to workout? Is my risk of injury increased with a muscle imbalance?
Having a muscle imbalance can increase your risk of injury during physical activity, including working out. This is because imbalanced muscles can lead to improper form and technique, which can put additional stress on certain joints and tissues. In some cases, muscle imbalances can also lead to chronic pain and discomfort.
If you’re concerned about a muscle imbalance, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist. They can assess your condition and movement patterns, help you identify any imbalances that could potentially cause an injury, and develop a safe and effective exercise plan to address them. They may also provide you with specific exercises to help improve your strength and flexibility, reducing your risk of injury and promoting optimal physical function.
Additionally, it’s important to start gradually with any new exercise program and avoid pushing yourself too hard, especially if you have an existing muscle imbalance. This will help you build strength and endurance gradually and reduce your risk of injury.
Do muscle imbalances occur naturally?
“I always sit with one leg crossed over the other, and I am wondering if this can cause problems?”
Yes, muscle imbalances can, and do, occur naturally and are a common issue for many people. Certain activities and habits, such as sitting for long periods of time, can exacerbate existing imbalances or create new ones. In this case, sitting with one leg crossed over the other can put repetitive stress on certain muscles and joints, potentially leading to an imbalance over time.
It’s also common for people to have imbalances in their posture and muscle strength, due to factors such as genetics, injury, or overuse of certain muscles. These imbalances can lead to a range of issues, including decreased range of motion, chronic pain, and a higher risk of injury during physical activity.
The good news is that with the help of a physical therapist or a very experienced trainer, you can identify and address muscle imbalances through targeted exercises and stretches. This can help improve your overall strength and stability, reducing your risk of injury and promoting optimal physical function.
What if I notice my body is not symmetrical?
“Are bodies symmetrical? Is it ok for the left side of my body to not match my right side?”
No, bodies are not naturally symmetrical, and it is common for the left and right sides of the body to be slightly different in terms of strength, flexibility, and range of motion. In fact, many people have what is known as “functional asymmetry,” where one side of the body is naturally stronger or more dominant than the other due to factors such as handedness or sport-specific movements (ex: throwing sports or positions like a pitcher in baseball).
However, significant muscle imbalances between the left and right sides of the body can lead to a range of issues, including decreased range of motion, chronic pain, and a higher risk of injury during physical activity. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, or if you’re concerned about a muscle imbalance, talk to your coach or trainer or physical therapist.
While some asymmetry is normal and to be expected, it’s important to be aware of any imbalances that may be affecting your physical function or increasing your risk of injury.
How do I know if I have a muscle imbalance?
There are several signs and symptoms that may indicate you have a muscle imbalance:
- Pain: If you have pain or discomfort in a specific area, it could be a sign of a muscle imbalance. For example, if you have pain in your lower back, it could indicate an imbalance between the muscles of your lower back and hips.
- Postural changes: Changes in your posture can be a sign of a muscle imbalance. For example, if you have a tendency to stand or sit with one shoulder higher than the other, it could indicate an imbalance in the muscles of your back, neck, and shoulders.
- Decreased range of motion: If you have limited range of motion in a specific joint, it could be a sign of a muscle imbalance. For example, if you have difficulty reaching overhead or lifting objects, it could indicate an imbalance in the muscles surrounding your shoulder joint.
- Chronic pain: Chronic pain (pain that occurs for several days or weeks) in a specific area can be a sign of a muscle imbalance. For example, if you have chronic knee pain, it could indicate an imbalance in the muscles of your legs and hips.
- Injuries: If you have a history of repetitive injuries in a specific area, it could indicate a muscle imbalance. For example, if you frequently experience ankle sprains, it could indicate an imbalance in the muscles of your legs and feet.
If you suspect you have a muscle imbalance, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist. They can assess your condition and help you develop an exercise program to address any imbalances and promote optimal physical health.
Here are ten exercises that can help correct common muscle imbalances:
- Squats: Squats target the muscles of the legs, hips, and lower back, helping to improve overall lower body strength and stability.
- Lunges: Lunges target the muscles of the legs, hips, and glutes, and can help improve balance and stability, as well as address imbalances in the legs.
- Deadlifts: Deadlifts target the muscles of the lower back, hips, and legs, helping to build strength and stability in these areas.
- Pull-ups: Pull-ups target the muscles of the back, shoulders, and arms, helping to correct imbalances between the front and back of the body.
- Push-ups: Push-ups target the muscles of the chest, triceps, and shoulders, helping to build upper body strength and correct imbalances between the front and back of the body.
- Shoulder external rotations: Shoulder external rotations target the rotator cuff muscles, which can help improve shoulder stability and reduce the risk of injury.
- Planks: Planks target the muscles of the core, including the abdominal muscles, helping to improve overall core stability and reduce the risk of injury.
- Bridging: Bridging targets the muscles of the hips, lower back, and glutes, helping to build strength and stability in these areas.
- Side planks: Side planks target the muscles of the obliques and hips, helping to improve core stability and address imbalances between the left and right sides of the body.
- Single-leg exercises: Single-leg exercises, such as single-leg squats and single-leg deadlifts, can help address imbalances between the left and right legs and improve overall lower body stability.
Another note about training with an imbalance and trying to fix that imbalance with your coach or trainer’s help, is to video your movements. As we tell all of our lifters, “video doesn’t lie.” Sometimes when you “feel” something is off in your movement and you notice you are pushing harder or struggling with one side, taking video and reviewing that video with your coach/trainer will reveal the problem.
To sum it up, just about everyone has an imbalance…or two…or more! It is ok and it is normal to have imbalances and you can successfully strength train with them, but you should be aware of them and you should be doing what you can to keep them in check. You may never fix your imbalances and that is also ok, but you can make them less noticeable. If your imbalances are not hurting you or causing pain or impeding your progress, then “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”