Early in my career, I would spend a significant amount of time trying to “correct” a client’s muscular imbalances. These were deficits or patterns that I identified during a practical assessment in the gym.
For some clients (mainly those who suffer from chronic pain), this was the right decision. But otherwise it meant we didn’t really spend enough time training. More importantly, it was probably the wrong decision.
Unless you’re dealing with injuries or other pre-existing conditions, there’s probably nothing to worry about. Yeah you’re following a good training plan (more on that below).
As human beings, we are made to move through life asymmetrically. Slight differences in strength (and stability) from side to side are completely normal. And if you are an athlete, trying to correct or eliminate asymmetries or imbalances could impair your performance.
However, if you have a significant strength deficit on one side, it could also lead to injury down the road, as the weaker side is also most likely not as stable.
So where do you draw the line? An easy test is to judge your workouts based on 3 variables.
You probably don’t need to worry if you’re following a solid training plan because a good training program is corrective. He ensures that significant balances are unlikely and that he is training in a way that will accommodate all of the most common deficiencies.
As long as your training checks the following 3 boxes with your training, you are likely to eliminate most muscle imbalances over time.
Variable #1: Do your workouts include reaching exercises?
Because we spend a lot of time in front of computers and sitting down, you’ll often hear that a 2:1 push-pull ratio is just right. So, for example, you should do at least 2 sets of rows for every set of bench press.
While this can help you correct any strength imbalances you may have (and that’s important), we need to dig deeper if you want a healthy, pain-free upper body.
During a bench press setup (using a barbell or dumbbell), we are taught to squeeze our shoulder blades into the bench. This retraction (joints) and compression position creates a solid shelf for pressing.
The problem is that exercises intended to balance the bench press (pulling exercises like seated rows) end up with your shoulder blades together and your back compressed.
In other words, if we look at the position of the shoulder blades during many push-pull exercises, it doesn’t make much of a difference.
That’s why it’s important to switch some of your pushing exercises, which are often geared toward pressing with a barbell or dumbbells, to reaching exercises like push-ups and landmine presses.
Where the bench press and row squeeze the shoulder blades back, reaching movements open the shoulder blades (called protraction). That means they oppose (or balance) both pushing and traction exercises.
Variable #2: Does your training include single leg (and single arm) training?
Are your workouts based solely on compound exercises like back squats and barbell bench presses? In that case, you’re likely allowing subtle strength and stability imbalances to develop. These can lead to injuries on the road.
If you want to build balanced side-to-side strength, you need to add single-limb movements. Do you need some inspiration? Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Single leg exercises:
Pro Tip: When choosing weights, let your weaker side guide your load selection. That might mean it’s easier at first for your stronger arm, but this will even out. Do not raise the weight until both arms (or legs) can do the same amount of weight for the same number of repetitions.
Variable #3: Does your warmup include mobility movements?
Muscle imbalances can develop when your movement is restricted or you spend hours stuck in the same posture. The fix: Include exercises in your warmup that improve your mobility to help you with a more comfortable range of motion.
That doesn’t mean you need a 20-minute warm-up.
Here it is a movement which targets the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine, three areas of the body that tend to be the most restricted.
or try this Site preparation series pre-workout to open the back and hips.
If you check those boxes and stay consistent, you may have some slight variations, but they probably won’t be enough to cause a problem or lead to injury.
BJ has a Bachelor’s degree in Human Health and Performance and multiple certifications, including Precision Nutrition Level 1 and BioForce Certified Conditioning Coach. During his 14 year coaching career, he has been fortunate to train a wide range of clients. From online clients looking to get in shape to CEO Nate Checketts (Rhone) and CEO Marcelo Claure (Softbank) and professional skateboarder Sean Malto. Before beginning his coaching career, he was a research assistant in a sports science laboratory.