Although inevitable, there are ways to prevent and fix unfortunate muscle imbalances.
Our bodies are designed to move and that movement is reciprocal by nature. With so many muscle groups working together to coordinate our movements and ensure efficiency, muscle imbalances are bound to happen. Whether by natural development or working one side more than the other in the gym, these imbalances can interfere with proper movement, lifting technique, or just sheer aesthetic. Working for a healthy balance of muscle length and strength between opposing groups is the end all goal for all of us.
If you look in the mirror and see one muscle is bigger than the other, or find one muscle is stronger than the other on the opposing side, then you are suffering from a muscle imbalance. There are a host of reasons why a muscle imbalance can occur from natural development, athletic activity requiring specific movements, poor exercise form, or an unbalanced workout plan. Two types of muscle imbalances can occur. The first could be the result of neglecting and not properly training a muscle as completely as its opposing side, or there can be insufficient activation during certain compound exercises.
For bodybuilders, a muscle imbalance is absolutely debilitating. In a sport where aesthetic and symmetry are the goals, even the slightest muscle imbalance can throw your whole physique out of whack. Three types of symmetry exist when it comes to the muscular balance of the human body. Visual muscle symmetry is the correct ratios between length, circumference, and muscle shape. Functional symmetry is anything that aids in the proper motor patterns for the human body including good posture, joint mobility, flexibility, and strength. Strength symmetry is the ability to have all around similar strength, but for athletes who specialize in certain movements and muscle developments, this can be challenging (1).
If you do suffer from a muscle imbalance, or multiple muscle imbalances, it is not too late to correct it. Through modified training and attention, you can change the aesthetic of your body and work to improve whatever imbalances are there. See great progress with these tips and work to get back on track with your physique and fitness goals.
Why Fixing Muscle Imbalances Matter
For bodybuilders looking to maintain a solid, toned, symmetrical physique, muscle imbalances can of course cause discouragement especially after all of the hard work put in. Although this is a surface reason for why muscle imbalances matter, for those preparing for competition or those who just want to look great, it is understandable that this would be disappointing. But fixing muscle imbalances is important for more than just the surface reason of a symmetrical physique.
If a muscle imbalance is too big, then certain muscles have to work harder to overcompensate to correct form or lift that heavy weight which can lead to injury and pain. Even still, those weak muscles that are asking for help from others are vulnerable and can become injured themselves (2). Muscle imbalances can be a real double-edged sword for hurting those stronger muscle as well as the weaker muscles are two possibilities no one wants.
How To Fix It
You’ve identified you have a muscle imbalance and have made the choice to fix it. Working diligently with a workout plan and correct form is the first step to getting your physique and fitness to where you want to it to be.
Find Out Why It Occurred In The First Place
This may be challenging especially if it just a natural imbalance, but really think of your workouts, your form, and any everyday tasks you may do more of. If you’ve noticed one side is particularly stronger than the other in workouts and you still powered through, we’ll show you ways to fix that. If it is more occupational and something unavoidable because it is your livelihood or something you don’t want to give up, we’ll show you how to fix that too (3). But identifying the cause, if possible, is a great start to tackling muscle imbalances.
Start with Your Weaker Side
Starting with your weaker side will allow you to take note of just how imbalanced the muscle is. It will also serve as a benchmark for down the line as you progress because you will notice the once weaker side now getting stronger. While it is frustrating, do not lift more than you can on the weaker side. With time, the imbalance will fade, but avoiding injury and unwanted pain off the bat is equally as important.
Add More Single-Side Exercises
Adding more single-side exercises will allow for great isolation of muscle groups and allow you to train each one separately while also working both sides in the same workout. Single-side exercises will target certain muscles that may be imbalanced and will also allow you to focus more on form. Using resistance bands or cables with lighter weight will be great for mind-muscle connection and improving muscle imbalances (4).
With adding volume, it is important to not go crazy with the amount of reps. This can simply be adding in an extra set or two of just the weaker side arm. That way, you still work the dominant muscle, but the weaker one gets slightly more attention as you build the strength back up.
Focus On Form
Form, form, and form. Working on form and technique will ensure you exercise properly and not rely on certain muscles to compensate for weaker ones. Alongside a trainer or a coach, or even just looking in the mirror, will aid in proper form to keep you lifting big, looking great, and staying balanced.
Muscle imbalances can be an unfortunate part of our training. With so much going into our mission for big gains and a toned physique, these imbalances can be discouraging for our overall goals. But preventing them and fixing them comes down to hard work and determination while really focusing on the weaker muscles. Through changes in your workout plan and technique, you can identify where these imbalances come from and work to look and feel great.
*Images courtesy of Envato
- Palmieri-Smith, R. M.; Lepley, L. K. (2015). “Quadriceps Strength Asymmetry Following ACL Reconstruction Alters Knee Joint Biomechanics and Functional Performance at Time of Return to Activity”. (source)
- Franettovich, M.; Hides, J.; Mendis, M.D.; Littleworth, H. (2011). “Muscle imbalances among elite athletes”. (source)
- Lee, Dong-Eun; Seo, Sang-Min; Woo, Hee-Soon, Won, Sung-Yun (2018). “Analysis of body imbalance in various writing sitting postures using sitting pressure measurement”. (source)
- Tzur, Adam; Roberts, Brandon (2017). “Scientific Recommendations for Strength and Hypertrophy Training from 150+ Studies (part 1 of 3)”. (source)