Maybe you've been working out for a while, or maybe you're new to working out—either way you might have noticed that you're not perfectly symmetrical, meaning your left side doesn't match your right.
Genetically speaking, most people don't have perfectly symmetrical features, and while we may not be able to change natural asymmetry, we do have the ability to change muscle imbalances.
A muscle imbalance means that the strength or size of muscle on one side of the body is not symmetrical to the strength or size of muscle on the other side of the body.
Muscle imbalances can happen for all kinds of reasons.
Athletes who play baseball, or golf for example, may produce muscle imbalances because they use a dominant side to throw or swing. Gym veterans and newbies alike can also develop muscle imbalances by relying on their naturally dominant side to push through a PR, heavy lift or intense movement.
It is always best to find the root cause of a muscle imbalance and to make a precise effort to fix it. Muscle imbalance shouldn't be taken lightly--it could create bigger problems, from posture to spinal positioning, which can ultimately lead to issues walking, sitting and even lying down as time progresses.
If you have muscular imbalances, you face several risks, including:
- Injuries - Muscular imbalances can place greater stress on your joints and force other muscle groups to do more work than they normally would.
- Decreased performance – Muscular imbalances can decrease your performance because your body may not be working efficiently. As an example, someone with an imbalanced upper body may struggle at activities like rock climbing if they mainly train their pushing muscles but neglect their pulling muscles.
- Poor mobility - When people have muscular imbalances, their overall range of motion can be decreased in certain joints because some muscles may not be strong enough to perform the movements they’re trying to do.
- Bad posture – Having muscular imbalances can lead to poor posture. You may find yourself hunching over, leaning towards a certain side, or doing some other movement to compensate for imbalanced muscles.
Start to correct imbalances by adding more unilateral exercises to your workout. Unilateral exercises allow you to isolate one side of your body from the other.
Hammer Strength machines, resistance bands, dumbbells, and single side cables are all pieces of equipment that will help you focus your attention on your weaker side.
The reason we want to work unilateral exercises into the plan, and avoid movements that allow both sides to work at once, is simple: the strong side will automatically take over.
If you are doing bicep curls for example, and your left side is stronger than your right, then you will likely lift with greater assist from the left, instead of equally from both sides.
You will want to formulate your rep scheme according to the strength of your weak side. You do not want to work to that of your stronger side, as this will only exacerbate muscle imbalance.
Since you are going to adjust the amount of reps to suit your weak side, start with that side to get a feel for your rep count. If you can only do 10 reps on your left side, and 15 on your right, stop at 10. In theory, you want to under-train, or maintain the right side in hopes of allowing the left side to progress.
Many people choose to fix muscle imbalances on their own, but I also advise in some cases working with a rehab specialist, or hiring a trainer to ensure proper form. If poor form is partly to blame for imbalance, you may need the help of a professional to recognize this and to help you train the right way.
Flexibility can also cause muscle imbalances, so make sure you are taking yourself through a proper dynamic warm up sequence to prepare you for a full range of motion when you train. Don’t forget to stretch at the end of a workout, giving special attention to your weaker side.
Don't neglect a muscle imbalance. Instead work towards improving your weaker side, to avoid issues further down the line.
To recap, here are tips to guide you along the way:
- Perform unilateral exercises in place of bilateral exercises when rehabbing imbalances.
- Determine your set/rep range by working to the strength of your weak side.
- Concentrate on form-- hire experts, or video record yourself.
- Don’t forget to perform a dynamic warm up, and to stretch after a workout to promote flexibility
Taking a protein supplement that promotes muscle recovery like Cellucor Whey Sport can help you achieve the lean muscle gains that you’ve worked so tirelessly for. You went hard during your workout and pushed yourself to your limits, so now it’s time to take a load off and relax. Except while you’re chilling out, your muscles aren’t. They’re working overtime to recoup the stress that you’ve just put them through.