- A muscle imbalance is a noticeable discrepancy in size or strength between muscle groups, such as having a right biceps larger than the left, or an upper body larger than the lower body.
The most common causes of muscle imbalances are improper scheduling of training and poor exercise technique, mobility and flexibility.
To correct muscle asymmetry, train the weaker muscles more and do no more repetitions with the stronger muscles, and to correct muscle disproportions, follow training routines that emphasize the main muscle groups you want to improve.
Let’s be honest.
One of the biggest reasons to work hard in the gym is to look good. Really good.
Most of us want a large, wide upper body, bulging biceps, washboard-like ABS and a thick, strong lower half.
Girls usually want slim legs, a curvy butt and an upper body and toned abs.
And if you listen to the right people, you will find that getting there is not so difficult.
Get your calories and macros right, follow a well-designed workout program, take the right supplements (or not) and just work out, and you’ll gain muscle and lose fat like clockwork.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with the physique you want.
Over time, you may notice that one side of your chest is smaller than the other, or an arm, or a leg, or heck, maybe even one side of your body.
Many people say that this should not happen if you are following a half-sensible exercise routine. Others say that it is purely genetic. They’re both wrong.
You can develop muscle imbalances with any weight lifting routine, good or bad, and you can take steps to correct them.
It’s also easy.
You do not have to drastically change your training or buy special equipment.
As you’ll see in this article, all you have to do is make some simple adjustments to your workout routine, monitor how your body responds, and adjust accordingly.
Let’s do it.
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What Is a Muscle Imbalance?
Almost every major muscle in your body has a calf.
Left pec, right pc
Left quad, right quad
Left triceps, right triceps
Left lat, right lat
. . . and so on.
Therefore, one type of muscle imbalance is a discrepancy in size or strength between a pair of muscle groups.
For example, it is common for boys to have one arm or pec that is larger than the other.
Bodybuilders refer to this as “asymmetry.”
Sometimes you can see these imbalances in the mirror, sometimes you don’t, but you often notice them in your training because one limb is stronger than the other.
For example, if one hand rises faster than the other on your bench press, it may be due to one or more muscle imbalances on the slower side.
Another type of muscle imbalance can exist between pairs of major muscle groups, such as the chest and back, the triceps and biceps, and the upper legs and calves.
If one of the muscles in these opposing pairs is smaller or weaker and less developed than the other, visual symmetry and performance suffer, and sometimes the risk of injury increases.
Bodybuilders call this “disproportion.”
For example, overdeveloped chest muscles and underdeveloped back muscles not only ruin your “aesthetics,” they can also increase the likelihood of shoulder injury.
Read: The 7 Best Ways To Fix And Prevent Shoulder Pain
Similarly, if the hamstrings are weaker than the quads, this can increase the risk of suffering a hamstring injury.
For example, overdeveloped and underdeveloped not only hits your “aesthetics” but can also increase the likelihood of hurting your shoulders.
Similarly, if the hamstrings are significantly weaker than the quadriceps, this can increase the risk of suffering a hamstring injury.
So the goal is twofold:
Symmetrical looking muscles on each side of the body
Proportional development of the upper and lower and front and back parts of your body
Fortunately, 80% of this is following a well-designed training program that focuses on heavy barbell training and does not neglect or undertrain any part of your body.
The other 20%, however, depends on your genetics.
We all have strengths and weaknesses that need to be addressed.
For me, my chest and biceps have always been high responders, while my lats and calves have been more stubborn than a radioactive mule.
Summary: A muscle imbalance is a noticeable discrepancy in size or strength between muscle groups.
This can take the form of an asymmetry, where a muscle on one side of your body is larger than the other, or a disproportion, where one or more opposing muscle groups are significantly larger than the other.
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What Causes Muscle Imbalances?
The most common cause of muscle imbalances is training one muscle or muscle group more, or more intensely, than another.
For example, if you do more reps on your dumbbell curls with your strong arm than your weak arm, you will end up bigger and stronger.
Likewise, if you hit your chest with 100 heavy reps per week and your back with just 30, or if you focus all of your time on your upper body and neglect your legs, you will develop a disproportionate physique.
These types of scenarios generally stem from poor training scheduling.
Many men’s training programs emphasize the “mirror muscles” (chest, shoulders, and arms), while overlooking the rest (back and legs).
A good program, however, intelligently distributes work between your upper and lower regions, and between pressing, pulling, and squatting exercises.
Another common mistake that results in muscle imbalances is using one side of your body more than the other in various exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and the military press.
Many people do not focus on the task at hand while training and let their minds wander. This avoids the “mind-muscle connection” that many bodybuilders talk about, and often results in one side of the body (the stronger, normally) doing more work than the other.
For example, let’s say the muscles in the left back are less developed than the right ones. You don’t realize it, but while doing dumbbell rows with your left arm, you’re using more shoulders and momentum to balance the weight than with your right. Therefore, each time you row, the right side of your back does more work and grows faster.
Poor flexibility and mobility often prevent people from exercising properly, even if they want to.
Many of us spend our days sitting or hunched over a desk, which makes it easy to develop tight shoulders, hip flexors, and lower back muscles that can’t function well in the gym. Our body compensates in a number of ways, which can cause certain muscles to be overly engaged with others that are not.
Summary: The most common causes of muscle imbalances are improper training scheduling and poor exercise, mobility, and flexibility form.
How do you detect a muscle imbalance?
The easiest type of muscle imbalance to detect is asymmetry.
All you have to do is grab a tape measure and compare.
I like to measure flexed muscles for this analysis as it results in more accurate numbers (you are less likely to depress muscles with the tape and throw off your measurements).
The proportions are much more difficult to judge, however, because it is at least partially subjective.
You might think a guy’s biceps are too big for his shoulders, but someone else might think he looks amazing. That said, if you take cold, unflexed images of the front and back of your body, and analyze the relationships between your upper and lower halves, and your front and back muscles, you will likely find flaws.
This is especially true if you are training one side or half of your body harder or harder than the other. If that’s the case, you have at least a small imbalance.
If you are a boy, you can also see how you measure up to the physical standards given in this guide to building an ideal looking physique, determining what you need most to improve, and addressing it in your training.
(There are no such guidelines for women I know, but if you’ve found something, please leave a link in the comments below!)
You can also use this guide to help estimate your genetic potential for the development of different muscle groups to see where you have the most room for improvement.
Summary: To detect muscle asymmetry, measure your flexed limbs on your right and left side and compare the measurements. To detect a muscle disproportion, take pictures of your body from different angles and see if there are parts that appear too large or too small compared to others.
How to Prevent Muscle Imbalances
The first step in preventing muscle imbalances is to follow an exercise program that is based on compound exercises that train the whole body evenly.
For example, if you want to train your legs, you can do something like leg extension, which works only your quadriceps, or you can squat, which works all the muscles in your legs and also involves almost all the other muscles in your body. .
The same goes for all major muscle groups.
You can do an exercise that isolates it, strengthening a little more, or you can do one that focuses on it, but strengthens others as well. And the more you make of the latter, the more evenly your body will gain muscle and strength. However, that does not mean that you will not develop muscle imbalances.
First, you will favor one side of your body more than the other in certain exercises.
You can do an exercise that isolates it, strengthening a little more, or you can do one that focuses on it, but strengthens many others as well. And the more you make of the latter, the more symmetrically your body will.
Unfortunately, that does not mean that you will not develop muscle imbalances.
First, you will inevitably favor one side of your body a little more than the other in certain exercises.
You can extend one arm a little more during your bench press, or tilt one foot more than the other while squatting and lifting deadlift. Over time, these habits can add up to slight, though significant, differences in size and strength.
This is one of the reasons why many weightlifting programs include one-sided exercises, which are movements that train one limb at a time (one-leg or one-arm movements), such as dumbbell lunge, alternating push-ups with dumbbells, and Bulgarian Split Squats.
This type of exercise nullifies physiological biases that can creep into bilateral exercises, which train both limbs simultaneously (such as the barbell squat, barbell bench press, and barbell deadlift). With one-sided exercises, each member must “pull his own weight”.
Another effective way to prevent muscle imbalances from developing in your body is to follow a mobility routine.
If your body is not flexible and functional enough to perform an exercise correctly, the compensations that result, over time, will cause muscle imbalances.
For example, I’ve had problems with tight hip flexors, and when one side was tighter than the other, I couldn’t help but prefer the looser one when doing squats with heavy weights.
If I had done nothing to correct this, not only would I have increased my risk of injury, but one of my legs would have ended up more developed than the other.
I’ve fixed it every time with a simple mobility routine like this, and now I’ve improved by keeping it as a matter of routine, rather than corrective action.
If you do just 15 minutes of mobility work once or twice a week, you may be surprised how much it can help your performance in the gym.
See these articles for more information on effective mobility routines:
⇨ The ultimate guide to mobility exercises: improve flexibility, function and strength
⇨ How to improve flexibility and mobility for squatting
Mejorar how to improve shoulder flexibility and mobility
Mi my daily 10-minute yoga routine for better and safer workouts
Summary: the three best ways to prevent muscle imbalances are to follow a training program based on compound exercises that trains your entire body evenly, incorporate one-sided exercises into your program, and improve your flexibility and mobility.
How to Fix Muscle Imbalances
So, you have a muscle imbalance.
You know what to do and not to do going forward to prevent further issues, but now we have to get you back on track.
As you know, there are two kinds of muscle imbalances, and they require different solutions.
How to Fix Muscle Asymmetries
If one side of your body is bigger or stronger than the other, the solution is obvious: train the weaker more.
The easiest way to do this is to increase the weekly volume (reps or sets) on the weaker side. I like to go up 25 to 35 percent.
For example, let’s say your left shoulder is smaller than your right, and you do about 30 reps of lateral dumbbell raises per week per side (three sets of 10 reps).
You can then hit your left side raises up to 40 reps per week by adding an additional set to your shoulder workout for just your left arm (three sets to the right, four sets to the left) and continue in this manner. until your left shoulder catches up.
You should also finish your sets in one-sided exercises when your weak side fails. In the former case, that would mean stopping lateral raises when your left can’t go any further, regardless of how much more your right can do.
By doing this, you avoid accumulating more volume on your stronger side.
It also helps start your sets on your weaker side. That way, you are allowing your weakest part to determine when you stop your sets, not your strongest.
Continuing with the shoulder example, you may only be able to do 8 reps per set with your left arm when doing dumbbell lateral raises, even though you can do 10 or 11 with your right arm. Here, you would still only do 8 reps with both arms to keep your volume the same.
Summary: To correct muscle asymmetry, train your weaker muscles more and do not do more repetitions with your stronger muscles.
How to Fix Muscle Disproportions
At the bottom, the solution here is pretty much the same as the one above: you have to train lagging muscle groups more, or more intensely, than you’re training them (or both).
You can achieve this by increasing the volume weekly, or by working with heavier weights and pushing hard for a progressive overload.
So, let’s say your legs are still too small compared to your upper body, despite following a well-balanced weightlifting routine.
Maybe you neglected your legs and now have an imbalance between your upper and lower body development, or maybe your lower body just didn’t respond to training as well as you expected.
Either way, if you don’t change anything about your training schedule, you will be stuck with this imbalance for quite some time.
The solution is to train your legs harder, but that doesn’t mean adding another leg workout on top of what you’re already doing.
Instead, you will likely have to dial in all the rest of your workout again to “make room” for additional leg work, especially if you are doing a lot of heavy, compound weight lifting (as it should be )!
This will allow you to focus on maximum leg development, without sacrificing the size or strength you have developed elsewhere.
A training routine that is designed in this way is called a “specialization routine.”
It is designed to push the envelope with one muscle group, while reducing with others, so you can make sure you are making a full recovery.
Here are several examples of specialization routines that I have put together:
⇨ How to get bigger and stronger legs in just 30 days
⇨ How To Get Bigger And Stronger Biceps In Just 30 Days
⇨ How To Get Bigger And Stronger Triceps In Just 30 Days
⇨ How to Get Bigger and Stronger Shoulders in Just 30 Days
⇨ How to get a bigger and stronger back in just 30 days
⇨ How to get a bigger and stronger breast in just 30 days
⇨ How to get a bigger and rounder butt in just 30 days
If any of those muscle groups are lagging behind for you, work your way through their respective routines, and it should help.
Summary: To fix a muscle disproportion, first make sure you’re following a well-balanced training plan that revolves around heavy, compound weightlifting. If that doesn’t fix the problem, follow a training plan that emphasizes an important muscle group that you want to improve.
The Bottom Line on Muscle Imbalances
A muscle imbalance is a noticeable discrepancy in size or strength between muscle groups, such as having a right bicep that is larger than the left, or an upper body that is larger than the lower body.
The most common causes of muscle imbalances are:
After an improper training plan, especially one that target certain muscle groups much more than others (80% upper body and 20% lower body, for example).
Careless exercise technique that makes you involuntarily train one side of your body more intensely than the other.
Poor mobility and flexibility, which can make it impossible to correctly execute a series of exercises.
Sometimes, however, the culprit is simply genetics, which can cause one muscle group to grow much faster than another.
For example, my chest and biceps have always been high responders and fast cultivators, while my lats and calves have always been slow.
To help prevent muscle imbalances, follow a training plan that revolves around heavy, compound weightlifting and pay close attention to all major muscle groups. Incorporating one-sided exercises into your routine and improving your flexibility and mobility can also help.
To correct muscle asymmetry, train your weaker muscles more and do no more reps with your stronger muscles, and to correct muscle disproportions, follow workout routines that emphasize the main muscle groups you want to improve.
By doing all of that, you will avoid muscle imbalances and not only improve your “aesthetics” but also reduce the risk of injury.
What is your opinion on muscle imbalances? Do you have anything else you would like to share? Let me know in the comments below.
The post The Easy Way to Find and Correct Muscle Imbalances first appeared on Legion Athletics.