The Danger of Being Stronger on One Side of Your Body
Whether it’s improving appearance, enhancing performance, or losing weight, there are numerous reasons why people start working out. While it’s great to have these goals, many people hit the ground running without doing a thorough fitness assessment, which comes with group training or personal training.
One of the most common issues I see with clients is muscle imbalances – this occurs when an opposing muscle is stronger than the other. And to make matters worse, the majority of them don’t even realize it!
You cannot achieve optimal function and movement if your muscles aren’t balanced. As the number one cause of injury, it’s important to address and correct muscle imbalances.
What Causes a Muscle Imbalance?
Here’s an example that many people can relate to. Think about sitting at a desk all day. The muscles in your chest and abs will gradually pull your shoulders forward, and over time (if you aren’t conscious of your posture) this can leads to a muscle imbalance in the front of your body and your back. The imbalance may not be obvious initially, but as time passes, this difference in strength can cause health issues.
There are two types of muscle imbalances: body muscular imbalance and joint muscular imbalance.
Body muscular imbalance. Opposing muscles should be symmetrical in terms of size and strength. If you have muscles that are stronger or weaker on one side, or bigger or smaller, this results in an imbalance.
Joint muscular imbalance. This is also true for muscles that surround our joints. To achieve a wide range of motion and movement, our muscles use opposing force. When there is a difference in size or strength, this negatively impacts the way we move and function.
Now, that you know the types, let’s break down the signs you might have a muscle imbalance:
The tape measure doesn’t lie. When I do an assessment, the first thing I do is take measurements from top to bottom. This includes neck, shoulders, chest, arms, upper waist, lower waist, thighs, and calves.
Generally, the legs are almost always within a quarter of an inch, and they’re very close in strength and dimension. If someone is right-handed, their right arm is going to be about a half-inch larger than the left – especially if they don’t exercise – since that one is dominant. So, keeping all of these things in mind, I can spot the problem areas and if there are any imbalances.
- Performance in the fitness studio
In most cases, when people are exercising using a fixed piece of equipment (like a barbell), it’s easy to see a muscle imbalance. One shoulder may slouch slightly and one side may be noticeably stronger than the other. But it’s important to pay attention to these imbalances in the early stages, because if they are left untreated, they can cause serious injuries.
For example, I had a client in my personal fitness training program who never did any weight training before. I noticed when she came in her one shoulder was slightly tilted, and when she did the movement, I noticed the problem was a shoulder impingement. So, in her case, it was more of a medical issue, and this prevented her from achieving the full range of motion. Since there was an imbalance and one side was significantly weaker, I had to address that first. I worked with her on different movements to specifically rebuild the weak areas. Once it became stronger, we moved to the other side. It was a process, but important that we took it slow.
- Physical pain and limited mobility
Do you struggle to perform daily tasks that were once easy? Like bending down to pick up a package or take out the garbage? Do you notice during exercise you aren’t as flexible or strong?
People who have a muscle imbalance often feel physically uncomfortable and can tell something is off. Pain is a common symptom. It’s your body saying something isn’t right and it’s up to you to listen to it. When I see many people in the gym who look like they are physically struggling, I tell them to stop. There’s nothing wrong with working hard and pushing yourself, but know when you’re going too far.
What You Can Do
Here’s the good news: you can fix a muscle imbalance with specific exercises.
The three types of training to focus on include flexibility, posture, and muscle balance.
For flexibility training, follow a workout with longer-duration stretches. To start, I recommend a standing hamstring stretch, side bend stretch, and lunging hip flexor stretch. This will help lengthen muscles that became tight during exercise.
For posture training, you’ll want to choose the best exercises for alignment, which contributes to muscle imbalances. Pelvic curls, plank pose and roll-ups are all great to bring your body back into balance.
For muscle balance training, there are many great one-sided exercises you can try to increase strength. If one of your legs is weaker than the other, single-leg extensions, single leg curls, and single leg presses can help. For core training, you can try a side bend or side lunge. The exercise will depend on the area that needs work.
Your body is an incredible machine. All parts are connected, working together to keep you healthy. When one part isn’t working properly, it impacts everything around it. That’s why if you have a muscle imbalance, don’t wait! Now that you know the symptoms, you can spot the problem early on.
If you’re curious about muscle imbalances and want to come into the studio for a comprehensive assessment with one of our trainers, reach out to us today to schedule an appointment!