When you look at the human body, you see it is full of imbalances; one kidney is higher than the other, one lung has three lobes while the other has two, and only one side of the body has a liver. Muscles can also become imbalanced.
These imbalances are a common part of life; we all have them. You might not realize that you have imbalances, or you might wonder why some exercises are much harder on one side of your body. It all comes down to how your imbalances affect you
If you have ever done a single-leg movement like a lunge or a step-up, you may have noticed that one leg (usually the right) is a little more coordinated and stronger than the other. This is a muscle imbalance and for the most part, is perfectly normal.
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However, if you notice a big difference in strength or balance on one side, or notice some discomfort in one side more than in the other, you need to address these imbalances.
Before I give you my four ways to correct muscle imbalances, let’s first look at the major reasons why they occur.
Why do imbalances they happen?
A muscle imbalance occurs when one muscle group is more active/stronger than another group. This is seen a lot in the shoulders and hips with what is called Upper/Lower Cross Syndrome
is when the muscles of your chest are short or over-active and the muscles of your back are long or under-active.
is when your lower back and thigh muscles (quads and hip flexors) are short or over-active and your glutes and abdominals are long or under-active.
These imbalances are commonly caused by your day-to-day activities. If you stand all day, or sit all day, or even perform repetitive tasks (from sports or job), one set of muscles will become weak from lack of use while another becomes over-used.
Some muscle imbalances are present since birth
or can be caused by a traumatic accident, but these occurrences are much less common. This article will focus on imbalances caused by day-to-day use.
How to Know If You Have an Imbalance
The easiest way to know if you have an imbalance is to look at how you stand at rest.
Are your shoulders slouched forward?
Do you have excessive rounding in your upper back?
Do you have a forward head posture?
Do your hips tip forward or excessively arch at the lower back?
You will notice in this picture that my shoulders are rounded forward, I have a forward head posture, and my hips tip down. (Side Note: muscle imbalances are not always this noticeable.) This is a classic case of Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome.
The other common imbalance is extension in the upper and lower back.
You will notice a big arch in my lower back like in Lower Cross Syndrome, but in this picture, my ribs are excessively flared.
How to Fix:
Once you know what imbalances you have, you can start addressing the problem with strength and mobility exercises
If you are more like Picture 1, then you need to add in some upper back, core, glute, and hamstring strengthening exercises
, and some hip and chest mobility work.
Strengthen The Back
When you strengthen your back it will begin to pull you out of that rounded posture and back to a more neutral posture, over time.
Prone Trap Raises
Notice that I bring my shoulder blades back each time; I do not shrug my shoulders. From there, I lift my hands, allowing my shoulder blades to glide along my ribs.
Engage the Abs
When you learn to engage your abdominals, you will (over time) bring your pelvis back to a more neutral position.
When you perform the Reverse Crunch
be sure to keep your heels tight to the back of your legs. Use your abdominals, not momentum, to bring your knees up to your elbows. The heavier the weight/counter balance you use, the easier the exercise will be.
Use the Glutes and Hamstrings
While the abdominals help to pull the front of your pelvis up, the glutes and hamstrings help to pull the back of your pelvis down.
90/90 Hip Lift
Think of pushing your feet into the wall while at the same time pulling your heels down. When you do this, you should feel your hamstrings and glutes turn on.
Set/Reps: 2-3×5-8 breaths
The Deadlift is a great exercise for you to learn how to put everything together. You will want to think about squeezing your armpits (engage your back muscles), holding your abs, and using your glutes and hamstrings.
Soft Tissue Work on Hips and Chest
Adding soft tissue work can help bring back some of your lost mobility
Lax Ball Hip Flexor
Lax Ball Pec and Pec Minor
If you look more like Picture 2, then you need to work on the abdominal, glute, and hamstring exercises, and hip mobility from the section above. Instead of using the back exercises above, you will use the upper back mobility drills outlined below.
Back Mobility Drills
These drills will help bring you out of extension and back to a more natural flexion in your upper back
Take in a slow big breath and let it fill your upper back. Slowly exhale and repeat. While you do this push your hands into the ground.
Set/Reps: 2-3×8 breaths
Standing Supported Wall Breathing
With your lower back against the wall, push your arms out and take in a big, slow breath, letting it fill your chest and back. Slowly exhale and let your ribs relax.
Set/Reps: 2-3×8 breaths
By incorporating these exercises into your workouts, over time you should feel less muscle tightness and decrease any aches you may be feeling in the lower back, hips, or shoulders.
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