Have you taken a look in the mirror and tried to figure out if one of your arms is, apparently, bigger than the other? When you perform an exercise, can you lift a heavier load with your right arm than with your left one? What is happening?
As you increase your level of physical preparation, your chances of suffering from some type of muscle imbalance increase. This imbalance can affect the volume of your muscle mass, as well as the difference of strength in both sides. It is practically inevitable, – because there’s no perfect symmetry – most people suffer from muscle imbalance in some parts of the body, whether it’s muscle mass, strength or flexibility. If it is not corrected in time, the muscular decompensation tends to get worse over the years and ends up leading to injuries and to the inability of playing sports.
Three reasons for the occurrence of muscle imbalance:
1. Playing an asymmetrical sport (ex: golf, tennis, handball, swimming, running, cycling, etc.), that is, you don’t do the same movements in both sides of the body;
2. Bad technique and lack of physical preparation. It is normal to use one of the sides of your body more frequently, because we’re either right or left-handed, so when you practice a specific sport you will use your stronger/more resistant side. If you don’t adopt methods to compensate, you will still demand a lot from your stronger side and, consequently, you will be emphasizing that decompensating even more.
3. Injuries or problems that have to do with physical development. When you suffer from an injury, you lose strength and elasticity in your tissue. Many times, recovery implies specialized care and takes its time, and still it is almost always possible to retrieve levels of strength and flexibility, similar to the ones we have in the other side of our body.
Whichever reason there is for your muscle imbalance, there are always ways to prevent it from getting worse.
– Focus your workout on the less developed side. If one of your legs is stronger than the other and you squat with both legs at the same time, you will keep developing one of them more than the other. The best is to choose squatting with only the leg that’s underdeveloped. You can adopt this strategy with any exercise, any time there’s a decompenstion in any of the sides of your body. You can also do it with stretches.
– Exercise in turns. Start by always working out the weaker side and let it determine what you’ll do with your stronger one. For example, if you perform a set of 8 reps with the weakest leg and with 40kg, when you work out the stronger leg (even if it’s capable of taking more weight and it can perform a higher number of reps), use the same load and perform the same number of reps. This may weaken your strongest side a little bit, but it’s no reason to worry, because you’ll only be trying to balance both sides so they can be strengthened at the same rhythm.
– Perform more sets. By performing exercises in turns, you can keep the load and reduce the number of sets when you’re working on your stronger side. If you perform 1 – 2 sets on the strongest side, do the double on the weakest one.
Adopt strategies by working on a plan that includes an adequate and progressive exercise for the less developed muscles.
– 12 minutes of cardio to warm up and 2 – 3 sets with light – moderate load.
– First set should be for the weakest side. Example: leg extension – 8 reps, 40 kg.
– After that, perform the first set with your strongest side. Same number of reps, same load.
– Switch legs and follow the exact same process.
– Perform the 3rd and 4th sets with your less developed leg only. Take a break of 1-2 minutes between the final sets.
Follow your plan twice a week. The workout should be progressive, that is, as your leg gets stronger, add more load (when you increase the load on the weakest leg, do exactly the same with the strongest one). When there’s a difference of 1-2 reps between sides, you can start doing more complex exercises.
Two tips to avoid getting to an extreme of muscle imbalance:
– Remember to always exercise the agonistic muscles with the antagonistic ones. Example: first the biceps, then the triceps.
– Even if you were able to solve the problem of muscle imbalance, you’re always at risk of having that problem again and of rethinking the strategy to balance both sides again. Prevent it, for example, working out only one leg from time to time (ex: finish your quad workout session with leg extensions in only one leg after squatting or doing leg press) so you can try to have your legs as symmetrical as possible and perform a test every once in a while (a good way to always stay focused and realize the needs of your body).
Fernando Ribeiro, Como corrigir um desequilíbrio muscular, 15th of January 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version
Gabriela Gottau, Descompensación muscular, ¿qué hacer al respecto?, 17th of September 2008, translation and adaptation of the original version
N/d, Cómo prevenir los desequilibrios musculares, 4th of November 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version
Shannon Clark, 4 Training Techniques To Reduce Yout Muscle Imbalances!, 11th of January 2010, translation and adaptation of the original version