Resistance Training to Prevent Muscle Imbalance
When one muscle is stronger than its opposing muscle, you have an imbalance. For instance, if you do push-ups or bench presses, but never do posterior exercises like seated rows, or pull-ups, there’s a good chance you likely have a strength imbalance. Muscle imbalance creates improper constant muscle tension that can lead to injury or further problems, like poor posture in the above mentioned example.
As far back as 1992, an article published in the journal Sports Medicine stated that an athlete is 2.6 times more likely to suffer an injury if an imbalance in hip flexibility of 15 percent or more existed. Flexibility and mobility of joints are critical to sports performance and general health. These types of imbalances can easily be prevented with the proper exercise prescription.
Why It Happens
Your opposing muscles and muscle groups are supposed to work together. Those muscles must be balanced in terms of strength, flexibility, and even posture to be efficient and to prevent injuries. Here are some examples of muscle pairs and the movements they enable:
- Biceps and triceps help bend and straighten the elbows.
- Deltoids and latissimus dorsi lift and lower the arms.
- Abdominals and erector spinae bend the spine forward and backward.
- Quadriceps and hamstrings bend and straighten the knee.
- Hip abductors and adductors move the legs toward each other or apart.
Who’s at Risk
For most people, a simple daily activity such as picking up groceries, working at a computer, sitting in one position for a long time, or lifting a child can cause muscle imbalance over a period of time.
But for athletes, muscle imbalance is likely to be an overuse issue as a result of a particular motion used in their respective sports.
- Weight lifters often develop the pectorals (chest muscles), while neglecting the muscles in the upper back (trapezius).
- Pitchers in baseball often develop one arm and one side without giving equal attention to the opposite arm/side.
- In tennis or bowling, there is a condition that can happen after years of doing almost every motion with the dominant arm to the detriment of the non-dominant arm.
Many common serious conditions are caused by muscle imbalance. For instance, patellofemoral pain results from a band of muscle tissue that pulls the Patella outward so that it grinds against the groove in which it lies. Runners’ knee, jumpers’ knee, low back pain, and Achilles tendinitis are other common athletic injuries directly or indirectly caused by muscle imbalance.
The best way to avoid muscle imbalance is to choose exercises that strengthen opposing muscle groups. I suggest you consult with a professional trainer or physical therapist to diagnose these imbalances in your body or your training program design in order to make prescribed recommendations.
Understanding how to prevent injury is the key. One simple way is to do dynamic warm up movements prior to strength training. Your body has foundational strength which consists of hip, shoulder, and core stability, which is the supportive strength for efficient human movement and which is vital to optimum performance and health.
Prehab (as coined by Mark Verstegen, EXOS), is designed to strengthen the muscles supporting the upper back and shoulder rotator muscles. This improves posture by pulling the shoulder blades back and down. The ball and joint socket of the shoulder should then move freely and efficiently.
Examples of prehab exercises include:
- Physioball Y, T, W, L
- Physioball Pushup Plus, Glute Bridge
- Side-lying Adduction and Abduction
- Pillar Bridge Front
- Pillar Bridge Side
Regardless of your age, gender, occupation, or physical condition, there are probably muscle and movement imbalances that need your attention. Find a qualified physical therapist (DPT), certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) or certified athletic trainer (ATC) who can give you an accurate assessment of your status in terms of muscle balance, imbalance and movement.
Including the appropriate exercises in your routine can make you stronger, more flexible, and more efficient in everyday activities and athletic performance. Feel free to contact me for any further information or assistance.
Stay Healthy and Active,
Scott A. Jansen
Fitness Manager, Magnuson Athletic Club
- Mark Verstegen, author, Core Performance, Core Performance Essentials, Core Performance Endurance, Core Performance Golf, (Rodale, Inc.)
2. Wayne Westcott and Thomas Baechle, Strength Training Past 50 (Human Kinetics Publishers)