Muscle imbalances affect us all in some form. An imbalance could be having one side that is weaker than the other or a significant difference in the size, strength or shape of a pair of muscles. For example maybe one bicep is bigger than the other or one side of your chest is smaller.
Whatever the case may be, an imbalance is a problem and we need to fix it right away!
But before we jump into fixing your muscle imbalance, let’s first discuss why you have one to begin with.
Lifting Too Heavy
This is probably the most common reason why athletes have muscle imbalances. Lifting too heavy is the result of combining BRO-SCIENCE with EGO creating EGO-SCIENCE!
What happens when you lift too heavy is that your workout begins to focus more on “mechanical strength” instead of “breaking down muscle”. This means that in order for you to lift weight that is too heavy for you, you will begin to contort your body and bring the wrong muscles into the exercise to complete a repetition. So congratulations, you can bench 315lbs, but you are focusing strictly on “mechanical strength” which means you are not using proper form which can lead to a serious injury in the future. This is because technically you can’t handle the weight which is why you are contorting your body to begin with.
Considering that BICEPS and CHEST are the most common muscle groups with muscle imbalances, let’s go over some examples of poor form that could result in having an imbalance.
- When curling weight that is too heavy you may start to swing your back and arms at the same time while thrusting your hips to complete a repetition. Instead of relying on your biceps to complete the movement, you are using momentum and in many cases taking the biceps OUT of the curl!
- But the biggest mistake people make when it comes to biceps curls is that they just completely ignore the entire bottom half of the movement. If you do not fully extend your arms at the bottom of each repetition, you can’t expect to maximize your muscle engagement when curling!
- When benching weight that is too heavy, you might start dropping the barbell so fast that you bounce it off your chest. The “bounce” is what people use to get through the bottom part, or sticking point, of the movement because they are too weak to do it with proper form. You can certainly understand how slamming your sternum with the barbell could lead to an injury.
- Even more common than the sternum bounce is the slowly disappearing range of motion repetitions. This is when the range of motion you are working in will get smaller and smaller as you become more fatigued with each rep.
Do any of these sound familiar?
Why do we do this to ourselves? What is the big deal with lifting weight we can ACTUALLY handle or if we are aiming to complete ten repetitions but fatigue out at five why not just stop, lower the weight, and then finish the repetitions with proper form?
Lack Of Mind-Muscle Connection: The Dominant Side Does All The Work
It is VERY IMPORTANT, especially as a beginner, that you learn to increase your mind-muscle connection. This is your ability to “feel” the muscles being worked. Once you master mind-muscle connection not only will your strength gains go through the roof, but your ability to breakdown more muscle for growth during each set will increase exponentially as well.
If you are the kind of person who does a lot of work with machines or barbells it can become very easy for you to rely a bit more on your dominant side to do more work when exercising.
Let’s use bicep curls and the bench press as examples again.
When performing a barbell bicep curl, look in the mirror to see if the bar is going up straight, especially when you start to fatigue. If not, that is a good indication that you are still relying on your dominant side to perform the movement.
The same goes for the barbell bench press. Take a look at the barbell as you perform each repetition. Is it going up straight? Or is it slightly slanted with the stronger side always going up first?
If you notice this happening, don’t worry we can fix it. The best thing to do would be to switch to dumbbells to help correct the issue. With dumbbells each arm will have to work independently of each other thus not allowing the dominant side to take over the movement.
Now, some of the most common questions you might have are:
“Should I do more reps with the weaker side?”
“Should I use less weight to train the dominant side less while strengthening the weaker side?”
The answer to both questions is no. What you should do is as soon as you become fatigued on the weaker side, put down your weights and grab lighter ones to finish the set strong!
With that being said, lack of MMC usually happens as a direct result of lifting too heavy. Also keep in mind that your MMC can and WILL get weaker over time if you lift too heavy and are not focusing on contracting your muscles properly.
How Do I Fix My Imbalances?
Believe it or not, the solution is quite simple. The first thing you will need to do is kick your ego out the door!
Begin to lower all your weights on all your exercises. This doesn’t have to be a drastic drop, but enough so that you can perform your reps a bit slower and REALLY focus on isolating and contracting the muscles you are trying to engage. Remember, you cause THE MOST MUSCLE DAMAGE in the negative portion of a movement. If you have not been training with full range of motion, now is the time to start implementing and adding it to your new list of healthy workout habits.
If you start to fatigue when performing your repetitions, instead of losing control, lower your weights and finish your reps. Or if you have a spotter, have them step in to help you.
Keep this in mind as well. When you lift too heavy and have to contort and twist yourself just to move the weight, your body is going to instinctively use your dominant side more to complete your repetitions. This means that whatever small amount of muscle activation you are getting from these horrible repetitions is just going to further your current muscle imbalances.
Everything you need to build an amazing physique is inside YOU. Just believe in yourself and stay focused. A change of mind is often exactly what you need to fix any problem and muscle imbalances are no exception. So, as always, before you start hitting the weights and trying to fix the problem, be sure to take a few minutes to relax, concentrate and get your mind right.